Usually on “three things to know”, we cover Big Ten teams that you may not have watched unless you watch BTN religiously or anonymous non-conference opponents. This is not one of those cases. There is a reasonably good chance that you have watched Ohio State play a game on television at least once or twice this season, so I’ve made it my mission to find some obscure but important factoids for this particular article.
1. The Buckeye offense is slowing down.
If you had told me that Northwestern would outscore Ohio State by 27 points during any three-game stretch of the 2016 college football season, I would have laughed in your face. And yet, here we are. Ohio State had great fun carving up Bowling Green and an Oklahoma defense that just gave up 59 points and 734 passing yards to Texas Tech. But we’re in the midst of B1G football, and J.T. Barrett and Co. have not looked as lethal when facing Wisconsin and Penn State as they did earlier in the season. Also, they only put up 58 against Rutgers at home, which is actually a bit of a disappointment. Michigan put up 78 on the road. Be better, Buckeyes.
Against Penn State, it looked like Ohio State could no longer protect J.T. Barrett, which is concerning for Ohio State considering how good Ifeadi Odenigbo has been as of late. Although Ohio State is 3rd in the nation in Football Outsiders’ offensive line ratings, it only ranks 76th in adjusted sack rate on passing downs. That’s not good. Unfortunately, given the state of Northwestern’s secondary, keeping Ohio State to passing downs will be difficult.
J.T. Barrett has also been rather disappointing in his last two games, especially for a preseason Heisman contender. He did not have a vintage performance against Wisconsin, and his Clayton Thorson 2015-esque stat line against Penn State was not great either. On the other hand, Barrett will surely be hoping to right the ship against Northwestern, and facing a completely depleted secondary could be the answer.
It’s fair to say that Ohio State no longer has the most fearsome offense in the nation, which is how things looked heading into Big Ten play. That honor has been singlehandedly won by Lamar Jackson. Ohio State’s offense isn’t bad, of course, but the last two weeks have shown us that the Buckeyes can be stopped. But can they be stopped for two weeks in a row? We’ll see.
2. Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker are two of the best defenders in the country.
Austin Carr has laid waste to the Big Ten. After another stellar performance against Indiana, he is still averaging over 100 yards per game and has the most touchdowns of any wide receiver in the conference.
Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore has also laid waste to the Big Ten, and he will give Carr his toughest test yet. Lattimore has shown an ability to cover just about any college wide receiver on deep routes, medium routes and short routes. He’s one of the reasons Ohio State holds opposing quarterbacks to a 46.3 percent completion percentage and sits 5th in the nation in pass defense S&P. Saturday’s game will be a test of a thus far unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.
The other big success in Ohio State’s secondary is Malik Hooker, who is equally good at covering deep routes and one of the best tacklers in the country. He already has four interceptions this season. He’s also really fast:
Poor Trace McSorley. Obviously, Penn State is very lucky they were able to run back a blocked field goal for a touchdown.
Despite the loss last week, Ohio State’s secondary hasn’t slipped at all, and they will be hungry to take advantage of any mistakes that Clayton Thorson makes.
3. Urban Meyer is 21-4 as a head coach after suffering a loss.
While this is an interesting stat, the real point here is that Ohio State is still very, very good and Urban Meyer is a very, very good football coach. Meyer’s history with Northwestern goes back to his Bowling Green days, as he notched an utterly ridiculous 43-42 win at Northwestern’s homecoming in 2001, in which Bowling Green scored 29 points in the fourth quarter and 15 points in the final 4 minutes to win the game. (Wow, Northwestern was losing stupid games to MAC teams when I was four years old!)
And of course, there’s the last time that Northwestern played Ohio State.
Can we not talk about that? Okay, let’s not talk about that.
Urban Meyer is an outstanding football coach, and he will not be overlooking this game. Unless his team of NFL-ready uber recruits has a mental breakdown after possibly blowing its shot at the national title, which, well, definitely won’t happen; the Buckeyes will be ready for this game. But you knew that already. Everyone knew that already. Ohio State is favored by 23 points, and for good reason. Northwestern will need an extraordinary effort.