Northwestern offensive preview

The Buckeyes will be looking to stop talented running back Jason Wright and the rest of the Northwestern offense in the Horseshoe this Saturday.

Through four games, Northwestern's offense is averaging 424.1 yards (225.8 passing; 198.3 rushing) and 22.8 points.

The Wildcats have seven returning starters from a 2002 offense that averaged 389 yards (232 passing; 157 rushing) and 22.7 points.

Under head coach Randy Walker and third-year offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar, the Wildcats run a spread attack. They make a lot of checks at the line of scrimmage and throw a lot of short passes out of the shotgun formation. The running game is usually fairly strong, although Northwestern likes to pass a little more than it runs.

The last few years, the Wildcats have utilized a lot of no-huddle looks. However, this season, they haven't been using as much of that.

"They seem to not be doing as much of the hurry-up offense as they have been," Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. "They are in more traditional or conventional formations, maybe more than they were a year ago.

"Now that isn't to say that they won't come out in a no huddle and spread the field and go three-step drop on every play against us."

Quarterback Brett Basanez (6-2, 200, So.) is in his second year as a starter and has thrown for 756 yards (55.6 completion percentage), one touchdown and five interceptions this season.

"Their quarterback understands their system and what they try and do," OSU linebacker Rob Reynolds said. "He might be the second-best quarterback we've faced this year behind Philip Rivers. I'd probably say he's a step ahead of where (Cody) Pickett and (Josh) Harris were. He's a good quarterback and he's probably one player that sticks out in my mind."

That is a bold statement from Reynolds. Basanez is an up-and-coming player, but is he really better than Pickett and Harris?

"For what they try to do, he understands and gets the job done," Reynolds said. "I wouldn't say he's a better athlete than Harris, or a better pure passer than Pickett, but for what Northwestern tries to do, he is very capable of getting that done and is a very good quarterback."

While Basenez is the field general, tailback Jason Wright (5-10, 210, Sr.) is the playmaker for the Wildcats.

So far this season, Wright has rushed for 473 yards (4.7 per carry) and eight touchdowns. Last year, he racked up 1,234 yards (5.6), including 24 carries for 95 yards in a 27-16 loss to the Buckeyes.

"We don't see that happening this year," Reynolds said regarding a few long runs that Wright had in last year's game. "They are coming into the Horseshoe. So, anytime you've got to travel, it's going to be tough on them with our crowd. Hopefully our crowd will be into it and when they are trying to make their checks at the line of scrimmage and stuff, hopefully we can dictate to them what we want to do."

Ohio State linebacker AJ Hawk remembers Wright from last year and has been impressed with what he has seen so far this season on film.

"I watched their game against Kansas," Hawk said. "The running back is a great player. He has improved from last year. They still like to spread it around and throw the ball, but they will also run it. (Wright) has three 100-yard games. I'm sure that will be our first priority to stop the run."

Ohio State's defensive coaches have made sure that their players are well aware of Wright.

"From what we've seen on film and from what the coaches have been talking about, their running back is pretty good," safety Nate Salley said. "They have the same running back as last year, so he's pretty good and we have to watch out for him."

The Wildcats return two of three starters at receiver: Roger Jordan (6-3, 215, Sr.) and Kunle Patrick (6-0, 205, Sr.).

So far this season, Jordan has 15 receptions for 237 yards and Patrick has 15 for 124.

The other starting receiver is Ashton Aikens (6-2, 205, Jr.). He has caught 13 balls for 124 yards.

"From what we've seen so far, they like to go five wide a lot," OSU safety Salley said. "Their receivers seem like they have pretty good size on them. They make big plays. We've got to watch out for those guys and keep them away from big plays."

The Buckeyes have faced nothing but spread teams so far this year and Salley is expecting more of the same this week.

"They are a little similar to the Bowling Green team that we played last week," he said. "They like to spread 'em out or whatever. But I don't think they have the speed that those receivers had and their quarterback doesn't run as much. But as far as some of the plays that they run and some of the routes that they run, I think they are pretty similar to Bowling Green."

On the offensive line, Northwestern returns three starters: TE Ray Bogenrief (6-3, 265, Sr.), C Matt Ulrich (6-2, 305, Jr.) and LT Trai Essex (6-4, 280, Jr.). Ulrich, who started at guard last year, is the best player of the group.

The new starters on the O-line are: LG Ike Ndukwe (6-5, 325, Jr.), RG Bill Newton (6-7, 310, Jr.) and RT Zach Strief (6-7, 335, So.). Strief actually started three games last year.

Overall, it is the biggest offensive line that the Wildcats have had in recent memory.

"It's a very good line," OSU nose guard Tim Anderson said. "They have some big, strong guys and they have been improving each week."

The Buckeyes are expecting to see a dink-and-dunk attack from the Wildcats on Saturday.

"They try and keep you off balance," Reynolds said. "Their offensive philosophy is to gain five yards every play. Make it situations where it's 2nd-and-5. That's where they want you to be. If we can stop them on first down from gaining five yards and make it second or third and long, as a defense we'll be dictating to what we want to do to them."

Reynolds was asked if he is expecting to see more run, or pass, from the Cats.

"They mix it up," he said. "They're more of a passing team – like every other team that's come in here this season – but they're going to try and run on us. They like to pass first, but they like to run too. Hopefully, we'll stop their run and make them one-dimensional."

Anderson is also expecting to see a balanced offense.

"They can run and throw the ball well," Anderson said. "They have a good group of receivers, a very talented tailback, a good quarterback and a line that's very good. They have a balanced attack. Even if you shut down one, you have to respect the other one."

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