Northwestern put up a good fight and gave Ohio State quite a scare Saturday afternoon in Evanston.
It was about as bad of a performance for Ohio State as they could have. The exact opposite could be said for Northwestern. In a sloppy, windy, rainy game in Evanston, the Buckeyes came away with a 21-7 victory over a one-win Northwestern team, a game in which the home team was a 38-point underdog.
Following the Wildcats losing their eighth consecutive game, head coach Pat Fitzgerald praised his team and his coaching staff for not only the way they played and coached against the Buckeyes, but also the way they prepared all week in order to be ready for the elements.
"A hard-fought battle today," Fitzgerald's said of his team's performance. "We had a lot of good happen today. Unfortunately, the bad was the outcome on the scoreboard. I thought plan-wise, I thought our staff put together a really good plan. ... I thought we pretty much executed except for a couple of plays and those ended up being the difference in the game."
Even though his team played so well and executed the game plan, for the most part, Fitzgerald knows that Ohio State has a bunch of talent on both sides of the ball and, sometimes, there's just nothing Northwestern could have done different.
"Ryan (Day) has not a good team but he has a great team. A very talented team at every position and I thought our defense, for the most part, did a pretty darn good job of keeping the ball inside and in front. I thought our guys fought their tails off and gave us every opportunity to win against one of the most explosive offenses (in the country)."
C.J. Stroud struggled to find any rhythm throughout the game, completing just 10 of 26 passes (38 percent) for 76 yards, all of which were career-lows. Much of that was due to the weather conditions but the Wildcats' defense played a part in Stroud's most inefficient game of his career.
Although the Buckeyes struggled offensively throughout much of the game, they were able to rattle off some big plays in key moments in order to secure the win.
"Unfortunately, on a couple of plays, we let them get around us," Fitzgerald said.
The final box score might tell a different story, especially thanks to Stroud's career-high 79 rushing yards paired with Miyan Williams' 111 rushing yards and two touchdowns, but Ohio State had a tough time running the ball, especially in short-yardage situations early on. Northwestern, however, was able to run the ball, especially early on. Evan Hull finished with 30 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown.
"I thought they fought," Fitzgerald said. "We were able to create some seams and run the ball. We wanted to limit their possessions the whole game."
On the same token, the Northwestern head coach also explained how the Wildcats were able to make things tough for Ohio State's rushing attack.
"I think we fit gaps well," he said of his defense. "I thought we tackled, for the most part, well. We got off the field on third down. I thought the guys played pretty solid team defense."
Then again, the poor weather conditions played a major role in Ohio State's struggles offensively, something that Fitzgerald acknowledged.
"I think you might be reading into a little bit. The weather helped (our pass defense)," he said.
Quarterback Brendan Sullivan played a major role in Northwestern being able to stay in the game before he was knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter. The quarterback completed 10 of 14 passes for 79 yards and also added 12 carries for 55 yards as well.
"He's an instinctual athlete who will just keep getting better," Fitzgerald said. "We're starting to see some growth and maturation. I'm really proud of his toughness and his grit."
After Northwestern took a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter, it was held scoreless the rest of the game. The Wildcats were able to stay within striking defense, though, up until Ohio State took the lead for good with just under nine minutes remaining in the game and then took a 21-7 lead with just over four minutes left. Even then, Northwestern was still in it late in the game, which was what Fitzgerald wanted.
"I thought we'd give ourselves a chance to make it a four-quarter game," he said. "We've had ample opportunities now."
In the end, the better team won. There's a reason Ohio State is undefeated: They find a way to win the game no matter how ugly it might be at times. Fitzgerald acknowledged that.
"Credit to Coach Day, his staff and their players. They're playing at a high level and there's a reason why they're ranked No. 2 in the country and they found a way to win today."
- #2 Ohio State 21, Northwestern 7
- • Buckeyes Slog Past Northwestern, 21-7
- • No Style Points in Sloppy NW Win
- • Stroud Shows He Can Run When Needed
- • Buckeyes Break FBS 20-Point Record
- • Ohio State Postgame • Photos • Notebook • Quotebook • Debriefing
- • NW Postgame • 3 Key Stats • Five Things • Social Reactions