In a beatdown that went mostly as expected, Northwestern was on the wrong end of their worst home loss in the Pat Fitzgerald era, falling 52-3 to the clear national championship contender Buckeyes. Even still, there were some things that weren’t so bad. Our full stock report:
Both the run and the pass game were the beneficiaries of improved and impressive play from the offensive line, especially Rashawn Slater, Jared Thomas, Nik Urban, and Sam Gerak. The Wildcats allowed only one sack on the day (early on in the first drive by a future high first round pick), and the front five paved the way for 175 non-sack rushing yards. Not much went according to plan for the ‘Cats tonight, but this was surely a positive against a vaunted Ohio State front seven.
After missing what would have been the go-ahead field goal against Nebraska two weeks ago, Kuhbander performed when called upon and nailed a 33-yard field goal from the right hash. Unfortunately, the junior did not see the field for the rest of the contest.
McGowan was all over the field tonight, making some nice early plays at running back and wide receiver before even managing to get a tackle in kick coverage. He may have only seen three official touches, but the junior certainly made the most of them.
Honorable Mentions: Ball carriers, non-red zone or third down defense, every individual OSU player, students who stayed, Trey Finison’s kickoffs, material for Stock Down
The passing game
You’d think that after the start that Northwestern has had to the season, this aspect of things couldn’t get any worse than it already is. Well, turns out that’s not the case! The Wildcats went 6-21 through the air, threw for fewer yards in a game than they have in any contest since 2003 (42), and added two picks to go along with it.
We all knew that this group would struggle considerably against the Buckeyes. But there are struggles, and then there’s the numbers above.
Some blame lies with the receivers, who had their share of drops, and some blame lies with Aidan Smith, who made his fair share of baffling decisions and poor throws. But plenty of the blame seems to lie with the coaching staff as well. Only two or three new/interesting pass plays came to fruition despite a full bye week to prepare and the ‘Cats were constantly put in tough third and long spots thanks to repetitive early down play calling. Not ideal.
The “bend but don’t break” philosophy
All season long, the Wildcat defense has thrived when it comes to limiting explosive plays and red zone efficiency. After all, that’s what defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz hangs his hat on. Well, the Buckeyes scored touchdowns on each of the five drives they saw reach the red zone on Friday, and had eight plays longer than 15 yards (including three 50+ yard carries) out of just 63 plays total.
A mix of factors, including being outschemed (according to Pat Fitzgerald), missing some key tackles, and just flat-out being out-athletedcontributed to these struggles. Regardless, the fact is that Northwestern only held Ohio State to a field goal when the first half clock literally ran out on them. That is the opposite of the way this defense is designed to play, and if it bleeds over into the coming weeks it could spell significant trouble.
Daniel Kubiuk didn’t have his best day, netting an average of just 37 yards on seven punts with the longest traveling just 45 yards, and eventually gave way to grad transfer Andrew David (though that may have been as much about getting David playing time late in a blowout than anything else). Kubiuk also hit a grounder that he nearly whiffed on from the back of his own end zone.
But the two worst mistakes of the day were made via punt coverage and a snapping miscommunication, respectively. First, late in the first half, Tyler Gillikin rolled a snap into Kubiuk, forcing him to fall on it for a loss and giving OSU a short field to convert an easy touchdown. Fitzgerald blamed the play on a mistake with a new cadence, noting it being the first snap miscue of Gillikin’s career. Then, in the third quarter, Joe Bergin committed a silly and costly kick catch interference penalty. Not the best game for the punting unit!
Honorable Mentions: Third down defense (OSU went 8-14), tackling, penalties, diversified play calling, Northwestern’s scoring average against Power 5 teams (now down to 8)