Rapid Recap: Ohio State 24, Northwestern 20


Sophie Mann/Daily Senior Staffer

Clayton Thorson watches from the ground. The sophomore led Northwestern to a near-upset of No. 6 Ohio State.

Garrett Jochnau , Sports Web Producer

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Northwestern entered Saturday’s contest against No. 6 Ohio State as heavy underdogs and, despite a slow start, kept the game exciting until the closing minutes.

But after walking away from a crucial fourth-quarter red zone stand with just three points, the Wildcats (4-4, 3-2 Big Ten) fell short of a massive upset.

The Buckeyes (7-1, 4-1) wasted little time setting the tone for the first quarter, taking their first drive 94 yards in under three minutes, and following that up with an interception, which led to a 35-yard field goal.

But the Cats responded swiftly after falling behind 10-0. Sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson led the Cats down the field and punched in a one-yard score to get the Cats on the board. Ohio State running back Mike Weber answered with a 23-yard touchdown, but a field goal from NU senior kicker Jack Mitchell brought the Cats within a score heading into the half.

After trading punts, NU struck first out of the break, taking the ball 84 yards — with senior wideout Austin Carr providing 65 of them — downfield. Thorson, who finished with 256 passing yards, capped the drive with a touchdown pass to junior superback Garrett Dickerson, and Mitchell chipped in the extra point to tie the score.

The start of the fourth quarter saw scoreless action until Ohio State running back Curtis Samuel scored the team’s third rushing touchdown of the day, finishing a 64-yard drive with a three-yard score to lift the Buckeyes ahead.

But the Cats again leaned on Thorson’s arm to respond. Marching down the field, the team came within inches of a touchdown as a trick play fell just beyond sophomore superback James Prather’s reach, leaving NU with a field goal.

And Ohio State, after trading blows, came up big when it mattered. In their final drive, the Buckeyes drove down the field, as the clock — and the Cats’ chances for an upset — dwindled to zero.


1. Austin Carr’s reign of terror continued

Carr took his record-breaking season to college football’s biggest stage, finishing with eight receptions for 158 yards. The former walk-on was once again Thorson’s go-to receiver from the get-go, and terrorized Ohio State’s secondary.

Carr streaked across the field to haul in a huge 26-yard grab on third and long with under five minutes left, setting up the field goal that cut the score to 24-20.

2. NU struggled to make open-field tackles

The Cats blew a number of opportunities to stuff the Buckeyes in the backfield, or at the very least prevent big-yardage gains. However, on more than one occasion, Ohio State rushers and receivers battled through and stole extra yards.

The issue was on full display during the Buckeyes’ third scoring drive. NU did itself no favors as Ohio State marched down the field, and a blown tackle just outside the redzone led to a 23-yard rushing touchdown.

3. The Cats thrived in pressure situations

Executing in the red zone is crucial for success, and the Cats did just that Saturday afternoon. NU entered the game 12-of-17 in the red zone, but went a perfect 4-of-4 against the Buckeyes.

The Cats’ gambles on fourth down also paid off in spades. Twice, coach Pat Fitzgerald left his offense on the field and twice they escaped with a first down. The first came inside the red zone in the opening quarter as the team elected to forgo a probable field goal and instead kept the drive alive, eventually culminating in a touchdown. Later in the contest, the offense was left on the field at Ohio State’s 46 yard line, and turned a fourth-down conversion into yet another touchdown.

Stats to know

-Carr logged his third-straight 100-plus yard performance. No NU player has done that since at least 2000.
-Thorson rushed for his fourth touchdown in five games.
-NU failed to force a turnover for the first time since its first game of the season.
-Junior running back Justin Jackson finished with his second-lowest carry and yardage outputs of the season, finishing with 17 and 76 respectively.