Three and Out: Thoughts From Ohio State's 40-30 Win at Northwestern
by Tony Gerdeman
The Buckeyes got over speed bump number two in a three-speed bump regular season with their 40-30 win over #16 Northwestern Saturday night. Any time you can get a win on the road against a ranked Big Ten opponent, you've done something good. You want proof? In their last 10 chances against such conference foes, Ohio State is just 6-4.
Despite what you might begin to hear, this was a good win for the Buckeyes, and if the Wildcats do what they're capable of, this win could get even better. Both Michigan and Michigan State have to head to Evanston this year, so it's entirely possible that Ohio State will see Northwestern again this season. If that happens, you have to think that the Buckeyes will be a bit better suited than the Wildcats to handle a now-familiar matchup.
After all, at least Ohio State can continue to bring pressure against Northwestern's passing game, while I'm not sure the Wildcats will ever have an answer for Carlos Hyde that doesn't involve a European hitman and a briefcase full of hundreds.
Teams become their coaches. They adopt his language, his mannerisms, his attitude. While Buckeye Nation was in a complete panic at being down by an unheard of seven points at the half, Urban Meyer was absolutely calm leaving the field. I assume he was also calm when he got to his team in the locker room. A lot can happen in one half of football, and the Buckeyes knew they were capable of making a lot happen in the final 30 minutes of play. Not only were they calm, but they were confident. They knew that Northwestern wasn't stopping them nearly as much as they were stopping themselves. This team's confidence was on display Saturday night, and the later the game got, the more sure of themselves the Buckeyes got. The defense attacked, the offense punished. There were some blips, but that happens against good schemes and good teams. The good thing for Ohio State is that they never took a step back. They only went forward. Just like their coach.
Carlos Hyde is fun to watch when he is running like he did against Northwestern (which is how he always runs). After rushing for 168 yards and catching four passes for 38 yards, it was pretty clear whose shoulders the Buckeyes were sitting on last night. Hyde thanked his offensive line after the game, as he certainly should. They demolished the middle of Northwestern's defensive front and Hyde found himself running through a soft belly time after time. Still, he also did quite a bit on his own. The lucky defenders were the ones that he made miss. The unlucky defenders were the ones who had to tackle him. He punished Northwestern snap after snap, and punished himself all night long while doing it as well. This was an MVP performance by a player trying to make up for lost time. Braxton Miller was the Offensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten last season, but he was second fiddle to Hyde in this game, and probably will be again before the season is over.
The pass defense is a concern, but making teams one dimensional is generally how you beat them. Against California, Wisconsin and Northwestern, the Ohio State defense gave up 336.3 yards passing per game. However, those three teams were also held to just 110 yards rushing per game against the Buckeyes. A one-dimensional offense is an offense that is easier to stop over the course of 60 minutes. A defense's first job is to stop the run, and that's what Ohio State has done. The Buckeyes' next three games won't be much of a concern when it comes to the passing game, which gives them time to fix some of the issues that they are having. Like Tyvis Powell, who has had his issues in coverage, and did again last night against Rashad Lawrence. Is he perhaps the answer at safety instead of Pittsburgh Brown, and would Vonn Bell be better suited in the coverage areas at nickel that have given Powell trouble? Right now would be the best time to find out, unless Urban Meyer and his defensive staff are confident enough that what they're doing will be good enoug h to win out, which it probably is. However, it's not because the pass defense is good enough, but rather because Ohio State's offense allows the OSU defense some leeway on scoring allowance. The Buckeye defense allowed 29 points per game against Cal, Wisconsin and Northwestern, and yet Ohio State remains undefeated. That's not natural, and I doubt that Meyer finds it acceptable.
For the first time since Braxton Miller returned, I was ready to give in and side with the fans who wanted to see Kenny Guiton on the field. After Miller's second fumble as he was heading into the endzone, his confidence seemed shaken, and Urban Meyer's confidence in him seemed shaken as well. Kenny Guiton grabbed a football and prepared to get ready to come into the game on the next possession. I was finally okay with what fans had been calling for since...well, ever. Miller had been struggling, and if he wasn't going to contribute to a win, then you have to find somebody who will. Meyer said after the game that he came very close to putting Guiton in the game, but he didn't think it would be appropriate to do so. Instead, he stuck with Miller, and his junior quarterback rewarded him with three touchdown drives on the Buckeyes' next four possessions. It was the type of response that a team needs from its quarterback, and Meyer's faith in Miller is exactly what a quarterback needs from his coach. Just imagine the tire fire going on around Columbus right now if Meyer had put Guiton in the game and the Buckeyes had lost. Or maybe don't think about it, it's not a pleasant thought.
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