Two quarters into one of the biggest games in Northwestern history, the Wildcats lead AP No. 4 Ohio State, 20-13. Here are some brief thoughts from a hotly contested first half.
-- On its first drive, an eight-play, 65-yard sequence, Ohio State physically dominated Northwestern along the line of scrimmage. Big holes were opened up, receivers were allowed far too much room, and Braxton Miller picked apart Northwestern’s defense with a series of short passes. The Wildcats held firm in the redzone, and Ohio State settled for a field goal
-- After a short drive that stalled around midfield, Northwestern punted. Two plays later, Tyler Scott stripped Miller and recovered in Ohio State territory. The Wildcats capitalized on favorable field position when Trevor Siemian, quarterback 1B, fired a nine-yard dart to Kain Colter, quarterback 1A, who was doubling as a receiver.
-- With a 7-3 lead in hand, Northwestern relinquished its momentum with an uncharacteristic special teams breakdown. Ohio State corner Bradley Roby clobbered punter Brandon Williams in the end zone, and the Buckeyes recovered for a touchdown. The Scott strip sack and ensuing touchdown had seemingly been canceled out by Ohio State’s special teams touchdown.
-- It wasn’t long before Colter found himself in the endzone again, this time as a runner, the end of a 10-play, 75-yard drive. Colter’s two-yard plunge gave Northwestern a 14-10 lead, but Ohio State responded with a long (12 plays) drive reminiscent of the one that opened the game. The end result was the same: Ohio State finished with a field goal. Northwestern responded with a long drive of its own, but was held up near the Buckeyes’ goal line and kicked a field goal to go up 17-13. After stuffing Ohio State on a fake punt, Northwestern drove for another field goal. The half came to a close after redshirt freshman Ifeadi Odenigbo hit Miller's arm during a throw, which landed in the arms of linebacker Chi-Chi Ariguzo.
-- The Wildcats, to the surprise of virtually no one, appear to be at a physical disadvantage along the line of scrimmage, but their disciplined, sound, instinctive play – coupled with Ohio State’s inability to finish drives with touchdowns – has allowed them to stake a halftime lead. Ohio State is more talented and athletic, but Northwestern (cliché alert) plays well to its schemes and minimizes mistakes.
-- It’s hard not to be impressed with offensive coordinator Mick McCall’s gameplan. Northwestern’s ability to use different schemes and formations to attack Ohio State from a variety of angles has fazed the Buckeyes on several occasions. Most Northwestern media members expected Colter to see time at wide receiver, but lining up Mark – in his first game back – at wideout was an interesting twist. The frequent use of Dan Vitale at H-back was another effective strategic tweak.
-- If there’s one major concern after the first half for Northwestern’s defense, it’s the cornerbacks, which continue to give OSU’s wide receiver too big a cushion at the line of scrimmage. Of course, playing conservatively, rather than pressing in close coverage, typically limits big plays, but Miller has, in certain instances (particularly the first drive of the game), found open receivers for intermediate completions.
-- Oh, and in case you weren’t sure, Mark is back. His second-quarter trucking of senior safety C.J. Barnett was proof enough.