Backup QB gets Saturday start

Tania Ganguli

Northwestern won’t have to deal with Ohio State’s suspended tailback Maurice Clarett this year.

The Wildcats might not even have to face Buckeyes’ quarterback Craig Krenzel, who won’t start because of a hyper-extended right elbow.

But that’s not going to make the Cats’ jobs much easier.

Ohio State (4-0) still boasts the longest winning streak in the country at 18 straight — but it hasn’t been a smooth ride. The Buckeyes started the season with a strong win over then-No. 17 Washington, but narrowly survived a scare against unranked San Diego State the next week. Then-No. 22 North Carolina State took the Buckeyes to three overtimes before falling, and last weekend the team struggled to hold off Bowling Green with backup quarterback Scott McMullen taking the snaps, as he will do on Saturday.

But, to the Cats, the point is that Ohio State won those games.

“They’re 4-0,” senior linebacker Pat Durr said. “Good teams find a way to get it done.”

That’s just what Ohio State has been doing for the last year — pulling out close games. Until finally managing more than 200 rushing yards last week, the team felt the impact of not having its leading rusher, Clarett.

Clarett was forced to leave the Buckeyes during the summer, after NCAA violations and other legal troubles surfaced.

Adjusting to the loss of two keys players is something the Cats can understand.

Last year they were “in disarray” after injuries to Durr and quarterback Brett Basanez, according to running back Jason Wright.

Now not only is NU more comfortable with its own team, the offense knows what to expect from its opponent — and understands its mission.

“In the running back corps we have to play the best game of our life,” Wright said. “They’re not tricky. You know when they’re blitzing; they let you know. When they’re not coming, they’re sitting back in their coverage and they say ‘Beat us.'”

And the talent doesn’t end on Ohio State’s defensive side of the ball. Durr couldn’t think of a single position where the Buckeyes were weak on offense, but knows the defense will focus on stopping the run.

“They’re going to run power out of every formation, I don’t care if it’s a quarterback draw,” Durr said. “But it’s a black and blue conference, you gotta come out and punch people in the mouth, plain and simple.”

Last year Clarett averaged 112.5 yards per game and had 16 touchdowns while missing three games due to injury. One of his replacements, junior tailback Maurice Hall, had just four scores last year. This year, Hall and junior Lydell Ross alternate as the starter. Hall has averaged 64.5 rushing yards per game and Ross has gained 38.5.

Still, the Cats’ defense knows that stopping the run will be their focus against Ohio State, because Clarett’s replacements are “pretty damn good,” according to Durr. To contain the two tailbacks, cornerback Jeff Backes says they will need a special ingredient which they didn’t have in their loss to Miami (Ohio).

“Defense is all about attitude, kind of playing with a swagger,” Backes said. “We lost that against Miami.”