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Three things to know about Ohio State

The Buckeyes hit their stride last week against Michigan.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Dwayne Haskins is the truth

The Potomac, MD native has been spectacular this season. He’s thrown for over 4,000 yards, is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and has tossed 41 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Haskins can stand in and deliver strikes from the pocket, but he’s also mobile enough to hurt defenses with his feet, both on designed and unscripted runs and scrambles.

Last week against Michigan, one of the best defenses in the country, Haskins threw for 396 yards and six scores.

“He’s a complete quarterback,” Pat Fitzgerald said. “His poise, understanding of the offense. He does a phenomenal job of taking what the defense gives him. If I had a Heisman ballot, I’d vote for him. I think he’s a phenomenal football player.”

Even when Ohio State’s defense has struggled (more on that below), Haskins has carried the Buckeyes on his shoulders. OSU has scored 40 or more points seven times this season, and won games in which its opponents have scored 51 and 39 points in the past two weeks alone.

“First and foremost, he has a big arm,” Joe Gaziano said. “I think he’s very good at reading through his keys, but he’s also able to move the pocket, whether it’s designed or not, he’s able to extend plays with his feet. Our secondary will do a great job this week, they’ve had some setbacks but they’re ready to step up.”

Haskins will certainly present an immense challenge for Northwestern’s defense.

The Buckeye defense has struggled at times this season

Ohio State ranks No. 57 in the country in scoring defense, and ranks No. 120 in the country in marginal explosiveness, meaning the Buckeyes give up a good amount of explosive plays. That doesn’t mean the Buckeye defense is bereft of playmakers — OSU ranks No. 21 in the country in total sacks with 34 in 12 games, and No. 35 in overall defensive S&P+ (Northwestern ranks No. 27 in defensive S&P+).

There are certainly a number of NFL players on Ohio State’s defense, but there have been mistakes and gaps in the defense throughout the season, though not as much last week against Michigan. Against Maryland, for example, Buckeye linebackers on several occasions misplayed gaps in run defense and allowed big runs on the outside. And, often times the linebackers have crowded the line of scrimmage to help the defensive line apply pressure, which has created holes in the middle of the field. The OSU corners aren’t quite as good as they’ve been in years past, and that means there’s less margin for error with the pass-rush, which lost arguably the nation’s best pass-rusher when Nick Bosa went down with a season-ending injury.

Clearly, OSU’s defense is able and talented. It has struggled at various points, though, against the likes of Maryland, Purdue and Nebraska. Northwestern’s running game isn’t built around explosive plays (despite a 55-yard run by Isaiah Bowser last week), but there could be some opportunities for chunk gains on the ground this week.

Urban Meyer has been here before

It’s difficult to quantify experience, but it’s hard to discount it too. Of the eight Big Ten Championships, Meyer and the Buckeyes have played in four them (counting this year). Meyer has won the game twice, and he’s been to the College Football Playoff multiple times and won multiple national championships. The Buckeyes are used to scenarios like this — the neutral site game, playing a 13th game in 14 weeks and all else that comes with playing in a championship game.

The Buckeyes will certainly have more pressure and expectations in this game, but they played a game last week that carried probably even more hype against their arch-rival in a Big Ten Championship play-in game. For as up and down a season it’s been for Meyer and Ohio State, the Buckeyes played their best game of the season in their last game and will come into Indianapolis with momentum and a legitimate shot at the College Football Playoff. They will be prepared.