After senior quarterback C.J. Bachér missed the team's 24-17 victory against Minnesota due to injury, junior backup Mike Kafka rushed for a conference modern-day record of 217 yards. That might not have been enough to allow Kafka to hang onto the starting job, however, as Bachér has been named the starter if he is healthy enough to play.
What does this mean for the Buckeye defense? It means a week of preparing for two quarterbacks with different skill sets.
"C.J. Bachér, we expect him because he's a great quarterback and they've got No. 13 and he's more of a runner and the other guy is more of a passer," OSU senior defensive tackle Nader Abdallah said. "We're getting prepared for both of them. We're not focusing on one."
That much has to be assumed. Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald told reporters Monday that while Bachér will start assuming he is healthy, Kafka has earned the right to see snaps based on his performance last week. Bachér passed for a school-record 3,656 yards last season and is third in the conference this year with 1,875 yards despite having missed one full game.
The two could present a dual-threat quarterback option the Buckeyes would have to stop. During Tuesday's, Bachér was able to go through some drills but could not scramble, according to news reports.
Fortunately for the visiting team, dealing with a potential two-quarterback situation is not something foreign to OSU.
Heading into the team's week-three showdown with USC, the Buckeyes surprised the country – and even some of their own players – by deploying a two-quarterback system against the Trojans. Senior starter Todd Boeckman gave way to freshman Terrelle Pryor on a play-by-play basis, but OSU was easily dispatched by a 35-3 score.
The experiment lasted just one week, and Pryor has since held down the starting reins. However, the two quarterbacks – along with third-stringer Joe Bauserman – have given the OSU defense a number of different looks throughout the season in practice.
The parallels between the teams stop there, however, as the Buckeyes use a different offense than the Wildcats.
"I wouldn't say that was totally different," OSU junior safety Kurt Coleman said of the short-lived two-quarterback system employed by the Buckeyes. "They're kind of the same style. Terrelle is a great thrower and a great runner and Todd can throw the ball and run it as well. I think Northwestern has a little bit of a different offense. They spread the ball and always run four or five wides every time. Our offense is based off of one tight end, two backs or whatever."
With that wide-open offense, the Wildcats try to spread the field and make plays in space. In addition, a running quarterback requires the opposing defensive line to contain him and prevent the big runs Kafka used to gash the Golden Gophers last weekend.
It is an offense that is also coping with being without leading rusher Tyrell Sutton, who is out for the season after amassing 776 yards in eight games – good for fifth-best in the conference even after missing his first full game. His absence increases the role of whichever player winds up taking the majority of the snaps at quarterback.
The Buckeyes have struggled containing running quarterbacks through the early part of the schedule this season, but Abdallah said he is confident they can step up to the task this weekend.
"We're still not going to slow up for anybody," he said. "We're not going to be cautious. We're going to go after him and get him out of the pocket and we're going to have guys out there spying him to make sure he doesn't run away. We can't play cautious. We have to play relentless and tenacious and that's our No. 1 thing right now."
Like Abdallah, Coleman said the specific man under center does not matter – an opinion matched by senior tight end Rory Nicol. Which players are on the field has little effect on the team, Coleman and Nicol said. Rather, the most important thing is executing the team's game plan regardless of who is tasked with doing so.
"For us, it's really all about what we have to do to get better as a team and win," Coleman said. "If they put a piece of paper out there as a QB, then we're going to have to go and win with that piece of paper."