One week after a heartbreaking loss to Penn State, the Buckeyes will face the resurgent Northwestern Wildcats. Since coming to Ohio State in 2012, Head Coach Urban Meyer has not lost two consecutive games in the regular season. In fact, Meyer has not lost two consecutive games in the regular season since 2010 when Florida lost three straight. Northwestern is riding a three game win streak heading into this weekend’s match-up, all of which are conference wins. This game is pivotal for both teams this weekend. Northwestern and Ohio State will need this win to reassure fans that they are legitimate.
What to Watch: Northwestern and Ohio State
Curtis Samuel vs. Northwestern Defense
Last week, one of the key reasons why Ohio State lost was due to the fact that Curtis Samuel did not get many rushing attempts. With the two carries he had, Samuel was efficient. Samuel scored on a 74 yard rushing touchdown which was one of the few times the Buckeyes were able to utilize their rushing attack. Other than three carries, the Buckeyes were held to 52 yards on 37 carries. The Buckeyes cannot allow this to happen again if they wish to avoid chaos for the second week in a row.
The Northwestern rushing defense has been very solid outside of the redzone. The Wildcats have only allowed 132 yards per game this season, ranking them 32nd in the FBS. However, Northwestern has allowed 10 redzone rushing touchdowns in seven games. More than one-third of their opponents’ red zone attemptshave resulted in a rushing touchdown. That’s not a good statistic. Tim Beck and Ed Warriner will need to exploit this to prove to that last week was a fluke.
Clayton Thorson vs. Ohio State Secondary
While the Buckeyes secondary was not bad by any means last week, they failed to force sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley to turn the ball over. McSorley struggled, only completing eight of his 23 passes for 154 yards but did not throw an interception. Ohio State’s young secondary is among the best in the country, intercepting 11 passes and returning four for touchdowns. They will need to be able to change the momentum this week if the Ohio State offense comes out slow like last week.
Clayton Thorson will need to make sure his passes are all but perfect. The Buckeyes secondary’s speed is something that the sophomore quarterback has not faced often this season. Even against Iowa, Jim Thorpe Award winner Desmond King remained relatively quiet against the Wildcats. Thorson has currently thrown 14 touchdowns to only five interceptions this season.
Mike Weber vs Northwestern Front Seven
Unlike Samuel who is a dual-threat for Ohio State, freshman Mike Weber has only been a major threat on the ground. Against Penn State, Weber had a 23 yard run but was still held to only 71 yards overall on 21 carries. Weber has faced very strong defenses as of late, but has not played well regardless. Weber has tallied 188 yards on 47 carries in the past three weeks. He has also scored twice, but both scores came against Indiana. He will need to learn to adapt to facing tough defenses, as the Buckeyes will face Nebraska next week as well.
As mentioned earlier, Northwestern’s rush defense has been solid other than in the redzone. Of Weber’s four rushing touchdowns this season, three have come within the 5-yard line. Keeping Ohio State out of the redzone has to be their priority for several reasons. The most obvious is how effective Weber has been in the redzone, and the second is Ohio State’s field goal percentage. Senior Tyler Durbin has never made a field goal longer than 40 yards, and when he attempted a 45 yard field goal last week, it was blocked and ultimately cost the Buckeyes the game.
For both teams, this game can decide where they are headed for the remainder of the season. A loss for Ohio State will eliminate them from Playoff contention barring several miracles. A win for Northwestern could potentially put them back in the Top 25. If they win this week, and then next week against Wisconsin, it could shoot them inside the Top 20. However, Buckeye fans have learned to not doubt Urban Meyer after a loss, and should expect the Buckeyes to come out flying on the way to a comfortable win.