Unlike the original low-scoring projections from this past weekend in Iowa City, most people are expecting to see a lot of touchdowns this Saturday... although they may only come from one of the teams. Ohio State has won its last eight games, while Northwestern on the other hand is on a seven-game slide. Is this a true David and Goliath story? Perhaps. Will it end the same? That’s left to be seen. Inside NU spoke with The Columbus Dispatch’s Joey Kaufman to discuss Saturday’s matchup against the Buckeyes ahead of kickoff:
INU: The Buckeyes have looked nearly unstoppable this season, but Penn State did manage to slow down Ohio State for the first three quarters. Did Penn State expose a larger issue within the Buckeyes, or was it just an off day?
JK: A large part of the equation is Penn State is one of the few teams in the Big Ten that recruits at a level close to Ohio State. It isn’t quite in the same tier, the talent gap isn’t as narrow as a few seasons ago, but the half of the Nittany Lions’ roster is still made up of former blue-chip recruits. That gives them enough to be a real challenge. Though the Buckeyes have won six in a row in the series, none of their wins have come by more than two touchdowns.
Penn State also took advantage of some of Ohio State’s sore spots. The Buckeyes’ offense has struggled in the past, though largely last season, in maximizing their trips to the red zone, and it got only two touchdowns out of the five times it got inside the 20-yard line in Happy Valley. Sometimes, the Buckeyes stall out as it gets closer to the end zone.
INU: CJ Stroud has had a phenomenal year and projects to be one of the first players taken in April, what makes him so special? Do you expect him to win the Heisman?
JK: It’s a combination of his arm talent and preparedness as a passer. There’s no question Stroud fits passes into tight windows and has a nice touch that allows Ryan Day to call an offense that is aggressive pushing the ball down the field vertically. But Stroud also spends a lot of time watching film and scouting opponents. In interviews, his recollection of coverages always stands out. You can tell he does his homework and knows where he wants to go in distributing passes. If there’s a weakness, it’s dealing with pressure. He’s made strides making plays outside of structure as a quarterback, using his legs to evade a rush, but it’s not a strength.
I expect Stroud will be in New York as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, but I’m unsure if he’ll win the award. Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker is proving to be tough competition, and the Volunteers are playing in marquee games seemingly every weekend whereas Ohio State won’t play another ranked opponent until Michigan.
INU: The offense is highly touted, but the Buckeye defense is also a force, ranking sixth in the nation in total defense. Who really stands out among that unit?
JK: Well, sophomore defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau had his breakout performance last weekend at Penn State with two sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. It was a level dominance reminiscent of Chase Young from 2019. Northwestern’s offense will have to look out for Tuimoloau, who was the Buckeyes’ highest ranked defensive signee in the modern recruiting era and is now realizing that potential. But linebackers Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers have been the most consistent playmakers this season with the way they are roaming sideline to sideline in Jim Knowles’ scheme.
INU: Everyone knows about the big names — Stroud, Henderson, Harrison — who’s someone else the Wildcat fans should look for to make a major impact this weekend?
JK: It looks like Miyan Williams is expected to be available after he collided into the first-down marker last Saturday. Williams is the complement back to Henderson, but has been as productive when healthy. He ran for five touchdowns against Rutgers, tying a school record, and runs hard. Of his 525 rushing yards this season, 361 have come after contact, according to Pro Football Focus. No Big Ten running back who has as many carries as Williams averages more yards after contact. He’s going to be hard for the Wildcats to bring down.
INU: Lastly, what’s your score prediction for Saturday and why?
JK: My formal prediction in The Dispatch was Ohio State by a margin of 52-7, and I’ll stick with that. I think the Buckeyes cover a point spread that is approaching six touchdowns, though there is the possibility of an emotional letdown for the Buckeyes after winning at Penn State, as well as rainy and windy weather conditions turning Ryan Field into a slop. Still, there is such a wide gap between these teams that it shouldn’t be competitive past the first or second quarter.