No. 4 Ohio State was not the latest title contender to fall victim to a weeknight road game. The Buckeyes cruised to an easy victory in Evanston Friday night, crushing Northwestern 52-3. Things seemed a bit iffy early in the game as Northwestern's defense showed signs of being able to frustrate Justin Fields and the Buckeyes offense. Well ... for a few minutes, anyway. Ohio State scored a touchdown on its opening drive to take a 7-0 lead but would have to punt on its next two possessions, and Northwestern managed a field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3 after the first 15 minutes.
Shortly after that, all dreams of a competitive, exciting game quickly dissipated. The Buckeyes turned on the afterburners in the second quarter, torching Northwestern for 24 points to take a 31-3 lead at halftime and they just cruised from there. Fields had another terrific performance, finishing with just 194 yards passing but tossing four touchdowns. J.K. Dobbins continued having an excellent season, rushing for 121 yards and scoring two touchdowns, including a receiving score.
On the defensive side of the ball the Buckeyes dominated as well, holding the Northwestern offense to 199 yards of offense.
The Buckeyes even dominated on special teams. Kicker Blake Haubeil drilled a career-high 55-yard field goal to end the first half, and punter Drue Chrisman dropped bombs with his right foot, averaging 47.4 yards per punt on his five attempts.
It was another thoroughly dominating performance from a team that's done nothing but dominate every team it's faced so far. Here are three takeaways from the game.
1. This game provided another sign of why the Buckeyes are a true title threat. How many times have we seen Ohio State take its foot off the gas in recent seasons? Last year, it was a night game at Purdue that saw the Buckeyes fall and blow their playoff chances. The odds of Northwestern pulling off a similar upset in this game were slim to none, but a Friday night game on the road can be tricky for anybody. Plus, Northwestern was the only team in the country that has made Wisconsin look mortal so far this year.
So there was a chance that Ohio State might have found itself struggling against the Wildcats, but it didn't. The Buckeyes scored on their first possession, and after a minor hiccup, they dominated this game for nearly all 60 minutes. And they did all this with a huge showdown against Wisconsin looming next week. If ever there was a chance for the Buckeyes to get caught looking past an opponent and to next week, surely this Northwestern team was the one to overlook. They didn't, though. They dominated, and that's the kind of mentality you see from a team capable of winning a national title. Beating Northwestern will mean nothing when it comes to comparing resumes later in the year, but the way the Buckeyes went about doing it makes me even more confident in their ability to reach the College Football Playoff.
2. I do have one minor beef with Ryan Day's approach. Ironically enough, this is likely connected to what I just wrote about, but I'm not sure why Day left his starters in for so long. It's not a new phenomenon, either. This has been the case a few times this season, and considering the bigger picture and what's at stake for the Buckeyes, I don't think it would hurt Day to have a quicker hook.
If I'm an Ohio State fan, I don't want to see Fields, Dobbins and other key players taking or delivering hits when I'm up 35 points against a team that hasn't scored more than 30 points in a game all season.
3. Northwestern's offense remains difficult to watch. Northwestern fans have been calling for offensive coordinator Mick McCall's head this season. They've called for it in previous seasons as well. To this point, Pat Fitzgerald has refused to give the fans the head they want. I admire his dedication to his assistants, but something has to change. This Northwestern offense is simply not good enough to compete in the Big Ten.
Granted, I'm not sure what changing offensive coordinators right now would do. From what I have seen of this Northwestern offense, it's not just a schematic failure. I don't know if there's an offensive coordinator out there who can magically show up in Evanston and start calling plays that lead to this team scoring 30 points per game. There's a personnel problem here, too. It's an offense with a few interesting pieces -- I like Drake Anderson and Isaiah Bowser -- but there is a severe lack of playmakers on the perimeter. If Northwestern had some more skill at the receiver position, Mick McCall might look like a better playcaller.
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