Rapid Recap: Ohio State 21, Northwestern 7


Alyce Brown/The Daily Northwestern

Starting quarterback Brendan Sullivan looks to make a pass. Sullivan rushed for 55 yards against No.2 Ohio State Saturday.

Skye Swann, Assistant Gameday Editor

Going into this game with a 1.6 % chance of winning, Northwestern attempted to beat the odds, holding their own in the quintessential David versus Goliath faceoff against No. 2 Ohio State Saturday, but fell short down the stretch for the eighth loss of the season.

Returning back to Ryan Field, the Wildcats (1-8, 1-5 Big Ten) had a chip on their shoulder post Halloween Weekend in Iowa City, Iowa. Currently last in the Big Ten West division, the group was considered the underdog by most ahead of the matchup with the Buckeyes (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten). While holding their own against Ohio State, they lost their groove late in the second half, losing 21-7 as the final buzzer sounded off.

Facing arguably the best quarterback in the nation — and Heisman Trophy candidate — C.J. Stroud, NU’s defense was going to need to be in tip-top shape. 

What transpired on the field Saturday was almost a miracle for the Cats, giving them some reprieve and a glimmer of hope to grab their second win on the season. Whether it was bad weather or just an unlucky day for Ohio State, NU seized the opportunity — keeping its foot on the gas for as long as possible

Here are five takeaways from the Cats’ tussle with the Buckeyes:


  1. C.J. Stroud’s passing struggles early gave the Wildcats a chance

The top-ranked starting quarterback had an unimpressive showing in the first and second quarter, completing only 38 percent of his pass attempts. The Heisman Trophy candidate — and No. 1 ranked quarterback in collegiate football — seemed razzled by the Cats’ defensive pressure, throwing the ball too far down the stretch or not connecting with his receivers. 

Stroud’s drives were uneventful and appeared as if there was miscommunication, leading to the offense to break down. For a quarterback who easily threw for 354 yards in the Buckeyes 44-31 win over Penn State, he struggled to make a complete pass until halfway through the second quarter.

The connection between Stroud and his receivers was another area of concern, given the offensive unit puts up yards down the stretch with ease. But, what occurred Saturday begs the question whether the Ohio State powerhouse is not as dominant as it’s hyped up to be.

Stroud finally connected with Buckeyes wide receiver Emeka Egbuka for a touchdown late in the second quarter, the whopping 28 minutes it took for Ohio State to get on the board assisted the Cats in getting some offensive momentum.

  1. NU’s defensive coverage played a central role in silencing Ohio State’s offense

The Cat’s defense was a whole different team Saturday compared to Halloween weekend facing Iowa. Junior defensive back Rod Heard II, junior linebacker Xander Mueller and senior defensive linemen Adetomiwa Adebawore came up with bruising tackles to force the next down. 

Ahead of Saturday’s game, senior defensive back A.J. Hampton Jr said he was confident in his squad’s ability to cover the Buckeyes’ wide receivers and deny them any chances of getting off those long passes down the stretch. His confidence was well-placed — NU limited Ohio State to only one touchdown in the first half.

Regardless of the end result, a shining light of the game is the Cats’ epic defensive performance against the No. 2 team in the nation. NU’s defense was the sole factor in ensuring the game remained contested between the two teams.

  1. Rainy weather played to NU’s advantage

When it rains, it pours…

Or at least for the Cats, it gives them a soaring chance of hope to beat the odds and come out victorious. The storms and high winds in Evanston fueled NU’s offensive momentum and stunned Ohio State. 

Although not optimal football playing the conditions, the Cats did not let that stop them from moving those chains down the field. Starting quarterback Brendan Sullivan stuck to his tried and true formula — the running scheme. Combined with junior running backs Evan Hull and Cam Porter, NU rushed for 206 yards.

Those big-time runs in the first half gave the Cats some reprieve and a little breathing room from the Buckeyes, who were struggling to connect offensively due to poor weather conditions. Hull’s breathtaking run into the end zone to put NU on the scoreboard first solidified the benefits of the poor weather.

During the entire first half, it seemed the rain was the Cats only good luck charm to winning this game.

  1. The Buckeyes’ halftime adjustments turned the tide out of NU’s favor

Going into the locker room at halftime, NU had the upper hand and left Ohio State needing to make defensive stops in order to get back on the attack. With two new fresh quarters pending, the squad had to stay strong to combat a team who was inevitably going to bounce back.

The Buckeyes were finding their groove step by step, taking a page of the Cats’ playbook and using the running game to their advantage. Stroud and junior running back Miyan Williams developed a rhythm on the field and secured Ohio State’s second touchdown of the game.

Stroud still grappled to get his passing game to Heisman Trophy level of play, throwing wide incompletions or hail marys. In regulation, he threw for just 76 yards — a very rare and unusual performance from the quarterback.

The adjustments offensively allowed the Buckeyes to contend with NU on the field, but it was not a primetime showing from a top 5 program who was projected to blowout the last place team in the Big Ten West.

  1. The Wildcats holding Ohio State to 21 points shows promise for the program’s defense

Although the outcome was not in favor for the Cats, the fact the squad essentially silenced the Buckeyes offense to only two touchdowns is an impressive feat. For a team who averages 48.9 points per game, NU keeping them to 21 points is promising for what the defense is capable of for the rest of the season.

If the Cats can play with the same effort and hustle for the next few weeks, there is a solid chance the squad can add a second win — the first in the United States — before the season comes to a close.

Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s offense still needs to work out their kinks and strengthen their passing plays, but the defense certainly proved to be NU’s best asset Saturday playing No. 2 Ohio State.

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Twitter: @sswann301

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