Northwestern lost to a Duke team that hadn't won a game since the invention of the facemask. They will have a shot in the arm with running back Tyrell Sutton returning from injury as long as he's healthy, but even with Sutton, there is little chance the Wildcats can be competitive against the much more talented Buckeye squad.
Look for the more physical and fast 2007 Ohio State team to have a stellar performance on both sides of the ball.
My six points to victory over Northwestern are as follows:
1. Alert to Tricks
One way Northwestern tries to keep the opposition off-balance is by using unusual formations. The Wildcats offense will come out with some unorthodox sets in order to make the defense concentrate on getting aligned. These mind games are an attempt to take away the aggressiveness of the Buckeye defenders. Expect to see reverses and trick plays as part of the repertoire. Northwestern will also come out in a variety punt formations to try and outflank the return team.
2. Hands Up
Wildcat quarterback C.J. Bachér lines up in the shotgun formation most of the time. This allows him to get rid of the ball before the pass rush gets to him. Despite being in this deep alignment, he has trouble throwing the ball over the middle. Penetration by the defensive front and by linebackers on the blitz should make it tough for Bachér to throw over the taller and more athletic Buckeyes.
3. Stop the Screen
The Northwestern offense has a playbook full of screens. They'll run quick screens to the slot receivers, bubble screens to the wideouts, slip screens to the backs out of the backfield and choice screens to the right or left. The Wildcats try to slow down blitzing defenses with the screen. They hope to throw short and run long.
4. Beat the Backers
The Northwestern linebacking corps is average at best. They are not very fast or athletic. The underneath pass routes should be open all day. Buckeye tight ends, slot receivers and running backs should be able to run option and read routes against the Northwestern under-coverage. The Wildcat backers aren't great against the run either. It could be a huge day for Buckeye running backs on isolation plays and draws.
5. Anticipate the Field Blitz
The Buckeye offense should be alert to the blitz from the wide side of the field. Northwestern will bring the strong safety and/or outside linebacker blitz on a regular basis. The Buckeye offensive front, running backs and quarterback must have great communication so a Wildcat defender doesn't come free. If OSU picks up the blitz and throw to the hot receivers, there could be huge gains for the more talented Buckeyes.
6. Big Kickoff Return
Northwestern has a complete arsenal of different types of kickoffs. They'll use squib, pooch and chip kicks to keep the kickoff return unit thinking. The trouble for Northwestern is they risk the chance of a big kickoff return now that teams kickoff from the 30-yard line. Even if the Buckeyes don't return the kicks all the way, they should get the ball in good field position. There is a good chance, however, that Northwestern will only kick off once.
Coach Conley's Six Points: Northwestern
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