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Northwestern Wildcats vs. Ohio State Buckeyes: Previews, Predictions and Prognostications

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J.T. Barrett, Ohio STate Buckeyes

When: Sat. Oct. 29, 2016; 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Columbus, Ohio; Ohio Stadium (104,944)
TV: ESPN
All-Time Series: Ohio State leads leads 60-14-1
Last Meeting: Ohio State won 40-30 (2013)
Line: Ohio State (-27)

There is still a bit of shock and awe over what happened Saturday night in Happy Valley.

The Nittany Lions stopped the seemingly unstoppable Buckeye machine. They were not a perfect monolith. They could bleed.

As Grant Haley returned the blocked field goal into the end zone to an uproarious Penn State crowd, Ohio State was left wondering what just happened. That is quite a way to lose a game.

The Buckeyes showed plenty of signs of weakness in the loss to Penn State. J.T. Barrett was solid, completing 28 of 43 passes for 245 yards. But the Buckeyes could not get their ground game going and gave up six sacks. Penn State’s defensive line dominated Ohio State’s offensive line — most notably in the second half.

That is not typical Buckeyes football.

It was still a game Ohio State should have won and put itself in position to win. But the team did not win. The team did not do the things it would need to win a big game against a young and physical front four.

Penn State found a way to win.

That’s what the Wildcats have done for the last three games. After their slow start to the season, the ‘Cats have suddenly emerged as something of an offensive juggernaut. Northwestern, amazingly, has the leading rusher and receiver in the conference. That is both a sign of how reliant they are on their specific stars, and how dangerous this team has become.

Northwestern does not have the talent all around that Ohio State does. The Wildcats are, as they always seem to be, heavy underdogs.

These two teams’ momentum though could not be going in opposite directions right now. Or perhaps this will be the game where narratives get reset.

1 Burning Question: Can Ohio State’s offensive line win in the trenches?

Against Penn State, Ohio State struggled to run the ball. The Buckeyes had 160 rushing yards on 40 carries Saturday and failed to establish a consistent runner. The Buckeyes’ leading rusher was Mike Weber with 71 yards on 21 carries — a 3.4 yards per carry.

That is not what Ohio State has done all year, and not the gold standard that has been set under Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes average 281.6 yards per game and have gotten 97.6 yards per game from Weber.

Undoubtedly though, the Buckeyes have relied more heavily on J.T. Barrett throughout the year. That part is not going to change, especially against Northwestern’s banged up secondary.

But Ohio State struggled against Penn State’s defensive line. The Buckeyes gave up six sacks to the Nittany Lions. And now they face the Big Ten’s leading sacker in Ifeadi Odenigbo (8.0 sacks) along with Anthony Walker seemingly rounding into form.

Ohio State’s offensive line has largely been good — the team ranks third in adjusted line yards according to Football Outsiders (adjusted line yards is a measure of how often running backs get past the offensive linemen, essentially). But the Buckeyes give up a lot of sacks, ranking 48th in the country in adjusted sack rate.

Allowing pressure to get to Barrett is this team’s weakness. The Buckeyes need to protect their heart and soul, and hold off this resurgent Wildcats pass rush to hold firm to dominance in this game.

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2 Key Stats

— 243.3: That is the yards per game Clayton Thorson has thrown for in the last three games. Not the most impressive stats — although his 63.9 percent completion percentage and 9-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio is. Considering Thorson’s struggles in the first two seasons of his career, this consistency throwing the ball is a huge plus for Northwestern. It’s a big reason Northwestern’s offense is suddenly revived.

— 121.0: The number of rushing yards per game Ohio State has given up this season. The Buckeyes have been stout against the run this year, and that will become even more important against Justin Jackson and Northwestern who seem to be on the upswing in offensive production.

3 Key Players

–Marcus McShephard, Northwestern CB/WR: This summer Northwestern converted Marcus McShephard from a cornerback to a wide receiver. The Wildcats felt they had depth on that end. With all the injuries at cornerback, Northwestern had to move McShephard back to cornerback. He recorded seven tackles against Indiana. The Hoosiers were targeting him. He will not be in a ton, but Northwestern needs help with the secondary and McShephard has to step up. Or else …

–Jerome Baker, LB Ohio State: Jerome Baker has filled in admirably due to injury, and has been a do-everything linebacker for the Buckeyes. The stats support that — 43 tackles, six for a loss, 1.5 sacks and a pick. Baker will have to be an anchor again as Ohio State takes on Justin Jackson and Northwestern. The Wildcats are going to run the ball a lot, and Jackson figures be the flag-bearer. Baker has to make a living in the backfield and help make Northwestern’s offense uncomfortable.

–Hunter Niswander, P Northwestern: Ohio State knows how important special teams are after last week’s loss. The Wildcats have a solid punter in Hunter Niswander and for them to hang around this game, they have to win field position and make the Buckeyes go down a long field. Last week, Niswander struggled though. He averages 43.1 yards per punt this year, but against the Hoosiers last week, he posted 39.6 yards per punt on eight punts. He needs to be better than 40 and pin Ohio State deep.

4 Staff Predictions

Andy: Ohio State 31-17
Dave: Ohio State 38-17
Phil H.: Ohio State 34-17
Philip R-R.: Ohio State 34-24
Zach: Ohio State 38-14

Philip Rossman-Reich is a Northwestern alumnus and former contributor Lake The Posts. He also writes for Orlando Magic Daily and The Step Back.

Buckeyes Football

Talking10 Podcast Episode 100: Something, something Urban Meyer

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Ohio State made its decision on Urban Meyer. Andy and Phil are here to break it all down for you and give you the truth in a hazy situation. What better way to celebrate episode 100 of the podcast than to spend 50 minutes breaking down a mess of a situation in Columbus, right?

We’ll talk our reactions to the press conference, break down the actual findings of OSU’s investigative report and we’ll even talk how the media-at-large and the OSU media handled the fallout from Wednesday night’s press conference.

Don’t forget you can listen to the podcast each week via Radio Public and other podcasting apps. 

Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram and Twitter @talkingB1G

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Urban Meyer and OSU AD put on suspension following investigation

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The media stakeout of the Ohio State Board of Trustee’s meeting can now end. It only took 12 hours or so, but answers finally came. 

According to multiple reports, including from the AP, OSU head coach Urban Meyer is suspended for the first three games of the season. In addition, athletic director Gene Smith will serve the same suspension from Aug. 31 to Sept. 16 — both will not receive pay during that time frame as well. 

Both came under fire as this story unfolded. It began just prior to the Big Ten media days in late July, the story that Zach Smith had been arrested for criminal trespassing in April of this year broke and Meyer fired Smith on Monday morning of the start of Big Ten media days.

Brett McMurphy then detailed in an exclusive report that Smith had previously been “arrested” back in 2015 for a second allegation of domestic abuse against his then-wife Courtney Smith. 

Meyer was questioned about that arrest and allegation from 2015 at media days and struck out against reporters repeated questioning. He would deny knowing of the arrest report back in 2015. 

However, further reporting by McMurphy put that denial in to further question and Ohio State decided to get to the bottom of it. 

Once Meyer was put on paid administrative leave, he would put a statement out admitting to knowing about the 2015 incident and alerting athletic administrators of the domestic abuse allegations. 

Meyer has stayed silent since that statement and awaited the outcome of the 14-day inquiry in to whom knew what and when and what action was taken. 

That investigation ended this past Sunday, with the committee verbally advising the Board of Trustees on Monday morning of its findings. Two days later, the Board of Trustees would come to meet publicly and then behind closed doors to discuss what would happen to Meyer and others involved in this situation. 

Meyer’s suspension is for the first three games, and on the field that is a big hit with three FBS games coming at the start of the season. OSU kicks off the year against Oregon State, plays a Big Ten contest against Rutgers and a massive game against TCU at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. 

We will have more on this situation and the reaction to what Meyer and Smith had to say on the talking10 Podcast tomorrow. 

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Buckeyes Football

Report: OSU to suspend Urban Meyer

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The Ohio State University board of trustees have been verbally read in on the findings of a 14-day investigation in to the conduct of football head coach Urban Meyer. 

So, what will happen next? 

According to the Columbus Dispatch, it appears a suspension or even lighter punishment is coming for Meyer:

“Two sources connected to the investigation said the likely recommendation to university President Michael V. Drake is a suspension for Meyer. Drake and the board could also opt for a ‘time served’ punishment since Meyer has been removed from football activities for more than two weeks.”

Meyer has already been on suspension (or paid administrative leave) for the better part the month of August.

The meeting on Monday was able to take place because it was an “informational meeting” and no public business was conducted. However, there is a meeting scheduled for 9a.m. on Wednesday to discuss just what punishment would be recommended. 

Ultimately it will be the university president that makes the final decision, but the board of trustees will meet to send their recommendation to President Michael V. Drake, who is likely to adhere to the recommendation of the board. 

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Buckeyes Football

Ohio State wins Cotton Bowl Classic: The good, bad and what it means for 2018

Buckeyes defense dominates USC en route to Cotton Bowl Classic victory.

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Some may say that Ohio State had a real gripe about not being selected to the College Football Playoff this season. Whether the Buckeyes believed they were snubbed or not, they certainly took out any frustration on USC in the Cotton Bowl Classic.

Ohio State used a dominating night on defense and just enough offense to beat the Trojans 24-7. Four turnovers were forced by the Buckeyes defense, resulting in a pick six and a huge shift in momentum late in the game too.

The win sends quarterback J.T. Barrett out on a high note, but it wasn’t his best effort on the field. He had just 114 yards passing and no touchdowns, while also putting up a Buckeyes-best 66 yards on the ground as well.

Luckily those 66 yards were enough to find the end zone twice in the first half for OSU.

Barrett got the Buckeyes on the board on their first possession and then put the Buckeyes up 24-0 on a 28-yard run late in the second quarter. However, it appeared momentum was shifting late in the half as Ronald Jones II put the ball over the goal line with just 1:29 to play in the first half.

That was it for the scoring though and it was a massive defensive message to the critics of the Buckeyes.

It all added up to the Big Ten coming away from a loaded day of action with a 5-0 record. Not only did the Buckeyes win, but so did Northwestern to help the Big Ten continue its banner bowl game start.

The Good

J.T. Barrett Continued to be Legendary

Few players in the history of Ohio State football have had the career that quarterback J.T. Barrett has had. Yet, it feels strange to say his career has been legendary. Maybe its the fact that he missed out on a Big Ten and national championship in 2015? Maybe it’s the fact that it somehow took until his senior season to win a Big Ten title as the quarterback?

Whatever it was, Barrett’s career just seemed incomplete. But, on Friday night Barrett added to his collegiate legend, setting the Big Ten’s total yards record that was previously held by some guy named Drew Brees.

There’s little doubt that Barrett is going to be remembered in Columbus for some time. Most importantly, Barrett was able to complete a post-season with a Big Ten championship and a win in a New Year’s Six game.

Not a bad way to go out in your college career.

Defense Got Turnover Happy

Ohio State showed it had a really good defense down the stretch run of the regular season, but it seemed to finally all come together in the Cotton Bowl. The Buckeyes forced USC quarterback and talked-about No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, Sam Darnold, to look rather average at best.

Part of Darnold’s issue came in the form of turnovers. Well, Darnold and USC in general, as the Trojans gave up the ball via turnover a whopping four times.

The last of which came as Darnold got hit from behind and let the ball fall right in to the waiting arms of an OSU defensive lineman.

It all added up to a USC offense that came in averaging 35 points per game being completely shutdown.

Let’s just say it was a great time for OSU to give its best defensive performance of the season too.

The Bad

Ohio State’s Offensive Performance

While a 24-7 scoreline would seem flattering, Ohio State’s offense really did minimal work on Friday night.

The Buckeyes amassed just 277 yards on 55 plays in the game, including just 114 yards in the passing game. Barrett getting a win in his final game was nice, but his passing game wasn’t. Barrett finished the game 11 of 17 passing for just 114 yards and no touchdowns.

Even more telling? The dynamic duo of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber was held to just 57 yards combined.

Given the domination of the defense all of this seems to be a bit nit-picky, but it should also be worrisome because this offense was up and down all 2017.

What it Means for 2018

It’s hard to say that this one game was make or break for any Ohio State players and their NFL draft status, but that is really the key from this game. Did Sam Hubbard’s great night make his decision easier? How many other guys will take off after this game?

Ultimately that is what is going to matter most heading in to the 2018 offseason.

However, what we can take away from the Cotton Bowl is the fact that the Buckeyes need some real work on the offensive side of the ball. Some of it is just simply growing up for young players, but we also saw what we saw most of this year in the pass game for OSU — there aren’t a lot of receiving options.

That group has got to regroup in a major way or the Buckeyes won’t be going anywhere but backwards on offense in 2018.

Dwayne Haskins is a better pure passer than J.T. Barrett, but it may not matter if no one can get open. Sure, you can give credit to the Trojans secondary, but the Buckeyes receivers did nothing to help themselves either.

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