Making the trek to Evanston, Illinois, for the first time since 2013, when a then-backup freshman defensive lineman named Joey Bosa scored a touchdown for the first time in his collegiate career, the Ohio State Buckeyes will play at the home of the Northwestern Wildcats.
It's Northwestern Week.
— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) October 14, 2019
Back in 2013, when those two teams met, the circumstances for Northwestern were entirely different from this year’s squad. In 2013, Northwestern was 4-0 when Ohio State came to town. This year, Northwestern is struggling with a 1-4, and desperately trying to salvage their season at the midway point.
Keep in mind that Northwestern, as usual under head coach Pat Fitzgerald, are tough defensively. Northwestern had close losses at Wisconsin (24-15) and at Nebraska (13-10), so the potential is there for the Wildcats to make this a game, especially if Ohio State comes out flat on this non-traditional Friday night battle.
Below are three areas I will be focused upon when this game kicks off at 8:30pm on The Big Ten Network…
- Northwestern DE Joe Gaziano versus Ohio State’s left tackle: Gaziano is one of the better pass rushers in The B1G, with 3.5 sacks this season, and 24.5 for his career at Northwestern. With the news that starting left tackle Thayer Munford will be a game time decision, plus the news that valuable utility backup offensive tackle Josh Alabi will miss the game, this matchup takes center stage. If Munford cannot go, Ohio State may move Branden Bowen to left tackle, and Bowen has missed time over the last two games due to injury himself. Protecting quarterback Justin Fields’ backside is always a crucial assignment, and the ailing offensive tackles only compound the concern.
2. Northwestern’s Quarterbacks – Notice how I said quarterbacks, as in plural. Highly-touted transfer quarterback Hunter Johnson has struggled this season, prompting Pat Fitzgerald to rotate Johnson with Aidan Smith at the position. Neither quarterback has distinguished themselves, and will bear watching against a fierce Ohio State pass rush featuring superstar Chase Young.
3. Northwestern’s Running Game versus Ohio State’s Linebackers: In last season’s B1G Championship Game, Northwestern was able to ramble for some huge plays that allowed the Wildcats to make the game competitive into the second half. Ohio State has dramatically improved on allowing big plays against its defense, so I will be curious to see if Northwestern is going to try and see if what worked in December in Indianapolis has any chance of being successful in Evanston on Friday night.