Josh Winslow/BSB

Game Review: OSU vs Northwestern

Ohio State hung on for dear life to defeat Northwestern 24-20 Saturday at home to keep their playoff hopes alive. What stood out in the win over the Wildcats?

OVERVIEW: The mantra seems clear after watching the post-game press conferences with Urban Meyer and his coaching staff, and that mantra clearly stated was "We're getting better". Do you believe that? Are they getting better? Is a four-point nail-biter, at home, over a team that will struggle to be bowl eligible, evidence that Ohio State is "getting better"? The fact of the matter is that Saturday's game with Northwestern was basically two even teams battling to the wire, and in the end Ohio State got the stop they needed and the drive they needed to win. It's hard for me to see that this team is "getting better" when at one point they were undefeated, ranked number-two in the country, and looked at as the real threat to Alabama. Now, a narrow win at home over a team with the #89 offense and #72 defense is cause for optimism? The good news out of all this? It's clearly that Ohio State did in fact win the game, and it could have easily been a loss. The Buckeyes have everything right in front of them to win their division, win the conference, get to the playoffs, and win the national championship. For all that to happen, this team REALLY needs to start "Getting Better". 

THE COACHING: Really thought Ohio State would come out and hang 35 on Northwestern in the first half after being embarrassed by Penn State the week before, and the Buckeyes definitely came out ready to play, which is a credit to Meyer. After scoring ten quick points, Ohio State punted on their next five possessions. Would have to go back and check, but how many times has that happened under Meyer in five years? Against a bad defense no less. When you look at this game honestly, you see that Barrett was pretty good, Mike Weber ran the ball well, Curtis Samuel got 14 touches, Noah Brown played well, the ball was spread around to nine different receivers and the offensive line played pretty well. And yet with all that, Ohio State struggled to score 24 points against Northwestern. They keep saying they need to take deep shots to back off the safetys, but they threw exactly one pass over 20 yards, and it was a beauty of a 34-yard throw to K.J. Hill. The play calling is not good, and whether that goes to Meyer, Warinner, Beck, Zach Smith or Greg Studrawa, something needs to change. There are more than enough good players on offense to score more than they are scoring, even though they're "getting better". Shoot, people were disappointed in scoring 37 against Indiana and winning the game by three touchdowns, but now the last three weeks against Wisconsin, Penn State and Northwestern they score 23, 21 and 24 points. 

THE DEFENSE: Thought there was a step back Saturday, but this is still a darn good unit overall. And they did come up with a big stop when they absolutely needed one in the final minutes. They probably shouldn't be giving up 414 yards and 20 points to that offense, and when they drop back to throw 45 times, there's needs to be more than one sack. But in today's offensive era, holding people around 20 points should get you a win. I still think a lot of Greg Schiano and the job he's doing. Ohio State just lived off of turnovers early in the year, but in the past three games the defense has only turned the opponent over three times. With the offense not playing all that well, the defense absolutely needs to turn the ball over far more. I still think this unit is championship quality, but this was not a good showing. It happens and I think they will rebound strongly next week. 

THE "X" FACTOR: I truly believe there is enough talent on offense to win out the rest of the regular season. What really needs to "get better" is the play calling. Whether that's Meyer taking it over totally, or going to play calls by committee, or trying a new voice, that's what is needed to get this offense out of the 20's and into the mid 30's. When they threw deep yesterday it worked. When they hit Samuel on a crossing route in HEAVEN FORBID THE MIDDLE OF THE FIELD, it worked. But overall the play calling is what hurts this offense and is keeping the production down. The excuses need to stop. Being in the booth or on the field. The rain. The wind. Playing on the road. Playing late at night. They had a ton of games last year with multiple NFL contributors where they struggled to move the ball. This year's team isn't as talented as last year, but there's more than enough skill to be better than they have been the past month. If the play calling was A+, and it's not, I believe this is the number-two team in the country. With the way it's currently constructed? Ohio State is dead even with freaking Northwestern, and struggles to eke out a 24-20 win. 

THE SUMMARY: With all my heart I believe there isn't a team left on the schedule that Ohio State cannot beat. Including Michigan. But I also believe there isn't a team left on the schedule that can't beat them. Including Maryland. Where do they go from here? We are going to find out next Saturday night. One of the best traits a team can have is one that truly gets better over the course of the season. Ohio State has taken several steps backward in October, but they have the talent to right the ship and still have a great November. The absolute bottom line is this is a team that is a 7-1 football team that controls their own destiny. I think it's on the offensive staff to COACH them to where they need to be. 

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