COLUMBUS, Ohio — “We want to play our best football in November,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said before the Buckeyes’ game at Northwestern on Saturday.
No. 2 Ohio State certainly did not play its best football against the 1-7 Wildcats. But in a game that was classic Big Ten football in November, the Buckeyes held on in the fourth quarter to secure a 21-7 shaky road win in ugly fashion.
In a windy and rainy day in Evanston, Ohio State tied its lowest-scoring first half of the season with only one touchdown. The Buckeyes looked sluggish early on, even factoring in weather they were uncharacteristically dull.
Ohio State’s defensive line was disruptive in the pass game. Northwestern had 79 yards in the air, but Northwestern found its success in the run game early on. The Wildcats finished with 206 yards, despite being held under 80 rushing yards four times this season.
Northwestern put up 285 yards as compared to Ohio State’s 283 yards of total offense. The Wildcats came in playing tough and scored the first 7 with their physicality at the line of scrimmage. From that point on, Northwestern made Ohio State earn every bit of its success.
When going against the wind in the first half, both Northwestern and Ohio State were scoreless. But both teams found success when playing with the wind. In the second half, it wasn’t until Buckeye running back Miyan Williams’ touchdown with 4:24 remaining that a team scored into the wind.
There’s no doubt that the weather affected Ohio State’s dynamic passing offense. The Buckeyes didn’t complete a pass play that was longer than 15 yards.
Ohio State also struggled to establish the run and was challenged converting third downs early on. The Buckeyes were without starting running back TreVeyon Henderson leaving three running backs available including Williams who got banged up and left the game last week at Penn State.
He had a career high 26 carries for 111 yards in the win on Saturday as the only running back who saw time on the field.
After gaining just 28 yards on his first 13 carries of the game, Williams broke one for a 27-yard touchdown, and Ohio State secured its first lead of the game,14-7, with back to back touchdown drives, 8:44 to play in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes finished the game accumulating 207 yards rushing, but it wasn’t easy — and quarterback runs made all the difference along with over 80 of those years coming in the fourth quarter.
Buckeye quarterback C.J. Stroud, not known for his running, produced impactful plays with his legs with runs of 44 yards and 16 yards.
Stroud wasn’t as effective passing, completing 10-of-26 passes for 76 yards, but he rushed for a total of 79 yards. Stroud had -4 rushing yards coming into the season, but he had more yards rushing than his new career-low passing yards in this game. Northwestern simply wasn’t expecting Stroud to keep the football and take off with his legs.
“It’s all about winning and that’s really been the focus,” Day said. “Really for half the game — you really can’t throw the ball in this type of weather. But even when the wind was at our back it was so strong that it was difficult to do anything in the pass game. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. I think we could’ve run the ball a little bit better, we could have got some more momentum going but what a strange game. I’m glad this one is behind us.”
Ohio State certainly didn’t put together an impressive performance but it once again showed another way it could win — and while that’s something Day doesn’t want to repeat, it was enough on Saturday.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this,” Day said. “This is as hard of conditions we’ve played in in a long time and I thought our guys played tough and played well.”
“Find a way to win. Every week is a new challenge. But this is something that I’m glad is over with,” Day added.
Photo via Ohio State Football