Game of the Week: No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 16 Northwestern

Story posted October 4, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Aaron Carr

Each week ComRadio staff writer Aaron Carr will highlight a matchup in college football that he considers to be the “Game of the Week.” If you’re going to enjoy some college football action then this is the ONE contest that you do not want to miss. Carr’s “Game of the Week” selection for Week 6 of the college football season comes to you live from Evanston, Ill., where fans may catch an early glimpse of the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game.

The Game: No. 4 Ohio State vs. No. 16 Northwestern

Pretend for a moment that you’re on stage at a spelling bee and the judge asks you how to spell the word “lopsided.” You’re unsure of how to spell the word so you ask for a definition. The judge, reading straight from The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, defines lopsided as, “lacking in balance, symmetry, or proportion; disproportionately heavy on one side.”

You’re frozen on stage, still unsure of how to begin spelling your given word. Before your cold sweat leads to a downpour of nervous perspiration, you ask the judge to give an example of lopsided. The judge obliges and gives this gem of an example, “The Ohio State Buckeyes have won 28 of the last 29 games versus the Northwestern Wildcats.”

Were you actually at a spelling bee? The answer is NO. Is that a real life example of lopsided? Sadly for Wildcat fans, YES. YES it is.

The year: 2004. The date: October 2. The setting: Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois. The characters: #7 Ohio State and unranked, unheralded Northwestern. The rising action: a 13-10 halftime lead by Northwestern. The falling action: a 10- point fourth quarter by Ohio State that forced overtime.

The conclusion: a 33-27 upset victory, at home, by Northwestern. That my friends, for your reading pleasure, would be the only time in the last 29 meetings that Northwestern upended Ohio State. I strategically laid the recap out like a children’s storybook because that’s exactly what a win over Ohio State feels like for Northwestern fans, a fairytale.

The year: 2013. The team: Ohio State. The win streak: 17 games (and counting?). Since Urban Meyer came out of his lengthy one-year retirement from coaching college football, the only thing he’s done at Ohio State is win and win and win again. The Buckeyes are currently riding the nation’s longest winning streak, the aforementioned 17-game run.

More impressive is the number that comes after the dash mark in Meyer’s Ohio State win-loss record: 0. After going a perfect 12-0 last season, the Buckeyes

have opened up at 5-0 to begin their 2013 slate of contests. Four of those 17 victories have come against ranked opponents, including last week’s 31-24 win over then No. 24 Wisconsin.

College football talking heads from every conference, athletic front office and tailgate, chuckled at Ohio State’s severe lack of non-conference challenges on the docket. The Buckeyes beat Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M by a combined score of 210-61. Braxton Miller, Ohio State’s star quarterback, didn’t even play against Cal or Florida A&M due to injury.

He really didn’t have to. Let’s face it, that non-conference schedule was loaded with enough cupcakes to make Buddy Valastro blush. Those four lopsided (there’s that word again) wins did nothing to prove how good this Ohio State team actually is. Its victory over Wisconsin however, is an entirely different story.

With its win over Wisconsin, Ohio State has affirmed its place atop the Leaders Division summit. The road to Indianapolis, via the Legends Division, could run through Evanston, the destination of this Saturday’s Big Ten battle.

Northwestern hardly challenged themselves either in the non-conference schedule as they easily dispatched Cal, Syracuse, Western Michigan and Maine to sit comfortably at 4-0. This game against the visiting Buckeyes will easily be the toughest challenge to date, and probably all season long. Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who is 0-3 in his coaching career versus Ohio State, knows this is perhaps also the biggest game of his bright young coaching career.

The Wildcats offense utilizes a variety of personnel groupings in an attempt to throw off the opposing defense. Quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian will almost assuredly split time in this game as they have all season. Siemian is actually fourth in the Big Ten in passer rating at 160.8 despite only throwing 70 passes. A VERY, VERY small sample size I know.

Offensive coordinator Mick McCall likes to get both quarterbacks on the field throughout the course of the game and Colter is the true definition of a dual- threat, that is perhaps even more deadly with his legs (26 career rushing TDs). This Ohio State defense is loaded with impact players such as Bradley Roby, Noah Spence and that All-American guy who patrols the middle of the D (keep reading for more), so if the Wildcats offense is to succeed, they will have to utilize their strengths of unpredictability and creativity.

Players to Watch:

RB Venric Mark, Northwestern: The do-it-all senior back for the Wildcats returns to action after missing the previous three games with a leg injury. Mark’s return to the lineup couldn’t have come at a more opportune time as his team prepares for perhaps the toughest challenge of the season.

The All-American tailback earned the majority of his accolades as the return man for Northwestern, averaging 18.7 yards per punt return a season ago. Couple that with the fact that the Tomball, TX., native is also coming off of a 1,366-yard, 15 total TD season, and you’ve got yourself a dangerous offensive weapon. His return skills could be the X-factor for a Northwestern team that has fielded an FBS-low ONE punt this season.

LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State: With all due respect to the rest of his talent teammates, but the All-American, Shazier, is the centerpiece of a Buckeyes defense that currently ranks 23rd in the country in points allowed per game.

The Pompano Beach, Fl., native leads the team in tackles with 37 and has more solo tackles than any of his teammates have TOTAL tackles. He’s also the clubhouse leader in tackles for loss with seven, including 2.5 last week against the Badgers. Shazier will be called upon early and often to help control a Wildcat rushing attack that’s ranked 18th in the nation.

By the Numbers:

157 Pat Fitzgerald-coached Northwestern teams have been outscored a

combined 157-27 in its three games versus the Buckeyes.

433 Northwestern senior QB Kain Colter has 433 offensive touches in his career at Northwestern, NOT counting pass attempts. The native of Denver, Co., is the definition of a utility man as he’s done a little bit of everything at Northwestern. He rushed for 894 yards and 12 TDs last season and even caught 43 passes as a sophomore!

8 Ohio State senior running back Jordan Hall is entering a rare fifth season of eligibility and has been with the program since 2009. From 2009-2012, Hall scored six rushing touchdowns in a limited role. In an expanded role to begin this season, Hall has scored eight touchdowns in five games.

Aaron Carr is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email adc5230@psu.edu.