In a bounce-back game for the No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes after a loss at Penn State, the Scarlet and Gray returned to the win column against the Northwestern Wildcats, 24-20. After three straight possessions from the offense that ended in scores, OSU regressed back to its offensive inefficiencies before ultimately fending off the Wildcats in the fourth quarter.
To fans, it might not have been the type of game they were looking for from the Scarlet and Gray, but the players and coaches remained optimistic.
“We’re a project,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said after the game. “We’re still working things out. But I’ll tell you what, I promise you, I’m going to enjoy this win and so are the players and we’re going to move forward.”
OSU’s first drive of the game was 9 plays, 94 yards for a touchdown in less than three minutes — the team’s first touchdown on its opening offensive drive of a game this season. Redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett was 5-for-6 for 55 yards passing on the drive, while the team racked up 39 yards on the ground.
OSU then scored a field goal after an interception and worked the clock for much of the second quarter on the following drive to take a 17-7 lead.
Then, the offense fell into a lull that consisted of five consecutive punts.
Last week, the stories were junior H-back Curtis Samuel not being used enough in the run game and early on against Penn State, as well as the offensive line allowing 11 tackles-for-loss and six sacks. Against Northwestern, Samuel had a balanced seven carries and seven receptions, and the offensive line surrendered four tackles for loss and just one sack facing the Big Ten’s leading sacker.
So, when looking at the five consecutive punts, it’s important to keep in mind that the offense made several improvements from the Penn State game.
“We focused on what got this program where it was and that’s practice really hard and train really hard all week, that way when you get to the games, it’s almost easier than practice and you’re prepared for everything,” said redshirt senior center Pat Elflein.
OSU ended the game with 431 yards of offense, 223 through the air and 208 on the ground. In the fourth quarter after Northwestern made a field goal to cut the OSU lead to just four points, Barrett found redshirt sophomore Noah Brown for 16 yards to move the sticks. Barrett, as the leader of the team, then ran for 35 yards on 3rd-and-10 to effectively seal the victory OSU needed for its confidence.
However, one obvious takeaway from the win against Northwestern is that OSU is still struggling to move the ball vertically downfield. Redshirt freshman wide receiver K.J. Hill — who came in for injured redshirt sophomore wide receiver Parris Campbell, who left with a sprained ankle — had a crucial 34-yard catch down to the Northwestern 10-yard line that set up the game-winning score from Samuel in the fourth quarter. That was OSU’s only pass play of more than 20 yards.
Barrett said that he has to rely on the underneath routes not because of a legitimate deep threat, but the defense is playing 12-plus yards off of the ball.
“I’m comfortable where we’re at,” Barrett said. “We try to be a 500 (yards) type of offense and I think we’re getting close to that. I don’t think there’s a lot of regress.”
Meyer said following the Penn State game that Samuel’s touches needed to be more balanced; they were. The offensive line knew as a unit it had to perform better; it did. No question OSU had its moments of stagnation on offense, but Meyer, Barrett and co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said that staying on the path it is right now, the offense can perform at a level to succeed and win the games it needs to.
“Very proud of them. I love these guys. They’re very young. That’s fine,” Meyer said. “I’ve got a team to coach, and we’re getting better. We’re 7-1 with a bunch of new players that I love to death right now and enjoy coaching them.”
10/31 Editor’s note: The number of tackles for loss in the Penn State game was corrected to 11 from 14.