5 Questions: Ohio State at Northwestern

When Ohio State travels west to take on Northwestern, the Buckeyes will be forced to answer an early wakeup call, want to watch for running quarterbacks, force some turnovers and ratchet up the play on the offensive line. All that and more is covered in this week's edition of Five Questions.

1. How will Ohio State respond to a week off and an early wakeup call?

That Ohio State is just 1-4 after an open week in the regular schedule is well documented.

Perhaps lesser known is that the Buckeyes have at times had slow starts in games with early kickoff times.

Could the combination be deadly in Evanston?

"I think our guys like the fact that it's an early start because they get a chance to go on the road, wake up and go play a football game and not sit around and be nervous and all those types of things," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said.

He added that he has not had any games this season where he felt his team was flat.

That could be tested this week with the Buckeyes coming off a bitter loss and an extended period of rest.

The Wildcats will be starting at 11 a.m. Central for the eighth time this season, so they should be comfortable.

"The crazy thing about this game is we're going to get to Northwestern, wake up at 6 a.m. and be playing a game at 11," OSU tight end Rory Nicol said. "There's not much time. Once we get done here on Thursday, it's going to be on us."

A quick and consistent start will be important for the Buckeyes because Northwestern is a team Tressel praised for its ability to make great adjustments and raise its play in the second half of games.

2. How will Terrelle Pryor bounce back?

Ohio State's freshman starting quarterback took the loss to Penn State in the Buckeyes' last contest very hard, blaming himself for the setback after committing two fourth-quarter turnovers.

How he responds to what he called the biggest adversity of his athletics career will be tantamount to the Buckeyes' succeeding in bringing back a win from Evanston.

Pryor was not made available for interviews this week, but every Buckeye player and coach quizzed on the topic sounded confident in his ability to put the last game behind him.

3. Can Northwestern hurt the Buckeyes with a running quarterback?

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said Monday that regular starter C.J. Bacher will start Saturday if he is healthy. However, backup Mike Kafka is an intriguing prospect after he rushed for a Big Ten record 217 yards last week against Minnesota in place of the regular starter.

With star running back Tyrell Sutton again out for the season, Kafka could still be used to help bring more balance to the Wildcat attack?

"I look at what C.J. has done leading us to six victories and he's played very well and he's our starting quarterback," Fitzgerald said. "I look at the positives of what C.J. brings to the table when healthy in helping us go out and execute our offense like a senior captain can. I'm just proud of Mike for the way he stepped up and we've got one of those special problems you like to have where you have two quarterbacks who can help your football team win. It sure beats the alternative."

OSU safety Kurt Coleman expressed confidence that having already faced quarterbacks of both the running and passing variety, Ohio State would be prepared for whomever is calling the signals for the Wildcats.

"As a defense, if we play smart football, if everybody plays assignment football, he shouldn't be able to get that many yards on a run," Coleman said. "We're going to be well prepared for either QB."

4. Can the Wildcats protect the ball?

On the season, Northwestern is minus-3 in turnover margin, a count that places them eighth in the Big Ten, and the Wildcats have eight giveaways and zero takeaways in their two losses.

Simply put, the Wildcats cannot turn the ball over and expect to beat the Buckeyes.

Ohio State has eight takeaways in the last two games against the Wildcats, and two of those turnovers were returned for touchdowns as the Buckeyes have won by a combined score of 112-17.

"They've done a nice job capitalizing on turnovers so taking care of the football is going to be very important for our offense," Fitzgerald said.

5. What is the state of the Ohio State offensive line?

Though the depth chart the university published Monday had a few ambiguities in terms of the starting lineup, Tressel said Tuesday to expect the same group of linemen to be tasked with making room for his running backs and giving time his quarterbacks time to throw.

Tackles Alex Boone and Bryant Browning, guards Jim Cordle and Steve Rehring and center Michael Brewster collectively struggled against Penn State, and this weekend they will find themselves up against the strongest part of a Northwestern defense that ranks 22nd in the nation in scoring (18.1 points per game).

"I think their defensive front is one of the big reasons why they're giving up 18 points," Tressel said.

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