Five for Friday: Quick Thoughts on the Northwestern Game
by Tony Gerdeman
There really can't be too much said about this weekend's game at Northwestern. It could very well be a preview of the Big Ten Championship Game, after all. It's the biggest game in the Big Ten to this point, and perhaps the biggest game the rest of the season. There are so many intriguing aspects of this game that we could discuss it all the way up until kickoff and still not cover everything. Granted, we would probably repeat ourselves a few times, but since when is that new?
With that in mind, here are five things that are sticking out to me about Saturday night's game, each of which will play a large role in deciding the outcome.
Photo by Jim Davidson
1. This could be Braxton Miller's first-ever 300-yard passing game. Northwestern is 119th in the nation in passing yards allowed, with 307.5, but they're actually 33rd in the nation in pass efficiency defense. Their 10 interceptions are the second most in the nation, and that's been done in just four games. On Wednesday, Braxton Miller didn't seem too concerned about the Wildcats' interception numbers, and in fact said that Northwestern plays some coverages that they will be able to attack. We should expect some new things defensively from Northwestern, but it will be interesting to see if those same coverages will still be as vulnerable as Miller says they will be. Will the Wildcats do something to bait Miller into seeing something that they want him to see? Northwestern has given up three pass plays of 50 yards or more this season, and the Buckeyes should be able to add to that, even though they only have one pass play of over 50 yards this season. The key to Miller hitting 300 yards, however, will be Ohio State's need to keep scoring. If Northwestern is scoring points, then Miller should have his best passing day ever.
2. Bradley Roby should have a much better game against Northwestern. Yes, Roby struggled last week against Wisconsin, but he was put on an island where he had to first worry about the run, and then second worry about perhaps the best receiver in the Big Ten (who got to run routes while the Badger quarterback was in max protect). It's not easy, and you saw the result. This week, Roby should return to his customary boundary cornerback spot and things should return to normal – or at least as normal as the Ohio State secondary can be without Christian Bryant back there. Northwestern quarterbacks have thrown four interceptions this season, in 106 attempts. (Ohio State quarterbacks have thrown three in 144 attempts.) Roby will have opportunities to add to his team-high two interceptions this weekend, and don't be surprised when he succeeds.
3. We are going to learn even more about this Buckeye defense on Saturday. Last week against Wisconsin we learned that the Buckeyes can stop a power running game. This week we'll learn if they can stop a spread running team with a running quarterback. We're talking two different animals here. Just because you can ride a horse doesn't mean you can ride a camel, and Northwestern is certainly a camel. The Buckeyes know that the Wildcats run a bit more when quarterback Kain Colter is in the game, and that's a spot where Christian Bryant would have helped. Now with Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown back there, he might be a little hesitant to commit to run defense or pass defense, leaving him in between the two and out of position regardless of the play. It will be up to the front seven to contain the running game, because it might be asking a bit much from the safeties at this point. If Ohio State shuts this running game down, then I'm not sure who in the Big Ten will be able to run on them.
4. Ohio State is the team coming in with the 17-game winning streak and national title hopes, but all of the pressure will be on Northwestern. This game is the biggest thing to happen to Northwestern since the graphing calculator was invented. National radio shows are broadcasting from Evanston this week. ESPN's College Gameday is going to be at the game on Saturday. It's on national prime-time television. Recruits are going to be at the game, and those who aren't at the game will be watching on ABC. This is the game that will move Northwestern forward in the nation's eyes. They will stop being cute, and they will start to be taken seriously. Ohio State players are in their cocoon right now, preparing for another road game. Northwestern's players are on a campus that is buzzing. They can't walk 20 steps without somebody talking to them about this game. They've never been in this situation before. It has to be a lot to bear.
5. Northwestern hasn't faced an offense like the Buckeyes this season. Earlier in the week, Urban Meyer said that they were going to ride Carlos Hyde in this game, so there's no reason to doubt that the Buckeyes are going to attempt to pound the ball, especially now that starting defensive tackle Sean McEvilly is out. However, Meyer and Tom Herman now know that Braxton Miller is healthy enough to carry the ball, so expect him to be involved in the running game as well. Miller only has one carry of 20+ yards this season, and if he doesn't add to that number in this game, I will be very surprised. This Buckeye offense is finally at full strength, which means they have all weapons at their disposal. This should be the best running attack we've seen all year from Ohio State, as well as the best passing attack. For the second week in a row, I think it's very appropriate to ask how the opposition plans on stopping the Buckeyes. Northwestern will need turnovers to get it done, and they've done a good job of making that happen this season. However, if the Buckeyes don't turn the ball over, I don't believe that the Wildcats can keep up.
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