The Buckeyes won the toss and took the ball, as has become their habit, but did not come out looking sharp despite scoring a touchdown on the opening drive.
That score was thanks mostly to a 44-yard throw from Terrelle Pryor to Brian Hartline. Chris Wells powered into the end zone from two yards out on the following play to put the Buckeyes ahead 7-0 and overshadow the fact that four of the Buckeyes' first five plays went for a gain of one yard or less, including a 10-yard loss on one Wells carry.
On the flip side, the OSU defense gave up a 13-play, 67-yard touchdown drive that knotted the score. At the outset, the Buckeyes looked discombobulated by NU quarterback Mike Kafka's running and the hurry-up offense, but the defense tightened from there on out, yielding just a field goal over the final three quarters.
"I thought our guys prepared hard in our open week. They were excited to start November on the road in the morning," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said.
2. How will Terrelle Pryor bounce back?
Ohio State's freshman quarterback had perhaps his most productive day as a collegian. Despite having a 14-mile-per-hour, swirling wind to contend with, Pryor completed 9 of 14 passes for 197 yards. He threw three touchdown passes and kept several plays alive with his feet, showing a heretofore rarely seen willingness to scramble out of the pocket for big gains.
No play better displayed his developing all-around game than a 6-yard touchdown pass to Rory Nicol made possible only by Pryor's ability to elude three Wildcats before finding the tight end in the back of the end zone.
Perhaps just as impressive as watching Pryor was hearing him describe how he saw the play develop.
"If I got to the corner I'm either going to run, throw it away or see (a receiver)," Pryor said. "As I was running I saw (receiver Brian) Robiskie coming back so I was like, ‘OK, either I'm going to have him or I'll have someone coming over.' I'm thinking all this while I'm rolling, so I was like, ‘OK, I have to break this tackle,' but I still had Robiskie so I'm looking for Robiskie and I saw Rory out of the corner of my eye. I released it at the lowest point I could to keep it near the ground. He grabbed it and made a wonderful catch. That was one of the best catches I saw."
Pryor complemented his passing exploits with six carries for 33 yards.
3. Can Northwestern hurt the Buckeyes with a running quarterback?
Wildcat quarterback Mike Kafka was no slouch starting for the injured C.J. Bacher for a second week in a row.
Kafka, who gashed Minnesota for 217 rushing yards Nov. 1, picked up 126 yards against the Buckeyes but finished with a net of just 83 because of 43 yards lost on sacks and other plays in the backfield on designed runs.
The Wildcats' first-quarter touchdown drive was almost literally all Kafka.
After he gave the ball to Stephen Simmons for a 6-yard carry on the first play, Kafka either ran or threw the ball on the following 12 plays.
He completed both his passes to account for 9 yards and ran 10 times for 35 yards. Ohio State's defense did its part with a pair of personal foul penalties that cost the Buckeyes 17 yards.
"We planned on (Kafka) being in there more just because of what he did last week and helping them with the wind," OSU cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "We knew Bacher could throw the ball if they wanted him to come in. We knew it was going to be a totally different offense with two different quarterbacks, so we prepared for both but it ended up being just one."
4. Can the Wildcats protect the ball?
Ohio State won the turnover battle 3-0 but none of the Buckeyes' three takeaways had much influence on the outcome of the game.
The Buckeyes tacked on a field goal to go ahead 17-7 after an Anderson Russell fumble recovery in the second quarter, but the other two NU miscues came in the fourth quarter after the game had essentially been decided.
Kafka threw an ill-advised pass into the arms of Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis with the Buckeyes leading 38-10 in the fourth quarter, but the Buckeyes followed with a three-and-out.
5. What is the state of the Ohio State offensive line?
Any negatives to take out of this game would be found here.
Ohio State led 17-7 after about 20 minutes of game action, but that was more a result of the individual talents of Wells and Pryor than it was help they received from the beleaguered boys on the front line.
On the opening drive, Wells had runs of 1, 1, minus-10, 4 and 2 yards, not to mention a carry for no gain that was negated because of a facemask penalty on NU linebacker Prince Kwateng.
On the second drive, Wells total 6 yards on two carries before Ohio State was forced to punt because of a third-down sack of Pryor.
Again on the third drive there was not much running room to be found, but Wells made his own, bouncing out of a logjam on the right side to outrun the defense for a 55-yard touchdown that put Ohio State ahead to stay.
On the fourth and fifth drives, however, things started to loosen up. Wells gained eight yards on 21 carries and Pryor added three carries for 38 (including two scrambles after he dropped back to pass). By the time Wells left temporarily with a shoulder problem, the Buckeyes were able to create some holes for his replacement, Dan "Boom" Herron, who rushed left for 8 then 10 yards to set up Pryor's 15-yard touchdown pass to Robiskie.
"They were stacking the box a little bit so when we passed it a little bit I think that loosened them up a lot," Herron said. "The offensive line did pretty good today. They opened a couple holes for me when I ran."
"The first couple series it wasn't what we expected," said tight end Jake Ballard. "But once we got everything together we could do what we really wanted to."