Game 6: #5 Ohio State Buckeyes (5-0) at Northwestern Wildcats (2-3)
ESPN2, 7 PM EST (Commentators: Dave Barnett - Play-by-play, Bill Curry - Color Analyst, Bob Golic - Color Analyst, Michele Tafoya - Sideline Reporter)
Gameday Forecast (as of 10/1): High of 74, 40% chance of showers
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The Buckeyes take to the road for the first time in Big Ten play as they travel to Evanston, IL to take on the 2-3 Northwestern Wildcats. Last year about this time, this was a big game for both teams as Northwestern came into the Horseshoe as one of the favorites to compete in the Big Ten only to suffer a pounding at the hands of Jonathan Wells and the Buckeyes. The Wildcats went on a tailspin from there as not only did they not compete for the Big Ten, they didn't even compete for a postseason berth as they stumbled to a 4-7 record.
This year, the Wildcats were a bit of an unknown coming into the season. QB Zak Kustok and RB Damien Anderson were gone from the offense, and standouts like LB/DE Napoleon Harris and LB Kevin Bentley moved on to the NFL. Things didn't start out well for the Wildcats as they went to Air Force and got bombed 52-3 in the season opener and then came home to get stomped by TCU, 48-24. The Wildcats rebounded to beat Duke and Navy, but they opened Big Ten play with a loss at Michigan State last week. The offensive numbers have improved over the course of the year, but they come into this game with a lot of questions on defense.
On offense, the Wildcats' top performer to date has been junior running back Jason Wright. Wright (5-10, 210) has rushed for 480 yards this season, including three straight games of going over the 100 yard mark. Wright is also a fine kick returner. Also joining him in the backfield is sophomore Noah Herron (5-11, 230) and redshirt freshman Jeff Backes (5-9, 190), the one-time Ohio Mr. Football winner. The quarterback has been redshirt freshman Brett Basanez (6-2, 200), who has thrown for 915 yards and 3 TDs with 2 INTs on 76 of 139 passing. The back-up is sophomore Tony Stauss (6-1, 215).
There is some experience at wide receiver as senior Jon Schweighardt (5-11, 195, 24 catches for 338 yards) and junior Kunle Patrick (6-0, 205, 20 catches for 269 yards) are the leaders at that position, and also watch for Mark Philmore (5-10, 175, 13 catches for 124 yards), the true freshman from Reynoldsburg, OH who has made his way into the starting lineup. The tight end is freshman Joe Wohlsheid (6-7, 280). On the offensive line, the Wildcats are anchored by senior center Austin King (6-4, 295), who is a captain and one of their top players, and senior right tackle Jeff Roehl (6-4, 305), who is an All-Big Ten candidate.. Sophomore Trai Essex (6-4, 280) is at left tackle, and sophomore Matt Ulrich (6-2, 305) and junior Carle Matejka (6-4, 315) are at left and right guard. David Wasielewski (Sr, 5-10, 235, 5 of 6 FG, 15-15 PAT) handles the place-kicking duties, and sophomore Brian Huffman (6-1, 220, 40.7 avg on 32 punts) handles the punting and kickoff duties. The offense returns four starters overall from last year and is averaging 389.6 yards per game.
Defense is where the main issues lie. So far, they have given up a whopping 521.8 yards a game, 308.8 of those on the ground. Those stats are good for 116th in the NCAA and last in the Big Ten. They are 6th in the Big Ten in pass defense at 213 yards a game, and last in scoring defense, giving up 40 points per game. In addition, Northwestern has only sacked the quarterback three times this year. The line consists of freshmen David Thompson (6-2, 255) and Loren Howard (6-4, 270) at defensive end and sophomores Luis Castillo (6-4, 290) and Colby Clark (6-2, 285) at tackle. The linebackers were hit hard when senior leader Pat Durr was lost to a knee injury; he had surgery for a torn ACL and is expected to apply for a medical hardship this year. Sophomore John Pickens (6-2, 235) is at MLB and is the team's leading tackler, with freshman Braden Jones (6-2, 230) and junior Doug Szymul (6-0, 220) are at the Sam and Will sports. At corner, you will find the defense's lone senior starter in corner Raheem Covington (5-9, 180) who is one of the top defenders on the team. Sophomore Herschel Henderson (6-3, 195) is at the other corner spot, and sophomore Dominique Price (6-0, 205) and junior Mark Roush (6-0, 195) are the safeties.
Sooooo... how would you like to be the Wildcats' defense this week? Stopping the run has been your big problem, and now you have to face perhaps the top stable of tailbacks in the Big Ten. If there was ever a golden opportunity for Maurice Clarett to have a monster game, it would be this one. Last year, OSU had tons of fun running the ball on Northwestern, and it's looking like they should be able to do the same this season. The Buckeyes will likely continue to mix in the pass here and there, but overall, there should be plenty of numbers accumulated on the ground in this one.
On defense, if the Buckeyes continue to do what they've been doing, they should be fine. Wright has emerged as a fine running back, but the Buckeyes have only given up 100+ yards to one team this year (Kent State), so odds are against him doing it for a fourth straight game. If the Bucks stifle the Wildcats' rushing attack and prevent big plays through the air, Northwestern could find scoring to be easier said than done.
Last week, the Buckeyes faced an opponent in Indiana who just did not stack up talent-wise, and the matchup this week is similar. On paper, this is a very, very favorable matchup for Ohio State, and if they execute, they should win big. Look for OSU's first Big Ten road game to be a success.
Ohio Presence: There are several players on Northwestern's roster from the Buckeye state, and recruit-nuts may recognize some of the names: RB Jeff Backes (Upper Arlington), DL Barry Cofield (Cleveland Heights), OL Jeff Conroy (Hudson), Onjae Grimes (Shaker Heights), OL Austin King (Cincinnati Purcell Marian), OL Rick McDole (Marysville), OL Ike Ndukwe (Dublin Coffman), P Ryan Peterson (Westerville North), WR Mark Philmore (Reynoldsburg), and OL Zach Strief (Milford).
The Series: The Buckeyes have owned the Wildcats as they have won 22 games in a row in this series. Overall, OSU is 53-13-1 and 24-5-1 in Evanston. The last time OSU went to Evanston was in 1998, and the Buckeyes were #1 in America at the time.
Injuries: As previously mentioned, Northwestern LB Pat Durr tore his ACL and will be out. Backup QB Alexander Webb suffered a lacerated liver against TCU is also out for the year. For OSU, all three players who did not start against Indiana - OL Mike Stafford, DT Tim Anderson, and OL Ivan Douglas - are expected to play this week.