Ohio State Won’t Win Style Points For Two-Score Victory in Wild Weather At Northwestern

By Griffin Strom on November 5, 2022 at 5:10 pm
Ryan Day
Adam Cairns, Columbus Dispatch

Ryan Day spoke at length about Ohio State’s efforts to prepare for the tempestuous weather conditions at Northwestern during the past week of practice. Evidently, they weren’t enough.

While pouring rain and gusts of wind upwards of 30 miles an hour were expected to make things a bit sloppy, that didn’t stop oddsmakers from predicting a 38-point Buckeye win ahead of kickoff. Despite the elements, the average Ohio State score prediction from the Eleven Warriors' staff was 52 points.

Ohio State escaped Evanston with a win, but it didn’t come close to reaching those projected numbers, and sloppy doesn’t quite describe just how bad the Buckeyes looked on offense early against arguably the worst team in the Big Ten. And while the weather played a factor, it’s become harder to ignore Ohio State’s offensive inconsistency following a third straight sluggish start.

“I've never been around conditions like this,” Day said after the game. “I don't know what the numbers show, but there must have been 30-mile-an-hour winds. And if you ever tried playing golf in 30-mile-an-hour winds, it's hard to get off the tee, forget throw a football. We saw this coming, So we had a plan. You could see we were under center some and tried to handle it that way. I mean, there were times when I was concerned about the snap coming back in the shotgun; it was so windy. And obviously, there was rain there. 

“So we tried throwing the ball. Very, very difficult to throw the ball, for sure, in this game, but almost impossible into the wind. And when you're playing against somebody that knows you're not throwing the ball, they put two extra guys now in the box. Usually, they put one guy down and the safety in the middle of the field. When they put two guys in and play zero, they say, 'What are you gonna do?'”

The Buckeyes failed to score on their first six drives against Northwestern, a defense that allowed 33 points to the nation’s worst offense (Iowa) just one week prior. Ohio State went three-and-out on two of its first three drives, turned the ball over on downs on its fourth series and had just one drive that lasted more than four plays until late in the second quarter.

In the first half alone, C.J. Stroud had as many incompletions (10) as he had in any full game all season. While some of those hit Buckeye receivers in the hands, perhaps dropped due to the rain, several others were well off the mark from the Ohio State quarterback. Stroud finished the first half with 46 yards on six completions, and statistically, Saturday was the poorest performance of his career.

By the game’s end, Stroud’s stats read 10-for-26 passing for 76 yards and no touchdowns. It was the lowest completion percentage and passing yardage total of his tenure as the Buckeye starter, and Stroud’s passer rating of 63 is also a new single-game low for the Heisman Trophy contender.

“I wouldn't say we came in with any expectation to beat the brakes off Northwestern. We go in, and we respect our opponent week after week. We feel like we're a great team, and we can run anybody out of the building, but it comes down to execution,” Ohio State wide receiver Emeka Egbuka said after the game. “But we knew here in Chicago it wouldn't be an easy win by any means, especially when we saw the weather report. So just coming out here leaving with a win is something we're very happy about.”

But Saturday was a run-heavy game for the Buckeyes anyway, given the weather and the Wildcat’s 109th-ranked rush defense – the worst unit Ohio State has faced all year. With TreVeyon Henderson sidelined with injury, though, the Buckeyes couldn’t get it going on the ground either for much of the early going.

When Ohio State got the ball back down 7-0 with 4:55 to go in the opening half, the run game had mustered just 26 yards on 10 attempts. On the ensuing drive, Ohio State finally found some momentum. The Buckeyes went 46 yards on six plays, all on the ground, that saw Stroud pick up multiple double-digit gains before a 15-yard end-around to Egbuka gave Ohio State its first touchdown of the day.

Unlike the Iowa and Penn State matchups, that drive didn’t magically switch the Buckeye offense back on for the game's duration. Ohio State scored on its next possession – and first of the second half – but the Buckeyes only led by seven points entering the fourth quarter.

Luckily for the Buckeyes, Jim Knowles and company stiffened up to force some key stops on defense, and a few missed opportunities by the Northwestern offense stalled the Wildcats from making things even more competitive late.

Ohio State tacked on one more score with 4:21 to play as Miyan Williams punched in his second touchdown after a 44-yard rush by Stroud. That was enough to finish the Wildcats off, despite the Buckeyes being outgained on offense (285-283 in total yards) for the second time all season. Northwestern also held nearly a 13-minute advantage in time of possession. 

Stroud’s big run late gave helped give Ohio State a 200-yard day on the ground for the first time since before the bye week, and Stroud also finished with a career-high 79 rushing yards. However, those numbers didn’t altogether cancel out the unit’s shortcomings.

Following the Buckeyes’ 13-point win over Penn State on the road last weekend, Day said style points were of no concern in a matchup with one of the top 15 teams in the country. Against one of the worst teams in the league, though, a two-score win ensured the Buckeyes would leave Illinois without any.

“It wasn't about anything other than winning the game. I think when you get in November, and you get into certain games, it's like, 'Well, how can you win by X number of points?' Or whatever. This had nothing to do with that,” Day said Saturday. “When you're dealing with these type of conditions, it's impossible. I can tell you what some of the issues are going to be right now. There was extra guy sitting at three yards. So what do you do? You either read them or you throw it, and one of those was out of the picture. 

“So, could we have done some things better? Absolutely. But it was a very challenging day, and again, I'm glad it's now behind us.”

Amid their last two slow starts, the Buckeyes still managed to wind up with 40-plus point totals, as late explosions did a lot to cover up potential criticism. Ohio State still achieved its primary objective on Saturday, but this time its offensive struggles cannot be shrugged off quite as quickly – bad weather or not.

The Buckeyes have championship aspirations in 2022, and before they can reach those goals, they’ll have to beat No. 5 Michigan in three weeks. Simply put, a performance like Saturday’s isn’t likely to be enough to do so.

Even if you adjust for the impact of the weather this weekend, it would be hard to argue that Ohio State is playing its best football as it heads into the middle of November. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, they’ll have two more games to change that narrative before facing their toughest test of the season.

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