The #3 Ohio State Buckeyes (5-0) take to the road for the second time to take on the #15 Northwestern Wildcats (4-0).
This is the first Big Ten game for the Wildcats, who were off last week, and also their homecoming.
Northwestern is 0-4 off of mid-season byes under head coach Pat Fitzgerald, but the Wildcats are looking for their second-straight 5-0 start and fourth under Fitzgerald.
If homecoming and hosting the Buckeyes isn’t big enough for the Purple and White, they will also welcome television programs Mike and Mike in the Morning – co-hosted by Northwestern alum Mike Greenberg – and College Gameday this weekend.
The game will also be televised nationally on ABC, with Northwestern alum Brent Musburger and former Ohio State quarterback Kirk Herbstreit on the call.
This is the first meeting between the two teams since 2008 when the Buckeyes prevailed 45-10.
When Northwestern Has The Ball
The Wildcats are similar to Ohio State offensively, boasting explosive weapons around the field. They have scored 30 points or more in school-record six-straight games.
Northwestern uses the combination of Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian at quarterback.
Colter, a senior, is the starter and a dual-threat option, while Siemian, a redshirt junior, prefers to stay in the pocket.
Colter has completed 77% of his passes, only attempting 35, for 264 yards and three touchdowns. He has rushed for 237 yards and three more scores. No. 2 also has 60 career receptions and three receiving touchdowns, but is yet to record a catch in 2013.
Siemian has thrown 70 passes this year, completing 67%, for 671 yards and four touchdowns. He only has 36 rushing attempts for his career, but can escape the pocket if necessary.
After the Wisconsin game, the Buckeyes’ secondary has come under scrutiny. Not only did they lose senior safety Christian Bryant to a broken ankle, but they were victimized for 295 yards and two touchdowns by a team not known for their passing attack.
Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown should get his first start replacing Bryant and the senior will need to bring leadership and live up to the five-star potential that brought him to Ohio State.
The Wildcats' top receiver is Tony Jones. The junior averages 90 receiving yards per game on 24 receptions this season. He leads the team with seven plays of 20 or more yards from scrimmage.
No. 6 is not the only Jones in the receiving game, as junior Christian Jones is another threat. He has 15 catches – all have gone for either a first down or a touchdown – for 223 yards and two scores.
This will mean cornerback Doran Grant will have to come to play for the Buckeyes, as Northwestern is able to go to either Jones.
Senior Venric Mark came into the season as the top running back for the Wildcats, but left their first game with a lower body injury. He is expected to make his return this week against Ohio State.
Mark rushed for 1366 yards and 12 touchdowns last season and is also dangerous catching the ball. It is unknown how close to game speed the Wildcats’ No. 5 is.
Without Mark, Treyvon Green has emerged to be fourth among Big Ten rushers with 404 yards and five touchdowns.
The Buckeyes will find themselves in their nickel or dime – and maybe the penny – packages, which means much less of Curtis Grant and Josh Powell than last week.
The silver bullets will have to wary of the run game, even as they attempt to deny the pass.
The defensive line can be a tremendous help in both facets. If they can get pressure continuously, OSU’s defense will be able to cover the rest of the field.
The offensive line for Northwestern has been good despite replacing three starters from last year. They have helped lead the way for the Big Ten’s fourth-best rushing attack – 249.5 yards per game – and have given up only 7 sacks on 113 dropbacks.
Northwestern’s Jeff Budzien was the 2012 Big Ten Co-Kicker of the Year and is 6-for-8 this year, missing both from beyond 42 yards.
Brandon Williams is averaging 39.2 yards per punt and has put five inside the 20 this season.
When Ohio State Has The Ball
The biggest question for the Buckeyes’ offense this week is how the running backs’ carries will be distributed.
Last week, Carlos Hyde was the workhorse, with Jordan Hall and Dontre Wilson collectively carrying the ball three times.
Urban Meyer has said he wants to get Hall more carries, but he is going to do what he believes is best to win. It would not be surprising to see Hall more involved this week going against Northwestern.
The Purple and White’s defensive line has limited opponents to 118 rushing yards per game
Hall could potentially provide the outside speed that Ohio State did not use last week, giving them more diversity.
Defensive end Tyler Scott leads the Big Ten in solo sacks this season with three. He leads a defensive line that has been impressive getting pressure on the quarterback this year.
OSU’s offensive line – which now combines for 105 starts – has done well this year also, but will have to be on their game against this defensive front.
On third down passing situations, the Wildcats like to use four defensive ends along the line to get more pass rushers on the field. This will be something the Buckeyes have not seen this year.
Braxton Miller should be set for another big day, as he is going against a secondary that is giving up over 308 passing yards each game.
It is a young secondary, which lost junior cornerback Daniel Jones for the season, that has given up a lot of yards, but is also forcing many turnovers.
The entire defense has been opportunistic to the tune of 11 interceptions and one fumble recovery. They have returned four of the interceptions for touchdowns.
That is the good news for the defense. The bad news is they are giving up 23.8 points per game and are facing an offense that is averaging 48.2.
Miller spread the ball around in his return from injury last week, as six different players caught passes. Ohio State has four players in the top ten for Big Ten touchdown receptions and two in the top ten nationally.
As long as the Scarlet and Gray do not turn the ball over, they should have success moving down the field against Northwestern’s defense.
Drew Basil is perfect on the year kicking field goals, though he has only attempted three.
Cameron Johnston got his first extensive day at the office against Wisconsin, pinning the Badgers inside the 20 all six times he punted.
The Wildcats will use Mark in the return game. He was prolific for them last year, earning All-American honors.
How It Will End Up
This game is similar Ohio State’s trip to California.
They are going against a team with options offensively that will put up points.
The Wildcats beat the Golden Bears 44-30 and the Buckeyes won 52-34.
This game is likely to be another shootout in Evanston, as Northwestern will be excited and ready for OSU.
Many people pointed to this game as the most difficult on Ohio State’s schedule and based on the rankings, it appears to be.
Ohio State has shown they can outscore opponents over the last two years and still have too many weapons for the Wildcats. The defense will not be as focused on the run this week and will be able to play more free
Ohio State 52 Northwestern 41