OTE B1G Game of the Week: Ohio State at Northwestern

We comin', we comin'... - Jonathan Daniel

In which we surprise no one with our choice.

Ed note: The following is a brief e-mail chain among MNWildcat (Cory), Ted, and C.E. Bell. We talk football, life, and how awesome Northwestern is (I omitted Ted's e-mails fawning over all things--and I mean all things--purple, because he needs to save face despite being a FAKE ASS BUCKEYE.)

The #16 Wildcats host the #4 Buckeyes under the lights at Ryan Field on Saturday, and in case you hadn't heard, it's kind of a big deal. You may or may not have also heard that Northwestern's Lakefill will be home to College Gameday. We 'Cats supporters are rather enthused about that. Here's a picture of Michael Jordan with a Fitz jersey on. Shit's real, kids. Within, your esteemed OTE writers hash out their thoughts on OSU-Northwestern, including whether or not Cory will cry sad, sad tears as he faces the opposite direction in Ryan Field on Saturday night. (It's a "Writers Don't Watch the Games" joke, guys!)

Cory: I'll get the ball rolling. In typical OTE writer fashion, I didn't get to watch much of the OSU-Wisconsin game. I saw the last quarter or so, once the girlfriend and I got back from dinner, and dear God this OSU offense is terrifying. Northwestern is going to need to have a spy on Braxton Miller every damn play, because even though he "only" had 83 yards rushing on 22 attempts, that guy is terrifying. I'm doubly impressed by a very efficient passing performance, and I'm afraid that the "bend-don't-break" Northwestern defense might be in for a loooong night.

Ted: I've watched every minute of Ohio State's games this year, and a fair amount of games from the rest of the conference, and OSU's offense is just on a completely different level than anyone else.  They can hurt you in so many ways.  You want a power run game between the tackles? If you need four, Carlos Hyde will get you four.  If you need seven, Hyde will get you four.  So that's why you'll give the ball to Jordan Hall, who has been outstanding on the perimeter.  Put OSU in a third down?  Okay, Braxton Miller will find Philly Brown, Devin Smith, or Dontre Wilson.  Cover those guys?  Yeah, I doubt it, but fine, I'll play along.  TE Jeff Heuerman will get open, or Miller will just tuck it and run.  The point is, you can't account for Ohio State's playmakers on every play, and they're going to get a lot of yards and a lot of points.

'But we have a great passing game', or 'we have a great running game' (ed note: BUT WE DO!).  Yeah, okay.  OSU's defense, while not elite, did enough to stop Cal's Bear Raid passing offense, and absolutely throttled Wisconsin's running game last week.  Northwestern has a good passing attack, but OSU's offense will turn this into a shooting match, and they have more bullets.  Northwestern has a penchant for getting turnovers, but OSU doesn't turn the ball over.  If the Buckeyes hold on to the ball and are +/-0 or better in the turnover department, they're going to win in a shootout by at least two scores.

Northwestern fans excitedly point to the atmosphere Saturday night at Ryan Field, what with game day and all.  Ryan Field holds, what, 45,000? Ohio State's used to all of this...they'll be ready.

C.E. Bell: Ted, I'm going to fix this for you:

"I've watched every minute of Northwestern's games this year, and a fair amount of games from the rest of the conference, and Northwestern's offense is just on a completely different level than anyone else.  They can hurt you in so many ways.  You want a power run game between the tackles? If you need four, Mike Trumpy will get you four (technically, he'll get you 5.0 per carry).  If you need seven, Treyvon Green will get you seven (7.0 ypc). Need more than that? So that's why you give the ball to Venric Mark (remember him? All-American KR/PR and guy who ran for 1,366 yards last season? He's back), who has been outstanding (at least last season) on the perimeter in the speed option/read option attack with Kain Colter.  Put Northwestern in a third down? No problem - Northwestern has converted at least 50% of its third down attempts in 6 straight games (58% 3rd-down conversion rate so far this season), as Kain Colter or Trevor Siemian will find Tony Jones, Christian Jones, Rashad Lawrence, Kyle Prater, Cameron Dickerson, or Mike Jensen.  Cover those guys? Yeah, I doubt it, but fine, I'l play along. Superback Dan Vitale will get open and basically cannot be tackled (148 yards receiving and a TD) or Kain Colter will just tuck it and run.  The point is, you can't account for Northwestern's playmakers on every play, Northwestern is disciplined enough to take what the defense will give them (Siemian has a 67.1% completion rate, Colter has a 77.1% completion rate; by comparison, Guiton is at 68.4% and Braxton Miller is 69.4%), and they're going to get a lot of yards and a lot of points (Northwestern has scored 21+ points in 18 straight games dating back to the 2012 Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas)."

Add in the fact that Christian Bryant is out (which absolutely sucks by the way....really liked him a lot), which puts a lot of stress on the Buckeye secondary (which already got torched by Joel Stave-Jared Abbrederis; both of Northwestern's QBs are better passers than Stave, and Northwestern has more than one capable receiver). Keep in mind that Northwestern has basically played this season without Venric Mark, and played almost the whole Cal game without Kain Colter -- both of which limited the offense insofar as it removed the threat of the read option/speed option (which plays a big role in red zone scoring especially).  And remember that Northwestern has gone completely vanilla in its play-calling since the Cal game (and, again, there they had no Colter and limited Mark), and that we have yet to see Siemian and Colter out on the field together at the same time (which almost assuredly will happen at some point on October 5th - Colter is a very dangerous receiver).  Oh, and Ohio State has a young front 7 that, despite tremendous talent, has struggled at times in getting into position and may struggle with an attack as varied as Northwestern's - you need to have a TON of discipline at all times to shut down Northwestern, given how many looks and disparate styles they throw at you.

As for defenses? OSU's defense clearly has an edge, given its talent, and I don't have any expectation of Northwestern's defense shutting down a talented OSU offense. But don't sleep on Northwestern's defense at all.  This was a squad that was 3rd in the B1G in rush defense in 2012 and is allowing only 119 ypg rushing this season.  While the pass defense has gotten picked on, it's also forced turnovers (Northwestern has 10 INTs this season - 3rd in the NATION -- and has taken 4 of them to the house for TDs), faced the Bear Raid without the benefit of any game film (you're welcome, OSU), and frankly Northwestern has been ahead so often this year that opposing offenses have been forced to pass a lot to come back.  Tyler Scott, Dean Lowry, and the defensive line will get pressure on Braxton Miller/Kenny Guiton, and if they don't, they are all tall enough to get their hands up and deflect a lot of passes at the line (Northwestern has gotten a piece of approximately 2 million passes at the line this year).  Oh, and the linebackers? They're phenomenal, and quietly one of the best LB units in the conference (Damien Proby and Chi Chi Ariguzo especially).  Northwestern's defense won't shutdown OSU's offense, but they are definitely talented enough to force some turnovers and slow down OSU's offense enough to put this game in the hands of Northwestern's offense....and I'll take those odds.

Oh yeah, special teams.  Venric Mark is back, we have some other very talented returners, and #Budzien4Groza.

As for Ryan Field, the game is a sellout (and the NU ticket office did a LOT to ensure those tickets went to NU fans for Homecoming - I have no delusions of us keeping tickets out of the hands of passionate Buckeye fans, but the stadium will be at least 70% purple), it's a primetime national broadcast, it's the first weekend of October, and Ohio State is ranked in the top 10....you know the last time that happened? 2004.  That turned out pretty well for Northwestern (I seem to remember rushing the field that night).

Here's my question for my Buckeye compatriots: are you worried about the Buckeyes overlooking Northwestern?  What scares you most about the Wildcats? And if this comes down to a close game in the 4th quarter (which I think it will), who has the edge? Doesn't that 17 game winning streak start to weigh heavily at some point?

Ted Glover: I don't want you to think that I was being flippant about Northwestern as an opponent--quite the contrary.  This will be the biggest game on OSU's schedule this year, save for Michigan, so I'm not worried at all about the Buckeyes 'looking ahead' to another opponent.  Because, quite frankly, there really isn't another opponent to look ahead to.

As to what scares me about the WIldcats?  Venric Mark and Cain Colter.  Those guys are just flat out playmaking studs, and I worry about how OSU's defense will handle a spread offense.  Wisconsin was an offense seemingly tailor made for OSU, and the Buckeyes completely stoned Wisconsin on the ground.  But Joel Stave, of all people, lit up the Buckeyes secondary.  And even though I would argue that Jred Abbrederis is the best individual receiver when you look at Wisconsin's roster and Northwestern's, I would argue that Northwestern has the better group of receivers from top to bottom.  And Trevor Siemian is a better QB than Stave, so I think the Wildcats are going to get a lot of yards through the air.

On defense, Northwestern's knack for getting a turnover when they need it worries me, but Ohio State does a very good job of holding on to the ball.  So far this year, they've only turned the ball over five times and have taken it away 10, and if they can stay either neutral or on the plus side of the turnover ledger the Buckeye offense should be okay.  I don't know that Northwestern's defense can consistently stop OSU's offense, and if they can get rolling early, they can take the crowd out of the game and set the tone.  But, if Northwestern does get a few turnovers and turn those into points, it's going to be a dogfight to the final gun.

And if the game is close in the fourth quarter, I would make the argument that it actually favors the Buckeyes.  Ohio State is a program that is used to being in close scoring, big games, with a lot riding on them, and closing the deal.  Northwestern hasn't.  In your three biggest conference games last year, you failed to win what would have been a statement game.  At Penn State, Northwestern entered the 4th quarter leading by 11 points, and you lost...by 11 points.  Against Nebraska at home, you gave up fourth quarter touchdown scoring drives of 80 and 76 yards to lose by a point, and at Michigan...for the love of all that's holy...you choked.  Flat out choked, giving up 17 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to lose a game that you should have won by 10 points.  In each one of those games, your players seemed to tighten up, your coaching staff's play calling became, at times, bewildering, and Northwestern played not to lose.

As to the winning streak, I really don't think that's something that either the team or the fans think about.  It is what it is, but for OSU, The Streak isn't something that matters in the grand scheme of things.  OSU is in the hunt for a berth in the BCS title game, and getting to Pasadena for either that or the Rose Bowl is all that matters, and Northwestern is the next obstacle to overcome to reach that objective.  Urban Meyer is a master motivator, and he'll have his team ready.

C.E. Bell: Before we miss the forest for the trees here, I do want to note the one thing that's most remarkable here:

Northwestern vs. Ohio State is a big game, for both teams, for the conference, and (frankly) for the national championship picture.

I mean, seriously, how crazy is that? Ohio State has the longest current winning streak in the nation at 17.  Northwestern's 7 straight wins is good for 4th in the nation (Stanford is at 12, Alabama is at 8). Fitz vs. Urban is a matchup of two of the most highly regarded coaches in all of college football.  There are alums (NU's Musberger, OSU's Herbstreit) in the booth calling the game. Gameday is in Evanston (for the second time - suck it "never-hosted-Gameday" Champaign-Urbana!).  There is this AWESOME advertisement currently on rotation on ESPN/ABC:


Ohio State vs Northwestern -- ESPN Game of the Week (via GameDayESPN)

As a Northwestern fan, we've dealt with a lack of respect from opponents/media/everyone for a long time. First it was the dark ages, which 1995 erased. Then it was "1995 was a fluke," which 1996 erased.  Then it was "once Barnett leaves, you'll fall apart," which 2000 and Randy Walker erased.  Then it was "Fitz is too young," which 5 straight bowl appearances/6 straight bowl-eligible seasons erased.  Then it was the bowl losing streak, which the Gator Bowl win erased.

Isn't beating Ohio State (top 5 ranked, on a 17 game winning steak, and having never lost under Urban Meyer), on national TV, on Homecoming (seriously, who makes Ohio State their homecoming opponent?), in front of a huge purple crowd (and trust me, while Buckeye fans will be there, that stadium is going to be VERY purple)....I don't want to call it fate, and maybe it's my purple-tinted viewpoint, but that just FEELS like the way this script is supposed to go. This is Northwestern's version of Texas Tech's victory over Texas in 2008 - a statement win, on national TV, announcing your arrival as a national program, and forever changing the public's perception of the program.  The senior leadership on this team (particularly Tyler Scott, Kain Colter, and Venric Mark) have had this game, this moment, circled since the clock hit 0:00 in Jacksonville on January 1st.  Northwestern's program is where it wants to be, and those guys who ended the bowl streak and kept us bowling and improving and who were 5:03 away from perfection last year....I just don't see them messing this opportunity up.  Northwestern wi'll win, or they'll force Ohio State to fight until the very last second to escape Evanston with Urban's streak in tact, and the Buckeyes will walk away fearing a rematch in Indianapolis.

I mean, given all the intangibles and the breakdown of the two teams......this has to be a close game, right? We're all going to be riveted to our TVs/chewing our fingernails in the stands with less than 5 minutes left in the game, aren't we?

Cory: Ted makes a very valid point about the 4th quarter. Despite all our celebrity guests' proclamations to the contrary, it was definitely not "our time" last year.

To be honest, I see Northwestern winning this game if and only if two things go very, very right.

1) Northwestern absolutely must control the tempo of the game. When the offense gets the ball, scoring is not only vital, but so is chewing up the clock and keeping the OSU offense off the field. If Northwestern wins the TOP battle, I think they have a very real shot at setting up something like a 31-28 win. The problem, though, is that if we want to attack the Buckeyes, I can see Northwestern going to the air with Siemian, especially if the Mark-Colter option attack stalls out early. Siemian and the offense will chew up yards, but potentially less time. Long, sustained drives against the OSU defense would do wonders for the 'Cats late in the game.

2) Turnovers. For every long, sustained drive where the 'Cats put points on the board, I can see OSU coming right back and getting yards of their own. Northwestern has forced plenty of turnovers this year, but holding out for serendipitous moments like that could cause problems for Northwestern if the turnovers dry up against an OSU team that, as Ted rightly notes, takes care of the ball.

I think if Northwestern wins both the TOP battle and turnover margin, this game could be a 'Cats win. If either of these doesn't go our way, there could be an awfully vocal scarlet and grey section.

As my last note here, I'm not ready to do any chest-thumping just yet over Ryan Field and its purple-to-red ratio. We knew Nebraska last year was going to be ugly. Even though it's Homecoming, I'm not convinced that this will be any different. There are only 895 tickets available on StubHub as I'm writing this, but it terrifies me thinking about just how many of those already-purchased tickets are OSU fans who were willing to pony up for the chance to see the Bucks live in the Chicagoland area. (Closed circuit to Northwestern fans: Stop that. There are good Northwestern ticket exchange websites. Stop giving those filthy heathens our tickets.) Even with a 70% crowd, the noise level and intimidation factor are not there at Ryan Field. Sorry, Chad, but even if this crowd approaches 75% purple, which is a sad benchmark to have, I'm not optimistic that it will create that imposing of a task for the Buckeyes.

Cory: Alright, let's hear the picks. I'm on record before as Thinking OSU jumps out to an early lead and has Northwestern playing catch-up. The 'Cats fall a score short, 38-30.

C.E. Bell: My firm belief is that this game is (a) going to be close, and (b) involve a lot of points. I just have the feel with everything going on - Gameday, primetime under the lights, Homecoming, the return of Venric Mark - that this game is going to be epic, and something we'll be talking about all season, if not longer.  It's going to be close, the crowd is going to be going nuts.....and I just believe that Northwestern is going to pull this out. Dan Vitale, Venric Mark, and Kain Colter will make some magic under the lights....but Jeff Budzien is the hero with the game winner. Northwestern 37 - Ohio State 34.  Go Cats! Beat OSU!

Ted: Oh Jesus Chad, I love the optimism, but like I said over at SOP, hold on to all those good things you just mentioned when the clock strikes Midnight Cinderella. 42-31 OSU.

Let us hear it, y'all. Who ya got? Go 'Cats!

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