Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Northwestern Preview and Prediction

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Ohio State and Northwestern have not played since 2008 and much has changed between these two teams since the last meeting.

The Buckeyes are 46-10 from 2009-13, which includes the lost 2011 season due to suspensions and the preseason departure of coach Jim Tressel.

Success is nothing new to Ohio State, but the Buckeyes are the standard. If you want to join the Big Ten’s elite, you have to knock off Ohio State on a consistent basis.

Northwestern has made steady progress under coach Pat Fitzgerald, and Saturday night’s game against Ohio State is a huge opportunity for his team. The Wildcats won 10 games for only the third time in school history last year, which included a 34-20 bowl win over Mississippi State – the program’s first since 1949.

Northwestern is also off to a fast start in 2013, recording a road win at California in the opener, followed by home victories against Syracuse, Western Michigan and Maine.

Beating Ohio State isn’t a must to give credibility to Northwestern, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt. Fitzgerald has assembled one of the most-talented teams in the program’s history. And the schedule won’t get any easier in the next two months, as Wisconsin is up next, followed by a November slate of a road trip to Nebraska, followed by home dates against Michigan and Michigan State.

The overall series has been dominated by Ohio State, owning a 59-14-1 edge over Northwestern. The Wildcats have lost 28 out of their last 29 meetings against the Buckeyes. However, Northwestern knocked off Ohio State 33-27 in Evanston in 2004. 

Northwestern vs. Ohio State

Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Ohio State -7

Three Things to Watch

Ohio State DL vs. Northwestern OL
So far, Ohio State’s rebuilt defensive line has answered the bell this season. The Buckeyes lead the Big Ten with 11 sacks generated through five games, and opponents are managing only 84.6 rushing yards per game. Ohio State held Wisconsin’s rushing attack to just 104 yards on 27 attempts – a far cry from the Badgers’ average of 300.6 yards per game. End Noah Spence leads the team with 2.5 sacks, while fellow linemen Steve Miller and Michael Bennett have chipped in three tackles for a loss a piece. Northwestern’s line lost three starters from last season’s unit and has allowed seven sacks through four games. Junior Jack Konopka and center Brandon Vitabile are most-experienced options on the line, combining for 47 starts in their career. However, the other three starters (Ian Park, Geoff Mogus and Paul Jorgensen) have just 13 combined starts. Ohio State has the best defense Northwestern has played this year. And the Buckeyes have a deep, athletic group of options in the trenches, which will present a challenge for the Wildcats’ offensive line.

Northwestern RB Venric Mark
Mark was one of the Big Ten’s top playmakers last season, rushing for 1,366 yards and 12 scores and catching 20 passes for 104 yards and one touchdown. Mark was also a weapon on special teams, averaging 18.7 yards per punt return and took two back for scores. Due to injuries, the senior is off to a slow start this season. Mark was injured late in fall camp and played in the opener against California. However, he managed only 29 yards on 11 attempts and has not played since. With four weeks to heal, Mark is expected to be at full strength on Saturday night, which should provide a huge boost for Northwestern’s offense. In his absence, Treyvon Green and Mike Trumpy have filled in admirably, but Mark is a difference maker. Even though he may have to knock off some rust, Mark is a dynamic playmaker who should see at least 20 touches on Saturday night.

Northwestern’s QBs: Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian
Most coaches don’t want any part of a two-quarterback system. But Northwestern has embraced that approach, as Colter and Siemian bring a different skill-set to the offense. Colter is the better runner and has 237 rushing yards and three scores through four games. Siemian is the better passer, and the Wildcats’ offense is more capable of attacking downfield with the pass when he’s on the field. In four games this year, Siemian has completed 67.1 percent of his throws for 671 yards and four scores. Can this rotation work effectively once again? Balance will be crucial for Colter. Ohio State knows he wants to run, but Colter has to hit a few passes to back the defense off the line of scrimmage. The Buckeyes’ secondary has picked off six passes this season, but safety Christian Bryant was lost for the year with an ankle injury in last week’s game against Wisconsin.

Key Player: Dwight White, CB, Northwestern

Ohio State’s supporting cast has improved since last season, with freshman Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott emerging to take some of the pressure off of quarterback Braxton Miller. The receiving corps has four players with at least 10 catches, including Devin Smith (16.5 ypc). White was pressed into the starting lineup after Daniel Jones suffered a knee injury in the opener against California, and the freshman has recorded 20 stops in four games. White will be tested once again on Saturday night, as Ohio State is the best offense Northwestern has played all year. With sophomore Nick VanHoose on the other side, the Buckeyes will test White to see if he’s up to the challenge on Saturday night.

Final Analysis

If Ohio State wins this game, it should roll to an 11-0 record before playing Michigan in the season finale. Northwestern’s schedule is more challenging, and a win over the Buckeyes would give it an early edge in the Legends Division title race.

Ohio State is already battle-tested thanks to a win over Wisconsin last week, and the Buckeyes’ offense should have an edge in the matchup against the Northwestern secondary. Quarterback Braxton Miller was sharp in his return from a knee injury last week, finishing 17 of 25 for 198 yards and four touchdowns. The Wildcats rank last in the Big Ten in pass defense, which is problematic against an Ohio State offense that’s overflowing with playmakers.

Northwestern gives Ohio State all it can handle, but Miller finds a way to lead the Buckeyes to a win late in the fourth quarter.

Prediction: Ohio State 34, Northwestern 27

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