Five Answers: Ohio State-Northwestern

The Buckeyes left nothing to chance in their systematic demolition of Northwestern at the Horseshoe on Saturday. We take a look at how they avoided any chance of a letdown (with the assistance of their video staff), got out of the gate fast and more in the Northwestern version of The Five Answers.

1. Which team will get off to the better start?

Nothing like starting off with a softball, eh? In case you were drawn away by that Michigan-Penn State barn-burner or Notre Dame's weekly beatdown, here's a quick rundown of the early action at Ohio Stadium.

The Buckeyes scored touchdowns on their third, sixth and 11th offensive plays of the game, and the OSU defense added a six-pointer of its own when Vernon Gholston returned a fumble 25 yards for a score.

Ohio State had its first four-touchdown first quarter since 1995 and its biggest first-half scoring output (45) since posting 52 against Pittsburgh in 1996.

Both right tackle Kirk Barton and quarterback Todd Boeckman were happy to see the quick start.

"Today one thing we wanted to do was come out strong," Boeckman said. "We came out firing. The coaches had a great game plan. We executed it. We didn't want to have the slow start we had the last couple weeks so it was nice that we put some points on the board right away."

"When you're coming into the Horseshoe, if we score early, the doubt probably starts to creep in a little bit," Barton said. "That's something we really talked about. The doubt starts to creep in a little bit: ‘Can we really beat the Buckeyes in the Horseshoe?' Then we go 14 up. Then we go 21 up. Pretty soon it's 45-nothing at halftime and then you're talking moral victories."

2. Which team will have the emotional edge?

Although it appeared initially this game was about who had the physical advantage from the start, reporters learned afterward the Buckeyes got a pregame boost from a video starring Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who while speaking at the Big Ten media kickoff days in Chicago prior to the start of preseason practice singled out Ohio Stadium as a place he hoped his team would shine.

"Basically, what he said was, ‘I can't suit up anymore but I'm really excited to go up and play the Buckeyes up at the ‘Shoe,' " OSU receiver Brian Hartline explained. "We didn't really know how to take that. We did kind of come off a very good game against them (in 2006). We put up some points (54-10 final) and did a good job and then we were Big Ten champs and kind of took it almost as a slap in the face."

Hartline said the Buckeyes reacted as if Fitzgerald, who starred at linebacker for Northwestern in the mid-1990s, was calling them out, a move that helped Ohio State avoid sleeping on the Wildcats after an emotionally uplifting win over Washington one week earlier.

"It made us realize that every game matters," Hartline said. "Last week was a very good game for us, and we were really happy about that. We wanted to make sure we didn't overlook Northwestern, so it was good to see Coach Fitzgerald kind of help us with that."

3. Will the spread offense bother the Buckeyes this week?

Not only were the Wildcats completely ineffective on the offensive side of the ball, but they also found their spread offense even unable to force Ohio State out of its base defense on a regular basis.

In the first half, the Wildcats gained 20 yards on 35 plays, a total dragged down by mins-10 rushing yards.

Northwestern's offensive line was basically overpowered by the Buckeyes' defensive front, as evidenced by the lack of running room and the five times C.J. Bachér was sacked.

The Wildcats finished with zero yards rushing and 120 overall. They averaged 1.8 yards per play.

"If you see the defensive line making plays, that sets the tone for the whole defense," tackle Todd Denlinger said after recording one of the Buckeyes' 13 tackles for loss. "If we get pressure, the backend can get picks, so it's just a nonstop process. If we do well, they do well. If they have coverage, we have sacks."

4. Can the Buckeyes keep the ground game rolling?

The passing game was so good early, the Buckeyes didn't have time to run the ball.

When they did go to the ground, they unveiled a few new wrinkles, including a counter play that produced two short Maurice Wells touchdown runs.

When the day was over, the Buckeyes had 191 yards on 42 attempts, a solid effort despite the unavailability of reserve Brandon Saine, who had arthroscopic knee surgery the day before the game.

Chris "Beanie" Wells posted his third 100-yard game in a row despite carrying just once in the second half. He had 100 yards on 12 carries before leaving with an ankle injury

Maurice Wells added 44 yards on 15 carries, including the two scores that also featured key blocks from backup fullbacks Tyler Whaley and Trever Robinson.

Barton said he felt the line was coming together, singling out first-year starting center Jim Cordle as having a strong performance against the Wildcats.

"The light's going on," Barton said. "Less butterflies, more just ready to get after guys, so it's an exciting time for us."

Offensive coordinator and line coach Jim Bollman was only disappointed in the play of the reserve offensive line, which had two new members this week on the left side.

Junior Kyle Mitchum, appearing for the first time this season after battling injury since the spring, line up at guard next to tackle Andy Miller, newly switched from tight end.

"I wish that we could operate a little bit better with the second outfit in the second half, but I thought the fullbacks played well," Bollman said.

Joining Mitchum and Miller midway through the third quarter were center Andrew Moses, guard Connor Smith and tackle Bryant Browning.

After the reserves entered the game for good, Ohio State gained 63 total yards on 21 plays from scrimmage, including 17 carries for 43 yards on the ground and a touchdown on a 1-yard plunge by Maurice Wells set up by a blocked punt.

5. Who will cause more yellow flags to be thrown?

Penalties were at most a small factor in this game given the Buckeyes quick start, although Northwestern compounded its problems amid the opening onslaught with an illegal block on the kickoff return that followed Ohio State's second touchdown.

That pushed the Wildcats back to their own 7 to begin a crucial drive in which Northwestern needed to do something positive to stop the bleeding. On second down, they made things even worse by taking a delay of game penalty that brought up a second-and-13, and two plays later they were forced to punt.

In total, eight penalties were marked off against Northwestern for 76 yards. Ohio State lost 50 yards on six miscues.

Buckeye Sports Top Stories