The Northwestern Wildcats will host the Ohio State Buckeyes on Friday night in a game that will set the tone for the remainder of the regular season for both teams. NU (1-4, 0-3 Big Ten) is in dire need of a victory to keep any postseason hopes alive, while OSU (6-0, 3-0) needs to keep winning in order to make its College Football Playoff aspirations a reality. The Buckeyes have torched their competition under new head coach Ryan Day. They've outscored their opponents 296-53, they're averaging 40 points per game, and they've been dominant on both sides of the ball.
The 34 points Ohio State scored in last week's win over Michigan State marked — believe it or not — their lowest point total of the season. Northwestern, on the other hand, is coming off a much-needed bye week after losing three straight games. The Wildcats were outscored by Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Nebraska by a combined margin of 68-35. They haven't had any rhythm or consistency on either side of the ball, and they're dealing with significant injuries. This will be a rare Friday night contest for both teams.
Ohio State at Northwestern
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 18 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network*
Spread: Ohio State -28
When Ohio State Has the Ball
Can anyone stop the four-headed monster that is quarterback Justin Fields, running back J.K. Dobbins, and wide receivers K.J. Hill and Binjimen Victor? Right now that answer is a capital NO. These four athletes have accounted for 3,077 total yards of offense and 32 of the Buckeyes' 60 total touchdowns this season. Fields is averaging 9.2 yards per pass attempt and 5.0 yards per run; Dobbins is posting 7.1 yards per rush with 6.3 yards per catch; while Victor and Hill are posting 19 and 10 yards per reception, respectively.
Fields has taken 12 sacks this year, but most of them have come due to movement within the pocket as opposed to poor offensive line play. Regardless, Northwestern's defense will look to pressure Fields, as they've collected 11 sacks of their own in 2019. The Wildcat defense is led by defensive back Travis Whillock (team-high 44 tackles) and defensive end Joe Gaziano, who has 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
When Northwestern Has the Ball
For this week, the question will be more about who has the ball. Starting quarterback Hunter Johnson (48.3 percent completion rate, 367 passing yards, 89 rushing yards, two total touchdowns) injured his knee against Wisconsin three weeks ago and was removed from the game as a result. Aidan Smith replaced Johnson in that game, and he would get the start at Nebraska the following week, having also seen late-game action earlier in the season. Thus far he's completing 49 percent of his passes for 273 yards, one touchdown, and four interceptions. He's averaging just 4.3 yards per pass attempt, and his passer rating stands at 78.1. Smith also has 72 rushing yards with an additional touchdown to his credit.
It must be noted that Johnson has been practicing with the team, so his injury doesn't appear to be serious. But whoever gets the nod under center will have his work cut out for him. The Wildcat offensive line has allowed 12 sacks this year, which is music to the ears of an Ohio State defense that leads the nation in that category (28). NU also has a slight issue at running back. Isaiah Bowser (29 carries, 103 yards, 3.6 yards per carry) hasn't been as productive as everyone had hoped as he deals with a knee issue of his own.
Bowser was also held out of the Nebraska game, and If he is unable to go, then Drake Anderson is more than prepared to carry the load. The son of Northwestern legend Damian Anderson is the Cats' leading rusher, with 366 yards and three scores on 74 attempts. He's also averaging just a hair under five yards per carry.
Northwestern is winless against Ohio State (0-6) during the Pat Fitzgerald era, which includes last year's Big Ten title game. The Wildcats have too many concerns, while the Buckeyes have too much momentum on their side to lose now. Ohio State moves to 7-0 after this game.
Prediction: Ohio State 42, Northwestern 17
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(*Originally set to air on FS1 but had to be moved due to the postponement of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday. Game 4 was moved to Thursday night with Game 5 shifted to Friday, which was originally an off day. Since FOX owns the broadcast rights to the ALCS, the Ohio State-Northwestern game was moved to the Big Ten Network to free up FS1.)