The 8-4 Northwestern Wildcats are The B1G’s West Division champion, just as everyone anticipated back in the summer. Now that the snickering has subsided, a closer look reveals a team that lacks a great deal of sizzle, but compensates for their lack of flash by playing fundamentally strong defense that limits big plays down the field.
Out of the eight wins, the largest margin of victory came against Wisconsin (31-17), but most wins were between three to ten points. Of the four losses, the worst loss came versus Duke in week two (21-7), but the other three were between three to ten points. Again, nothing too flashy or spectacular.
Below are three players I will be watching extensively against Ohio State on Saturday night at 8pm…
Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson
A 14-12 touchdown to interception ratio is nothing to get overly excited about, but Thorson is very experienced (51 straight starts at quarterback) and will try to minimize his mistakes. Here is where Ohio State’s pass rush is key, as Thorson is completing about 60% of his passes, and will try to hit Ohio State on short to intermediate passes to keep drives alive. On 11/29, Alex Grinch stated, “You’ve got a guy that can throw the ball downfield, big arm, does a nice extending plays, really extends plays to throw, not a guy that’s going to scramble for a bunch of yards. So it’ll be a real challenge for us. They’re able to get the chunk plays in the pass game if they’re able to establish the run, so we’ve got to be sound in both.”
Northwestern RB Isaiah Bowser
See if this sounds familiar. An Ohio kid, not given an Ohio State offer, and then that kid goes somewhere else, leaving Ohio State fans to lament, “Why didn’t Ohio State offer him?!?” Here’s another exhibit in Sidney, Ohio native Isaiah Bowser, who has rushed for 736 yards and 6 touchdowns in his freshman season. To be fair, Northwestern was among the few schools, outside of predominantly MAC schools, to offer Bowser a scholarship. Listed at 6’1″, 216 pounds, Bowser did not emerge as the Wildcats’ starter until midseason, and has rushed for no fewer than 85 yards since the middle of October. Bowser’s best game came at Iowa, where he ran for 165 yards and a touchdown. Bowser may factor more in the first half when the score is close, but it seems probable that Northwestern is going to try and control the time of possession, and Bowser will probably be the way they go about doing that.
Northwestern LB Paddy Fisher
Listed at 6’4″, 241 pounds, Fisher has a knack for causing fumbles, with eight caused over the past two season for the Wildcats. The once-dormant Ohio State running game may find a tough go of it in the middle of the field, as that is where Fisher is located. Throw in a new starter at right guard in redshirt freshman Wyatt Davis, and Fisher may be able to capitalize upon Davis’ inexperience.