It might not have been the way that Ohio State football fans wanted it, but the Buckeyes walked away with the 24-20 victory over the Northwestern Wildcats Saturday night in the ‘Shoe. In a hard-fought game that OSU coach Urban Meyer called a “dogfight,” OSU regained a little of the swagger lost after falling to Penn State.
In the press conference following the game, Meyer and players were berated with questions once again about all the things the team is doing wrong. It was an interesting take, considering the team had just beat a solid Northwestern squad.
“You had a very balanced, ran for 200 and threw for 230. Most places that’s a pretty good day,” Meyer said. “I understand here it’s a little off a little bit. We’ve got to get that 500 number, I guess. But I’m very happy with it. I’ll enjoy myself tonight.”
Sure, OSU didn’t exactly set the world on fire with an outstanding offense or make big, flashy plays on defense. But the effort was there from the No. 6 ranked team, and so were the plays when they were needed.
Here are five takeaways from the Buckeyes’ bounce-back win against Northwestern.
Curtis Samuel is important, but so is Mike Weber
Meyer had some serious flak thrown his way after junior H-back Curtis Samuel touched the ball 10 times last week. After naming him the No. 1 playmaker for the Buckeyes in the offseason, most fans thought Meyer kept the ball out of his hands against Penn State.
On Saturday, Samuel saw an increase in his touches by four. He ran the ball seven times as well as carried the ball seven times, but gained a full 40 yards less than he did last game.
So what does that mean for the OSU offense when Samuel isn’t the leading rusher, but the team still finds a way to win?
It means redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber had a pretty good day. As in 87 yards rushing, an average of 6.2 yards per carry and two scores.
He also had three catches for 20 yards, and helped provide a mostly sound pocket for redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett when he was asked to block. Overall, Weber provided the difference in terms of scoring, although Samuel scored the winning touchdown.
Weber is the lead back in the OSU backfield, while Samuel continues to impress in his receiving ability. Meyer said he is a true hybrid back, the exact reason why his touches were split down the middle on Saturday.
While the junior H-back is vital to the Buckeyes success, Weber has to be an integral part as well.
The Silver Bullets are mastering the phrase “bend but don’t break”
In back-to-back weeks, the OSU defense gave up some big plays that burnt the team. Be that as it may, there was a huge difference between the plays given up last week as opposed to this week: The defense eventually buckled down.
Right before halftime in Happy Valley, the Buckeyes surrendered arguably the biggest play of the evening. Redshirt junior Gareon Conley smothered Penn State junior wideout Chris Godwin, but the ball found its way into the receiver’s hands, and the Nittany Lions brought the game to a 12-7 mark, with all the momentum gone for OSU right before the midway point.
This week, OSU was presented with a similar scenario, as Northwestern received a punt on its own 40-yard line. With good field position and an offense that had 157 yards in the second quarter alone to that point, the Buckeyes appeared to be in trouble.
Instead of trouble, OSU pushed the Wildcats back a yard and prevented a score.
“At that point in the game, that’s more just the bond we have for each other,” redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker said. “We’re so strong and so close together on the defense overall that stuff like we know we’re competing (for) who’s going to make the play. We know that anybody’s liable to step up and make the play on the defensive side of the ball.”
It hasn’t been the stifling defense the team enjoyed in the first few weeks, but it’s a defense that dominated against Oklahoma and helped bring home a win on Saturday. Bend but don’t break is not going to win a national championship, but it gives them a chance to keep the dream alive.
Austin Carr from Northwestern is as real of a receiver as there is in the Big Ten
It’s rare that a former walk-on player torches the OSU secondary. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, senior wide receiver Austin Carr did just that on Saturday, hauling in eight passes for 158 yards.
Although Carr failed to score, he did show off an impressive skill set, lining up in both the slot and on the outside. Running crossing post routes, he was able to find space in the middle of the field with linebackers picking up coverage along the way.
This year, Carr has hauled in nine touchdowns and is well on track to rack up 1,000 yards. While the Buckeyes are hunting for a wide receiver to pick up big chunks of yardage at a time, Northwestern has Carr running rampant over Big Ten defenses.
The offensive line has recovered some ground
Last week was about as ugly as it gets for an any offensive line. OSU allowed 11 tackles for loss, while Barrett was sacked six times. Sophomore tackle Isaiah Prince gave up 14 hurries by himself last week, but fellow offensive linemen like redshirt junior guard Billy Price stood by his side.
Northwestern had a much harder time getting in the backfield and penetrating the pocket, as the Buckeyes allowed four tackles for loss with just one sack. It was a game that was far from perfect, but had obvious improvements throughout.
“There was a couple good points from last week. We struggled in a few aspects,” Price said. “And to have that confidence to go back out and to perform and to put the game as we offensive lineman call it on us, let’s go out and win on us. Don’t depend on a receiver out in the corner. Put the ball on us, put who our program is driven on — the offensive line. Isaiah did a lot better.”
In all, the Buckeyes put up 431 yards of total offense. The success of an offensive unit is usually measured by the play of its blockers up front. It wasn’t a perfect day, but anything is an improvement from last week.
Close game or not, the team can still win
Northwestern might not have been the game that could put OSU in a playoff position, but a strong showing and a blowout could have helped mightily down the road. Although the team had a relatively strong performance, the way the Buckeyes played is nowhere near good enough to be within the upper echelon of the NCAA at the end of the year.
Sure, it wasn’t a 50-point drubbing, or a thrilling finish against a ranked opponent. But it was a win, which is the most important thing, right?
OSU continues to be a question mark as the year progresses in terms of postseason play, but Saturday’s game proved the team is still more than capable of getting the job done no matter what. Meyer himself said a win on Saturday is something to be proud of.
“Nothing was perfect, but we’re going to enjoy that win and go,” he said.