Looking at the Wildcats

Buckeye fans have been looking forward to this game for a long time, and not surprisingly, it is going to be one of the most important games of the season.

The excitement is running rampant for the Saturday game against Northwestern. The fact that this is a prime-time night game against a tough opponent that will be televised live in front of the entire country is adding to the anticipation. Right now, OSU is not ranked in the top 25, and the common view across the country is that offensive struggles could prevent them from winning too many games this year, but the stage is set now for OSU to put on a good showing and let everyone know that they are going to be one of the teams to beat in the Big Ten. Can they do it?

It won't be easy. Northwestern is not a juggernaut, but they come in as an experienced team with a well-publicized tricky offensive attack that causes concern for every opponent, and with OSU apparently lacking in offensive firepower, stopping that offense will be crucial.

It starts with QB Zak Kustok and RB Damien Anderson. Anderson came into the season being hyped as a Heisman candidate. So far, his stats are good (79 carries, 377 yards, 4 TD), but he has not yet exploded on to the Heisman scene. Actually, as of late, the man getting most of the press has been Kustok. After last week's miraculous last-second comeback against Michigan State, Kustok re-affirmed his reputation as a leader who never quits. He's an effective passer (773 yards passing this year) who is also a threat to run the ball (his rushing stats are impressive for a QB - 212 yards on 48 carries and 4 TD). While Anderson was the marquee name coming into the season, Kustok is also very dangerous.

The rest of the offense is solid. WR Sam Simmons has been fighting injuries this week, but he will be ready to play. He and Kunle Patrick are the top two WRs for the Wildcats along with Jon Schwieghardt, and also watch for Damien Anderson as a pass catching threat. The offensive line is also a good, experienced unit that really helps the offense run.

The Northwestern defense is where you look for weakness. Last year, this defense was torched several times, especially in the Alamo Bowl massacre at the hands of Nebraska. Coming in to this season, many critics of the Wildcats looked at that defense and said that it was not nearly good enough to win the Big Ten. The defense is still a unit that is not going to shut anyone down, but they have not played as poorly as their reputation.

As a matter of fact, the Northwestern D played well last week. They had eight sacks against Michigan State and without special teams blunders, the Wildcats defensive performance would have been enough for victory without the need of a last minute miracle. DE Napoleon Harris is the star of the defense along with a fine group of LBs in Kevin Bentley, Billy Silva and Pat Durr. Ohio State should be able to have some success against the NW defense, but if the Wildcats keep the OSU offense in check, it could be a tough night.

Special teams could very well play a big role in a game like this. Northwestern gave up a punt and a kickoff return for a TD last week against Michigan State, which is a concern for them, and erratic kicking is still a concern for OSU. But in a game like this, Andy Groom could be a very valuable player, and keep an eye on OSU's punt-blocking ability as they have blocked one in each of the last two games.

Overall, look for this to be a real close game. The OSU defense will be the toughest that Northwestern has faced to date, and getting the ball in the end zone will not be as easy. Northwestern will get their yardage, but the Buckeye defense needs to come up big when it counts in order to win this game. It also wouldn't hurt if the Buckeye D could score a TD of their own...

The Wildcats haven't beaten Ohio State in their last 21 tries, and OSU is 4-0 in night games at the Horseshoe, but throw those numbers out the window because they're in the past. Northwestern comes in as a confident, experienced squad with good senior leadership. They're going to fight until the fat lady sings. OSU is going to have a challenge on their hands this Saturday night, but with the great atmosphere and fired up crowd in their corner, look for the Buckeyes to come up with a little something extra to push them over the top. It's gonna be fun.

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