2018 Game Preview: Ohio State vs Northwestern, Big 10 Championship Game
Ohio State Preview: Ohio State gets to play one more game thanks to their dominating performance against Michigan. They won by 23 points, but it really wasn’t that close, and Michigan scored on their last few positions in garbage time. The Ohio State team that showed up on Saturday is the team many fans were wanting to see the rest of the season once Urban came back. There isn’t anything anyone can do though to change the past, and the Buckeyes will have that 29 point loss to Purdue weight hanging around their neck, and you can be sure if it comes down to a 1 loss Ohio State, a 1 loss Oklahoma, or even a 1 loss Alabama, you can be sure that that loss will be used and brought up against them. However, the Buckeyes need to win this next game to continue the discussion for them, because like we have seen in college football, anything can happen.
Dwayne Haskins, your seat is waiting for you in New York. It is unfortunate he is going up against arguably Alabama’s best quarterback since Joe Namath, and Kyler Murray from Oklahoma for the Heisman this season, because he has better numbers than both of them in passing yards, and passing touchdowns. He was also excluded from the post season awards for nations best player and best quarterback. He will be the quarterback of the conference, and he should be at worst a third team All-American. He has statistically the best season not only at Ohio State, but in the Big Ten, as he now holds the record for most passing yard and passing touchdowns. His total for each has been adjusted slightly, as the Parris Campbell touchdown for 78 yards was originally listed as a run, but now has been changed to a passing touchdown. So, for The Game, he threw for 396 yards and 6 touchdowns against the number 1 passing defense in the country. For the season, he had thrown for 4081 yards, and 42 touchdowns. He is second in the country behind Washington State’s Gardner Minshew, in passing yardage, and number 1 in the country in touchdown passes. Second place is West Virginia’s Will Grier and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, who both have 37 touchdown passes. Haskins has earned his hardware and should be recognized for this season.
With 78 yards negated as a rushing total against Michigan, the running total against the number 1 rushing defense was 171 yards, which is still an accomplishment. Mike Weber rushed for 96 yards and touchdown on 13 carries, and wore the number 5 against Michigan in honor of his high school playing days. JK Dobbins rushed 12 times for 46 yards, and Haskins added 34 yards on 7 carries to keep him as a running threat. For the season, JK Dobbins still leads the team with 961 yards, on 206 carries and 8 touchdowns. Weber has 807 yards on 150 carried and 5 touchdowns. With atleast 2 games remaining on the schedule, there is still a chance for Ohio State to have 2 1000 yard rushers in the same season. Someone tell Urban that since there seems to be an emphasis on a balanced run game to compliment the phenomenal passing attack.
There cannot be enough said about the wide receivers for this team. This core is where the majority of the leadership is at for the team, and without them doing the right things, especially with the distractions and the coaching change, Ohio State would not be a 11-1 team, and Dwayne Haskins would not have the numbers he has without Zone 6 doing their job each and every game. It is evident that there are times they have come up short, and it is football, it is hard to be perfect every game, but when we needed them the most, they have delivered. Chris Olave came into the Michigan game with 5 catches for the season, and he hauled in two 24 yard touchdown catches, and a blocked punt that helped in the dominant game against the Wolverines. That just shows the depth of the unit, and with the graduating seniors this year, which all three wide receivers were called out last during the senior recognition before the Michigan game, they will still be in good hands. With the added yardage to his receiving statistics, Parris Campbell now has 906 yards receiving for the season on 77 receptions and 11 touchdowns. He is just 96 yards shy of breaking 1000 yards, and if he can do that within the next 2 games, he will be the 5th Buckeye to do so. The current record is held by David Boston with 1,435 yards in 1998. Not far behind Parris is KJ Hill who has 823 yards on 66 receptions and 6 touchdowns. Terry McLaurin, Johnnie Dixon, and Binjimen Victor do a lot of the right things for the team, and even though they don’t have the same stats, they have contributed in making sure they are doing what they can for the team.
The offensive line played their best game against one of the best defense in the country, and did not allow Haskins to get sacked. That is a credit to the effort they put in, and will need to do the same against Northwestern, which is a defense that does not make mistakes. Demetrious Nox will not be playing in the Big Ten Championship game due to the injury at the last minutes of the Michigan game, and could be done for the rest of the season. In his place, Wyatt Davis will take his spot on the line, who filled in for him at the end of the Michigan game and has experience earlier this year. Urban has expressed his has confidence in his line, who will have another challenge.
The defense played potentially its best game of the season. To some, it might be alarming that they still gave up 39 points, but most of those points were garbage time plays when Ohio State was playing prevent with a lead well in place. If the committee is looking at Ohio State and Oklahoma with similar records and both conference champions, the part that defines which is more complete is the defense, so they will need to contain a struggling offensive attack from Northwestern to boost their playoff chances. Otherwise, Ohio State could be playing Washington or Utah in the Rose Bowl.
Northwestern Preview: Northwestern is 15-1 in its last 16 Big Ten games, and comes into this game as a 2 touchdown underdog. Pat Fitzgerald is a Northwestern man through and through, and has brought the Purple and White to a place of relevance and a destination spot for college recruits. There is a lot of respect for him from coach Meyer, and the rest of the country, and his has consistently put up winning seasons since taking over as the head coach. Like Kirk Ferentz, Fitzgerald has been able to do more with less, and that is what makes him such a respected figure around all of college football.
Northwestern won the West with 2 games to go in the regular season, and finished its last two games with a win. their lone loss in that 16 game stretch was to Michigan this season, which they lead 17-0, before giving up 20 unanswered points. They did however lose all of their nonconference games this season, including Akron, Duke, and a hard fought loss to still undefeated Notre Dame. Although they lost the non conference games, they took care of business in the Big Ten, and now have an opportunity to challenge an up and down Ohio State team for a chance to win a Big Ten Championship, which would be their first since 2000.
Their offense is lead by Clayton Thorson, who has thrown for 2675 yards, along with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, and a 60% completion rate. He has been steady though with the offense, and despite the turnovers, he puts his team in positions to win games, and similar to Michigan’s offense, the Northwestern’s offense likes to chew the clock to limit possessions for the opposing team.
The leading rusher is Isaiah Bowser, who has 736 yards on 161 carries and 6 touchdowns. Behind him is Jeremy Larkin, who has 346 yards on 72 carries and 5 touchdowns. Larkin though is out for the season. They average over 4 yards a carry, and have broken a few long runs on the season. For a defense that is prone to give up chunk plays, the lineman and linebackers for Ohio State will need to keep the running backs in front of them, and not let them get to the second level.
Thorson’s favorite target is wide-out Flynn Nagal, who has 746 yard on 64 receptions, and 2 touchdowns. Bennett Skowronek is next on the team with 514 yards and 3 touchdowns. The third leading receiver is Cameron Green, who has 411 yard and 3 touchdowns for the season. Thorson does spread the ball around a little, but the offense for Northwestern is not know for it’s lethal passing attack.
On defense is where the Northwestern can hurt you. They are potentially bringing back three defensive backs who have been injured for some time this season. They have play makers at all three levels, and will play a disciplined defense. In total, Northwestern has only had 34 penalties for the season, and will not make mental mistakes, meaning the Buckeyes would need to play a clean and efficient game plan as possible. The defensive backs also stay in their lane, and have caused some fits for some of the stronger offenses on their schedule. If Ohio State is to win this game, it would be a result of taking advantage of the opportunities on offense. They do not want to have a close game in the 4th quarter, because that is where Northwestern can pull the upset.
Buckeye Spotlight: Dwayne Haskins. As noted above, the defense is not going to give him a lot of opportunity, and he will need to get his players open in space to carve up the back seven of the Wildcats. With the threat of the run game, you could potentially see him make plays with his feet, but his arm is what does the most damage. The committee will also be watching, and the offense needs to make a statement win for any chance of separating itself from other one loss teams.
Wildcat Spotlight: Clayton Thorson. He is a playmaker even if the stats don’t back it up, and how he plays will determine how close of a game this will be. If the Wildcats can get some momentum and chew clock, he will make sure he can capitalize on each possession. It will be a test of weaknesses for each team, but if Thorson has time, he can hurt you.
Water Cooler Stat of the Game: 6-1. In the 7 years of the Big Ten Championship Game, the division that Ohio State is in is 6-1. The lone loss is by Ohio State, in the 2013 Big Ten Championship game. It should be noted as well that Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State are tied with 2 wins, and if Ohio State wins this week, they will have more Big Ten Championship Game wins than anyone else from the conference.
Prediction: Urban Meyer has a lot of respect for Pat Fitzgerald, and Northwestern has had an advantage to game prep for Ohio State because they locked the West with 2 games to go in the regular season. Ohio State is riding its best win of the season, and in dominating fashion. The focus will be on how well the Ohio State defense can hold the Northwestern offense, and the Ohio State offense will need to score as often as it can. Look for Northwestern to play a similar style that Michigan did in this game, and try to limit Ohio State’s possessions. Ohio State though is the better team, and no matter how much game prep you have, the speed of Ohio State in this stadium will prove to be the difference.