Northwestern did its part to play up against the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes, easily covering the +38 spread. Here are the positives and negatives from the Wildcats’ eighth straight loss.
In easily the toughest matchup that the secondary has faced, but the members of the secondary stepped up. On the first drive of the game, both of C.J. Stroud’s passes were broken up, and Cameron Mitchell broke up Stroud’s pass to Gee Scott. The ‘Cats started Stroud out 0-for-5 passing. Stroud was not able to find the open man throughout the first half, as Mitchell, as well as the rest of the defensive back room, played sound football and continually broke up passes.
In the first half, Stroud was held to just 46 yards passing in the first half, and his completion percentage was 39%, well below his season average. They continued to ball in the second half, as they held Stroud to career-low 76 yards. It was also Stroud’s lowest completion percentage of his career at 38%.
Northwestern came out firing on both sides of the trenches. On the offensive side, NU drove the ball right down the field on the backs of Evan Hull, Cam Porter and the NU offensive line. The ‘Cats ran for 61 yards on the possession, including a 16-yard touchdown to go up 7-0. The Wildcats ran the offense through their O-line: Sullivan only threw the ball six times in the first half, while Northwestern ran for over 100 yards in the first half. The O-Line opened holes all day, as the ‘Cats rushed for 200 yards.
On the other side of the ball, Northwestern’s interior run defense was phenomenal all day. On the Buckeyes’ first drive after Hull’s touchdown, Adetomiwa Adebawore and Co. stuffed Buckeyes running back Miyan Williams on a third-and-one to force the third OSU punt of the game. Adebawore did it himself on the next drive, holding Williams to no yards on another third-and-one before Northwestern stonewalled Ohio State on fourth down, turning the ball over on downs and giving the offense the ball inside Buckeye territory. They continued to plug the middle all day, forcing Ohio State to make plays outside the tackle box.
In what has been a tumultuous year for the junior coming off a torn ACL, the Cincinnati native looks closer to his 2020 self. Porter was explosive out of the backfield with his quick burst and ability to hit the hole. He opened the Wildcats’ only scoring drive of the game with a 13-yard rush and picked up large chunks running between the tackles. It was Porter’s best game of the year, rushing for 50 yards on 4.5 yards per attempt. If Porter can build off this game and get back to his old self, the two-back tandem of Hull and Porter will be dangerous.
Honorable Mention: Brendan Sullivan, post-Twitter blocking spree Jim O’Neil
The Wildcats running the Wildcat
Dear Mike Bajakian, it is no longer 2009 and defenses figured out how to defend a running back taking a direct snap. Although it worked on NU’s first touchdown drive, the Buckeyes quickly adjusted and shut it down. The defense gifted the offense a drive inside of OSU territory, yet three straight direct snaps to the running back fooled nobody and cut the engine out of any chances the ‘Cats had to expand their lead.
The call on the ensuing drive was more baffling, as it was evident that the Buckeyes had stifled the Wildcat. Evan Hull had no chance and Northwestern had to punt. Yet, in a two-minute drill, Bajakian continued to call it, and then had the genius game plan to run it six out of seven plays on the opening drive of the second half. Not only was it all Wildcat plays, but Brendan Sullivan was also pulled to the sideline. OSU knew it was a run and loaded the box with nine defenders. Football just went back to the 1800s.
While the Northwestern interior defense was largely fantastic, the ‘Cats struggled to keep the Buckeyes inside the tackle box. Ohio State was effective on stretch runs and jet sweeps, including a 15-yard touchdown dash by Emeka Egbuka that tied the game. Northwestern failed to contain Stroud, as he had multiple long runs to move the chains for the Buckeyes, including a 44-yard zone read put OSU in the red zone. Stroud was also able to complete his play-action boot passes and had room to scramble and pick up a handful of yards. In the backbreaking play of the game, Stroud took a zone read 44 yards inside the NU 5 and a TD put the game away.
Key Moment Execution
The story of Northwestern’s shortcomings all season can be surmised as a failure to execute in key situations. It was no different on Saturday, as the ‘Cats struggled to finish drives. NU had multiple fourth downs inside Buckeye territory that they failed to convert.
After running three wildcat plays, Sullivan found Malik Washington on fourth down, but Washington was tackled short of the line to gain — Northwestern squandered its chance to increase the lead. On another fourth down near midfield, Bajakian once again dialed up the Wildcat and, unsurprisingly, was stopped. OSU went right down the field and took a 14-7 lead, never back. Even when NU looked like it could get back in the game, a crucial third-down drop by Genson Hooper Price forced NU into a fourth-and-long, where Sullivan could not connect with Donny Navarro III and turned the ball over on downs.
Honorable Mention: Mother Nature, C.J. Stroud’s draft stock