Gameday is just one day away — and we're even closer to GameDay — meaning it's time to examine both sides of the Northwestern-Ohio State matchup. We take a look at who has the edge in each category of the game.
When Ohio State has the ball
This might be the biggest mismatch of the game. The Ohio State offense can score on just about anyone, and the Northwestern defensive — particularly the interior defensive line and the corners — has been suspect this season. The Buckeyes' quarterback, Braxton Miller, is a Heisman candidate, but backup Kenny Guiton is perhaps an even better thrower. Guiton started when Miller was injured, but Miller was back for the last game against Wisconsin and Guiton didn't play at all. Even if Guiton does see time on Saturday, Miller will be in for a majority of the time. He's lethal on the zone read and has turned into an accurate passer, as well. Combine that with running back Carlos Hyde and an up-and-coming group of receivers, and the OSU offense is one of the best in the nation.
With defensive tackle Sean McEvilly out, NU could struggle against OSU's balanced attack. The linebackers will need to come up in run support and that leaves the Wildcats open to play-action passes (Maine exploited this, so OSU surely can). Then there's the secondary. To keep up with OSU's speedy receivers, I think we might see more nickel from NU, since Jimmy Hall has been playing well this year and proven himself as a nickelback. This might be the most we see him there since last year's Gator Bowl. For NU to keep up, the defense is going to have to force some turnovers, which it's done a good job of this season.
Edge: Ohio State
When Northwestern has the ball
OSU's defense actually has a lot of the same problem's Northwestern's does. The Buckeyes have great defensive ends, but their interior defensive line has struggled. That's forced the linebackers to come up in run support, and against Wisconsin — a bad pass offense — it left the middle of the defense vulnerable to the pass. However, OSU did a good job of taking away the edge against Wisconsin, meaning NU will need to use the zone read to get outside. If that forces the Buckeyes to sell out completely against the run, it will open a lot up over the middle (and vice versa).
The OSU secondary was already suspect this year, and it could struggle even more with the loss of safety Christian Bryant. I expect to see a lot of Kain Colter-Venric Mark zone read, but NU will be looking deep when Trevor Siemian is in the game. That could open things up. Regardless of the specifics of the gameplan, Mick McCall told BTN's Rick Pizzo that NU will have to "tempo the heck out of OSU." If NU can be efficient on offense, that just might work.
This one is so hard to judge because we don't know whether Venric Mark will be on kick and punt returns. He's listed to be back there on the depth chart, but that doesn't really mean anything, and NU may opt to keep him out of those dangerous situations to keep him healthy. Regardless, Matt Harris has shown some flashes as a return man, so it's not all bad for NU. As far as kicking goes, the Buckeyes don't kick many field goals — Drew Basil is 3-for-3 on the year — so that's kind of hard to gauge, as well. Jeff Budzien is a good kicker, but he's already missed twice this year. If either team gets a special teams touchdown, that could turn the tide of the game.