Five Things to Know About Northwestern Before Ohio State Plays Its Second Straight Road Game This Weekend

By Griffin Strom on October 31, 2022 at 10:10 am
Pat Fitzgerald
David Banks, USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State won’t have the luxury of returning home after a weekend road trip to State College.

1-7 (1-4 BIG TEN)



Instead, the Buckeyes will play the role of visiting team for the second straight game as they travel to Evanston, Illinois, to take on Pat Fitzgerald’s 17th Northwestern roster. Luckily for scarlet and gray, the Wildcats hardly pose the threat – nor the hostile environment – that Penn State brought to the table this past week.

Northwestern is 1-7 thus far, 1-4 in Big Ten play and hasn’t won a game since August. But despite entering the matchup as a 33-point underdog, the Wildcats have finished two of their past four games against Ohio State with deficits of 12 points or fewer – including a 22-10 loss in the 2020 Big Ten Championship Game.

As game preparation begins for both sides at the start of the week, here are five things to know about Ohio State’s next opponent.

On Verge of Worst Losing Streak in 29 Years

Northwestern hasn’t won a game at home this season. Hell, Northwestern hasn’t won a game in America this season. In fact, when Ohio State and Northwestern kick off against one another, the Wildcats will be three calendar months removed from their last – and lone – win this season.

Northwestern started the year with a three-point win over soon-to-be former Nebraska head coach Scott Frost in Dublin, Ireland, but it’s been all downhill ever since. The Wildcats have dropped seven straight games, including matchups with Southern Illinois and Miami (OH). Yikes.

But a seven-game losing streak isn’t new in the Pat Fitzgerald era. In fact, Northwestern dropped seven straight in 2019, the last time Ohio State traveled to Evanston. If the Wildcats lose to the Buckeyes again next weekend, though, Northwestern would tie its longest losing streak since 1993.

Gary Barnett’s second Northwestern roster dropped its final eight games 29 seasons ago to set that dubious mark, and unless the Wildcats pull a rabbit out of their hat, the 2022 team will match that mark in five days’ time. With Minnesota, Purdue and Illinois all still on tap after Ohio State, Northwestern may even tie a program record with 11 losses before season’s end.

Mind you, Northwestern is just two seasons removed from a Big Ten West Division title and conference title game berth.

Gave Up 33 Points to Iowa

Yes, you read that right. Iowa, still led by offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, managed to hang 33 points on the Wildcat defense this past weekend. The same Iowa offense that was outscored by both the Buckeye and Hawkeye defense in the teams’ Week 8 meeting.

The same Iowa offense that entered this weekend ranked 128th out of 131 FBS programs in scoring offense, averaging a whopping 14 points per game before taking on Northwestern. The same Iowa offense that hadn’t scored more than 27 points in a single game all season up until Saturday.

Northwestern made Hawkeye quarterback Spencer Petras look competent, and after a six-turnover day against the Buckeyes, Northwestern didn’t force a single takeaway in the Iowa matchup. Iowa entered the game ranked dead last in America in total yards per game with 227.3 but finished Saturday with a season-high 398. Iowa had only topped 300 yards on one other occasion this year, and that was against Nevada.

The loss marked Northwestern’s third straight in which it gave up at least 31 points, with an average of 35.3 per game in that stretch. Now moving onto a matchup with the Buckeyes, the Wildcats get the pleasure of facing an offense that ranks second in the country with an average of 48.9 points per game.

Among Lowest-Scoring Offenses in FBS

The Wildcat offense isn't the worst in the country, statistically. But it isn’t far off.

With an average of 18.6 points per game through seven games, Northwestern ranked 119th out of 131 teams in the FBS before its matchup with Iowa. After scoring just 13 points against the Hawkeyes, the Wildcats slid to No. 120 in the country in that department. That’s still an improvement on last season, when Northwestern finished the year with an average of 16 points per game – No. 125 in the nation.

Even in 2020, when Northwestern ranked No. 10 in the final AP poll, the program averaged fewer than 25 points per game. It’s been 10 whole years since any Wildcat team finished a year averaging more than 30 points per game.

Quarterback play has been a big part of that equation this season. In the first six games of the year, Ryan Hilinksi threw as many interceptions (six) as he did touchdowns. Brendan Sullivan has taken over in the past few contests, but he’s hardly fared much better. After the Iowa game, Sullivan has four touchdown passes to three picks this season. At a minimum, Sullivan can say he’s completing 73% of his passes as a first-time starter for the Wildcats.

Northwestern’s scored 14 points or fewer in half of its games this season, and despite giving up a season-high 31 points to Penn State this past weekend, Ohio State still ranks No. 10 in the nation in scoring defense.

Projected First-Round Draft Pick At OT

Despite Northwestern’s general offensive ineptitude, it might have the best offensive tackle in the country on its roster. Junior lineman Peter Skoronski was a preseason first-team AP All-American and has long been considered perhaps the top tackle on 2023 NFL draft boards.

Skoronski has lived up to the hype in his third year, ranking third among all tackles in the country in Pro Football Focus’s position grades. In terms of pass-blocking, the 6-foot-4 Wildcat is actually the top tackle in the nation, per PFF.

Northwestern entered this past weekend tied for No. 19 in the country in sacks allowed, with just eight, and Skoronski is a big reason why. Skoronski was the fourth-highest-rated Northwestern signee in program history out of high school, per the 247Sports composite, and was a second-team All-Big Ten selection as just a true freshman. In 2021, Skoronski earned a first-team all-conference nod from Big Ten coaches, and he may be headed for even more prestigious accolades at the end of this year.

Legit Playmaker in Evan Hull

In terms of skill position players, redshirt junior running back Evan Hull may be the biggest bright spot on offense for the Wildcats.

Hull finished the 2021 season with 1,007 rushing yards, seven rushing touchdowns and a 5.1 yards per carry average. He also did damage in the passing game, hauling in a team third-best 33 passes for 264 yards and a pair of scores.

This year, Hull has been even more productive as a receiving threat. To go along with his 579 rushing yards, Hull has a team-high 45 catches for 461  receiving yards through eight games, which puts him over 1,000 yards from scrimmage with a third of the regular season still to play. Against Duke, Hull caught 14 passes for a jaw-dropping 213 yards and a score at the running back position.

Hull hasn’t been quite as effective on a per-carry basis in 2022, averaging 4.3 yards per rush, but he’s racked up three 100-yard rushing games so far. Hull will be a primary offensive weapon for Northwestern in this weekend’s matchup, even if the Buckeyes have been among the top teams in the nation against the run thus far.

View 97 Comments