Wildcats can’t buck the trend: Ohio State 45, NU 10

Matt Forman

With less than a minute remaining in the third quarter, Ohio State faced a second-and-goal at the Northwestern 6-yard line. Buckeyes freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor took the shotgun snap and rolled out toward the right as he was chased from behind.

Nearing the sideline, it looked like Pryor would either run out of bounds or be corralled by the Wildcats for a loss. Instead, the dual-threat sensation shrugged off an intended sack, sidestepped an ankle tackle and juked past a diving defender, all while looking downfield. Pryor threw across his body and found senior tight end Rory Nicol in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.

As easily as Pryor shook the intended tackles, Ohio State shook NU’s hopes of an upset, topping the Cats 45-10.

“That broke their backs,” Pryor said of the highlight reel touchdown. “That’s the things you need to do. You need to break their back and take advantage of what they give you.”

Pryor took advantage of everything NU (7-3, 3-3 Big Ten) gave him, completing 9-of-14 passes for 197 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed six times for 33 yards, extending drives and keeping the Cats’ defense on the field. The Pryor-led offense converted on 7-of-9 third downs that went for eight or more yards.

The prized recruit showed why Ohio State coach Jim Tressel went after him so fervently as a senior at Jeannette (Pa.) High School. On the first drive of the game, Ohio State (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) faced third-and-16.

Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz sent an all-out blitz, but Pryor hung in the pocket and delivered a 44-yard pass to junior wide receiver Brian Hartline. The Buckeyes scored on the next play.

“I think he’s a very good football player,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said of Pryor. “He made a lot of plays today. That’s what big-time players do in big games.”

Trailing by a touchdown just five minutes into the game, NU answered on its first drive. Starting in place of the injured C.J. Bachér, junior quarterback Mike Kafka took the offense down the field in 13 plays, 10 of which were quarterback runs. Kafka was stopped on his initial push into the end zone but spun away from the Ohio State front to tie the game at seven.

After compiling 67 yards on their opening drive, the Cats totaled 29 during the remainder of the first half. NU’s lack of offense led to 17 unanswered points from Ohio State.

On the first drive of the second quarter, Pryor handed off to junior Chris “Beanie” Wells, who ran into the Cats’ defensive line, led by senior defensive tackle John Gill. But Gill lost his grip on Wells, and a 55-yard-run later, Ohio State led 14-7. Wells had 28 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns in the game.

“I think the game turned in the second quarter,” Fitzgerald said. “I thought we had a good call, good attack, we just didn’t finish the play… All it takes is one run like that to change momentum.”

A Ryan Pretorius 33-yard field goal made it 17-7.

In the Buckeyes’ final drive of the first half, Pryor orchestrated a 12-play, 90-yard drive that resulted in a 15-yard pass to senior wide receiver Brian Robiskie.

Trailing 24-7, NU came out ready to mount a comeback to start the second half. Kafka completed three passes for 28 yards and rushed for 32 yards, leading to a 25-yard field goal by senior kicker Amado Villarreal. But that was the closest the Cats got.

Kafka accounted for nearly 90 percent of NU’s total offense, completing 18-of-27 passes for 177 yards and rushing for 83 yards on 29 attempts and a score. In the last two games, Kafka has rushed 56 times for 300 yards, the best two-week total in school history by a quarterback.

Although Bachér was listed as probable before Saturday’s game, Fitzgerald said the senior was not 100 percent healthy.

Without Bachér, the Cats hung around for the first 15 minutes before the game quickly turned into a blowout. For Fitzgerald, analyzing his team’s performance was simple.

“It’s the ABCs of football,” Fitzgerald said. “You don’t block, you don’t win. You don’t tackle, you don’t win. You don’t throw the ball and catch the ball, you don’t win. It’s not real complicated.”

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