8:30 PM EST, FS1 – Line: Ohio State -28.5, Over/Under: 49
A pair of teams traveling in polar opposite directions clash tonight, as the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes take their act on the road to battle the Northwestern Wildcats from Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois. Six games into the Post-Urban Meyer Era, and Ohio State (6-0, 3-0 in Big 10) indeed appears to be in excellent hands with Ryan Day. Of course, there was wasn’t a candidate already on Staff better suited for the job, after the former Offensive Coordinator, replaced a suspended Meyer for the first three games of the 2018 campaign, going 3-0 in his predecessor’s stead. Little could he have known that that experience would lead to his taking over the program mere months later, but that is precisely what has happened, and quite frankly, the Buckeyes haven’t missed a beat. Offensively, they’ve been nothing short of a juggernaut, averaging a whopping 49.3 Points per Game (4th Overall) on 535.0 Total Yards, including 246.0 Yards through the air and another 289.0 Yards on the ground. After sitting out last season following his transfer from Georgia, Justin Fields (69.5%, 1,298 YDS, 9.2 Y/A, 18 TD, 1 INT) continues to show the world why he was the country’s top recruit coming out of high school two years ago, completing 69.5% of his Attempts for 1,298 Yards, and Eighteen Touchdowns in comparison to just One Interception, while also factoring into the Rushing Attack, where he’s picked up another 283 Yards and eight scores on Fifty-Seven carries. When we last saw him and the Offense, they were busy pummeling Michigan State in a 34-10 victory at the Horseshoe two weeks ago. Against arguably the stiffest defensive test of the season, Fields calmly completed 17-of-25 Passes for 206 Yards, Two Touchdowns and his first Interception, while rushing for Sixty-One Yards and a Fourth Quarter Touchdown to put an exclamation mark on win. The hosts piled up 529 Total Yards, including a staggering 323 Rushing, with Junior Tailback, J.K. Dobbins (116 CAR, 826 YDS, 7.1 Y/C, 6 TD) churning out 172 Yards and a Touchdown on Twenty-Four Carries, while his teammate in the Backfield, Master Teague (66 CAR, 416 YDS, 6.3 Y/C, 3 TD), added another Ninety Yards on Fourteen Attempts. This game was actually fairly close until a wild Second Quarter, in which the Buckeyes scored Seventeen Points inside the final eight minutes of the stanza, highlighted by a 67-Yard scoring surge courtesy of Dobbins to build a 24-10 lead shortly before Halftime. Not to be overshadowed by the exploits of their teammates on the offensive side of the football, the Defense has been one of the nastiest in the country, relegating the opposition to a scant 8.8 Points per Game (4th Overall) on just 234.7 Total Yards, including 152.0 Yards against the Pass and another 82.7 Yards versus the Run. Though they’ve lost a wealth of talent to the NFL over the past few years, the cupboard has never been fuller in Columbus, where Ohio State continues to churn out top-tier talent that is sure to be plying their respective trades on Sundays next season. Junior Defensive End, Chase Young (21 TKL, 9.5 TFL, 8.5 SK, 3 FF, 1 PD), currently rates as a Top-Five Pick among NFL Scouting Circles, leading the nation with 8.5 Sacks, along with 9.5 Tackles for Loss and Three Forced Fumbles, while fellow Classmate, Cornerback Jeffrey Okudah (17 TKL, 1.0 TFL, 1 FF, 3 INT, 3 PD), has turned heads in his first season as a Starter, intercepting three passes and defending three more. Since relinquishing Twenty-One Points in the Season Opener against Florida Atlantic, the Buckeyes have permitted just Thirty-Two Points in the five games that have followed, and have yet to allowed 300 Yards of Total Offense in any outing this season, with Takeaways factoring heavily into their success of late, coming up with at least three in each of their last three contests, bringing their total on the year to a baker’s dozen.
Meanwhile, tonight’s meeting with the Buckeyes will have a much different feel from when they last encountered each other, as Northwestern (1-4, 0-3 in Big 10) is very much in the midst of a rebuilding season. Of course, these teams faced off in last year’s Big 10 Championship Game, as Pat Fitzgerald’s charges were a surprise participant after securing the West Division on the strength of a stellar 8-1 record within league play. On that night in Indianapolis, the Wildcats simply didn’t have enough firepower to trade blows with the eventual conference champions, who hung on them a whopping 607 Total Yards of Offense on Thirty-One First Downs, including 499 Yards through the air, and Five Passing Touchdowns. Trailing 10-24 at Halftime, Northwestern charged back in the Third Quarter, cutting the deficit to 21-24, though the relentless Buckeyes continued to pour it on, outscoring them 21-7 the rest of the way en route to a 45-24 outcome. Nearly a year later and you’d be hard-pressed to recognize these Wildcats, particularly on the offensive side of the football where they have been quite a mess, with the Quarterback position being the center of their struggles. Coming into 2019, Senior T.J. Green (60.0%, 62 YDS, 6.2 Y/A, 0 TD, 0 INT) was intended to be the team’s Starter, though he unfortunately suffered a broken foot in the school’s 7-17 defeat in the Season Opener at Stanford. His Sophomore understudy, Hunter Johnson (48.3%, 367 YDS, 4.1 Y/A, 1 TD, 4 INT), was the next man up, and would go on start the following four contests before succumbing to a sprained knee, which kept him out of the team’s most recent outing, a heartbreaking 10-13 loss at Nebraska. Aiden Smith (49.2%, 273 YDS, 4.4 Y/A, 1 TD, 4 INT) received the nod from the Coaching Staff, making his share of plays (particularly with his legs), though all in all, it was another miserable performance from the Offense, which managed just 293 Total Yards, with the Junior passing for just 193 Yards and an Interception on 19-of-32 Attempts. On the season, Northwestern has averaged just 14.4 Points per Game (128th Overall) on 293.0 Total Yards, including 140.4 Yards through the air with their Quarterbacks completing less than 50.0% of their Attempts (49.4%), and tossing Eight Interceptions, which is the most in the Big 10. With all that said, the visiting side still had an opportunity to come away with what would have been their first league win, with the affair being decided by a walk-off 24-Yard Field Goal as time expired. Given they’ve had a week to prepare for this clash with Ohio State, the expectation is that the aforementioned Johnson will return to the field, though if he needs another week to recover then it will once again be Smith taking snaps under Center. Though this season is spiraling oblivion, credit must go to the Defense for keeping the Wildcats in just about every game thus far. Fitzgerald troops are typically very well-coached and disciplined on this side of the football, and this year’s group is no different, allowing just 19.8 Points per Game (30th Overall) on 320.0 Total Yards, including 176.0 Yards against the Pass and another 144.0 Yards versus the Run, with 29.0 Tackles for Loss, 10.0 Sacks, and Eight Takeaways. Junior Defensive Back, Tavis Whillock (44 TKL, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 SK, 1 FF, 2 FR) leads the unit with Forty-Four Tackles and a pair of Takeaways, while Senior Defensive End, Joe Gaziano (24 TKL, 6.5 TFL, 3.5 SK, 2 FF, 2 FR), continues to climb the mountain of Big 10 Sack Masters, ranking Fifth all-time with 24.5 Sacks thus far. Since he was hired by his Alma Mata back in 2006, Fitzgerald has never beaten Ohio State, going 0-6 with their last meeting in Evanston ending in a narrow 30-34 loss back in 2013.