Armed with Justin Fields’ right arm as a rifle, Ohio State went Wildcat-hunting Friday night.
The sophomore quarterback may have thrown for just 194 yards, but did so on 23 attempts, completing 78 percent of his throws with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Fields created several big plays through the air that helped boost No. 4 Ohio State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) to a 52-3 win at Ryan Field against Northwestern (1-5, 0-4). Junior running back J.K. Dobbins added 121 yards and a touchdown rushing.
“I thought the key was Justin making some third-down conversions early on, staying in the pocket and delivering the ball,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said.
If Fields’ arm was a peacock, Ohio State’s third drive is where the bird’s colorful smattering of feathers spread wide for all to view.
The Buckeyes backed up to third-and-15 before moving the chains, but Fields showed his ability to extend plays with his legs by evading to defenders to find redshirt senior wide receiver K.J. Hill open downfield for a 20-yard gain.
“That’s just God-given ability,” Fields said. “I’ve been able to do it since I was little. I try to escape when I have to.”
Fields’ arm strength was another color displayed that drive, as he completed a long sideline throw to sophomore wide receiver Chris Olave for a 13-yard first down on third-and-8.
Finally, a splash of accuracy allowed Fields to thread the needle to Dobbins for a 19-yard touchdown that put Ohio State ahead 14-3 with 12:44 left in the first half.
That drive wasn’t the only showcase. On Ohio State’s first second-half possession, Fields lasered a ball over the outstretched arms of a Northwestern defender to senior wide receiver Austin Mack for a 23-yard touchdown that stretched the Buckeye lead to 38-3.
On the game’s opening drive, Ohio State moved the chains twice in third-and-long situations on the ground, setting up space to work downfield for Fields. He capitalized with three straight completions to close the drive, gaining 47 yards and a touchdown strike to wide-open Olave.
“I thought he had great poise,” Day said. “He handled himself well in the pocket. He threw some away that he had to. He scrambled on some early. If he can keep building on this, he’s got a chance to be special.”
Dobbins gained 22 yards on his opening nine carries, a 2.4 yard per carry average well under his 7.1 rate for the season. After Fields set up Ohio State’s first two touchdowns through the air, Dobbins broke off a 68-yard dash to break right back into his rhythm.
The following play, he sprinted untouched into the end zone from five yards away to set the score at 21-3 Ohio State, 9:36 to play in the first half.
“I feel like I’m stronger,” Dobbins said. “Today I didn’t feel as fast, but I feel like I’m faster [this year] for sure.”
The Wildcats didn’t improve their stake from there.
Junior long snapper Tyler Gillikin rolled the ball to graduate student punter Daniel Kubiuk, granting the Buckeyes the ball at the Northwestern 15-yard-line. Fields found Olave again for an 8-yard touchdown two plays later, and Ohio State led 28-3.
Ohio State junior kicker Blake Haubeil added insult to injury by netting a 55-yard field goal as the first half closed, the longest by a Buckeye kicker since Mike Nugent hit from the same distance twice in 2004. The Buckeyes led 31-3 heading into the locker room.
“It gave the team juice,” Fields said. “This stadium, it’s not like our home stadium, of course the fans showed up here. But I think that kick definitely gave the team momentum going into the second half.”
With the Buckeyes up 38-3 and the second-team defense on the field, Ohio State sophomore cornerback Sevyn Banks pulled in an interception at the Northwestern 12-yard-line. Redshirt senior quarterback Chris Chugunov found sophomore tight end Jeremy Ruckert for a seven-yard touchdown soon after, moving the score to 45-3.
Ohio State redshirt freshman running back Master Teague piled on further with a 73-yard touchdown run, placing the final at 52-3.
Northwestern picked up its lone score — a field goal — on its second drive after gaining 44 yards, all but four via the run. This included a 12-yard draw on third-and-6 by sophomore running back Isaiah Bowser, who picked up the first down before getting touched by an Ohio State defender.
The Wildcats finished Friday with 199 offensive yards against the Buckeye defense, including an abysmal 42 through the air.
Ohio State’s season continues with a showdown against No. 6 Wisconsin Oct. 26 in Ohio Stadium.