Football: After playing each other in December, Northwestern and Ohio State are two drastically different teams


Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Ohio State celebrates after beating Northwestern in the 2018 Big Ten Championship Game. The Buckeyes have started 2019 6-0 while the Wildcats have struggled to a 1-4 start.

Andrew Golden, Sports Editor


The last time Northwestern and Ohio State were on the field together, the Buckeyes were hoisting the Big Ten championship trophy at Lucas Oil Stadium after defeating the Wildcats in the conference title game.

Less than 11 months after losing that game in Indianapolis, NU (1-4, 0-3 Big Ten) will welcome No. 4 Ohio State to town for a Friday night showdown at Ryan Field.

Neither team looks like it did the last time they faced off, with new quarterbacks on both sides and a new head coach roaming the sidelines for Ohio State.

But after reaching their goal of winning the Big Ten West, there’s an additional component for the Cats that’s not visible on the field: an attitude change within the program.

“For us to actually get there and get a taste of it, it just solidified those goals that we have each and every year,” senior center Jared Thomas said. “It definitely changed the way we approached every single day coming into the offseason and how we look at ourselves in the mirror each and every day.”

Thomas said expectations within the program are always high but believes this year’s team has approached practices with more focus and grit.

But so far, that change in mindset hasn’t resulted in the success coach Pat Fitzgerald and staff probably envisioned coming into the season. The Wildcats are currently in the midst of the program’s worst start since 1992 with a struggling offense looking for answers.

NU will have to put together one of its best games to beat the Buckeyes, who have found themselves in Indianapolis three of the last five years and are firing on all cylinders offensively this year.

Despite losing quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who was the Washington Redskins’ first-round pick, Ohio State (6-0, 3-0) ranks seventh in the nation in yards per game and fourth in points per game. Part of the reason for the Buckeyes’ success has been quarterback Justin Fields.

Fitzgerald called Fields a “rockstar” and added that NU tried to recruit the quarterback out of high school before he became a highly-coveted prospect. Fields presents the same challenges as Haskins — with the added twist of his running ability.

“We had some plays in the championship game that we had just outstanding coverage, we got a guy there to make a play and then (Haskins) made a play,” Fitzgerald said. “When you watch this year’s offense, it’s the same thing… they do a great job, and they’ve got weapons everywhere.”

Fields has a plethora of skill players to get the ball including junior running back J.K. Dobbins — who’s second in the country in rushing — and his trio of wide receivers, seniors K.J. Hill and Binjimen Victor and sophomore Chris Olave — who are all averaging more than 10 yards per reception. As if his surrounding talent wasn’t enough, Fields alone has contributed to 26 touchdowns, with a team-leading eight rushing scores.

On the other side of the ball, the Buckeyes are just as talented, with the nation’s second-ranked defense in yards per game, led by junior defensive end Chase Young — who is projected by many analysts to be a top-5 pick in this year’s draft.

The Cats will come into Friday’s game with nothing to lose and a chance to turn their season around — and they will be ready to give the No. 4 team in the country everything it can handle.

“Especially when you go to the Big Ten Championship game, people are gunning for you because you’ve gotten to somewhere that they want to go,” Thomas said. “You just gotta come prepared and even more ready to play each and every year and each and every game.”

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