The weather nor Ohio State's performance in it were worthy of winning a beauty contest but the Buckeyes did what mattered most - they left Evanston with a 21-7 victory - pushing their unblemished record to 9-0 with three regular season games left to play.
Tough to digest in the moment, the slog became a bit more palatable as Saturday's national slate of games unfolded with No. 1 Tennessee losing to No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 Clemson getting absolutely worked by unranked Notre Dame.
With sustained 25+ miles per winds and gusts nearly twice as fierce, combined with intermittent sheets of rain, Ohio State's passing game was reduced to rubble while the rushing attack sputtered early before gaining momentum after halftime.
Meanwhile, the Ohio State defense held an already bad Northwestern offense to one touchdown as the Wildcats breached the OSU 35-yard line just twice in 13 possessions.
Ryan Day would likely prefer to forget about this one on the trip home but before the Buckeyes get busy prepping for next Saturday's matchup with Indiana, here are Five Things from a soggy win over Northwestern.
Yeah the weather sucked but yesterday wasn't the first time Ohio State's offense struggled to win one-on-one matchups or run the ball when the defense knew it was coming, especially early in the game. And this was against a Wildcats defense ranked outside the top-100 in most run defense metrics.
Ohio State ran it 10 times for 26 yards in the first quarter. When C.J. Stroud wasn't understandably sailing throws in the crazy wind, his receivers were dropping passes. The offense was flagged for holding, a false start and a delay of game in the first half alone, with another holding call wiped out by an offsetting penalty.
Th Buckeyes scored on one of seven first half possessions with five punts and a turnover on downs. The longest first half drive covered 46 yards as OSU averaged 3.6 yards per play while looking anywhere from flustered to, well, not very tough.
At this point, it's hard not to pigeonhole the offense as a finicky Ferrari of sorts even setting yesterday's conditions aside. If nothing else, yesterday gave more evidence as to why Gene Smith wants any northern CFP game to be in a dome. He knows Ryan Day's offense is not built to maintain a certain level of effectiveness in the elements.
Look, I think every offense in the country would've struggled in Evanston yesterday. But I also think Day's is prone to sputtering in suboptimal conditions because it simply can't line up and knock good teams off the ball, and except in dire circumstances, doesn't want to run the quarterback even as defenses do virtually nothing to account for it.
While the offense was struggling, the defense mostly did what it should against a bad team and middle linebacker Tommy Eichenberg was once again central to the group's effort.
Eichenberg racked up a game-high 13 tackles with one for loss.
With Northwestern facing 3rd-and-6 from the OSU 23 early in the second quarter, Eichenberg blasted Evan Hull for a 2-yard loss, setting up a 4th-and-8 the Wildcats would not convert, keeping Ohio State's deficit at 7-0.
In the fourth quarter, with Ohio State nursing a 14-7 lead, the defense was forced back on the field following a 3-and-out on the heels of Northwestern churning out a 16-play possession. I was frankly expecting the defense to look tired after the OSU offense gave it no time to rest but Eichenberg blew up 1st-and-10 for a 1-yard gain and a 3rd-and-5 for a 2-yard gain to force a key punt.
Ohio State's offense would score on the ensuing possession to make it 21-7 to salt away the win.
Eichenberg's 13 stops pushed his season total to 85 and he's now 33 tackles clear of Ohio State's second-leading tackler, Steele Chambers. He also leads the squad with eight tackles for loss
The man is well on his way to becoming the first Buckeye linebacker since Raekwon McMillan in 2016 to post 100 tackles in a single-season.
HULL OF AN EFFORT
At 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, Northwestern running back Evan Hull packed a hell of a punch. Even with Ohio State knowing the run was coming, particularly when Hull lined up in the wildcat, the kid carried it 30 times for 122 yards with a touchdown. He was at his best in the first half, rushing for 75 yards on 15 carries.
More often than not, Hull was dishing out punishment versus taking it, dragging Ohio State players for an extra yard or two on seemingly every carry.
Honestly, I wonder what that might say about Ohio State's strength and conditioning and tackling versus Hull's talents but Hull impressed me all day long.
If he wasn't the most talented running back on the field yesterday, you'd be hard-pressed to argue he wasn't he toughest and most determined to take what he could get on every snap.
SIX IN THE MIX
Simply because of the role he's expected to fill week in and week out, many may not be aware Taron Vincent far and away leads Ohio State's interior defensive linemen in snaps played so far this season.
He chews up blocks every weekend, often creating space for teammates to make plays.
Yesterday, in what was obviously going to be a run-heavy game, Vincent was in his element posting a season-high five tackles with four of those the solo variety.
Vincent was huge to start the second half. With the Wildcats near midfield on their opening possession of the third quarter, Vincent stuffed Hull for no gain on 2nd-and-1. Two plays later on 4th-and-1, Vincent again got penetration and again stoned Hull for no gain.
The turnover on downs gave OSU's offense the ball at the Northwestern 45-yard line and the Buckeyes score five plays later to take a 14-7 lead.
Hat tip to Vincent for his physical, impactful play on a day Ohio State really needed it in the trenches.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
As frustrating as it was to watch Ohio State's offense fail to control the line of scrimmage albeit against a loaded box, go 0-for-8 on third down and generally struggle to do anything productive in the first half, the good news is they once again went into the halftime locker room and made adjustments to produce better results over the final two quarters.
After averaging a modest 4.5 yards per carry on the way to 72 yards in the first half, Ohio State's running game averaged 7.1 per try over the final two quarters, good for 135 yards.
With the running game metrics fairing a bit better, in large part to Miyan Williams' 27-yard touchdown jaunt and a 44-yard keeper from C.J. Stroud, Ohio State averaged 5.7 yards per play in the second half compared to just 3.7 in the first half.
The offense also converted 4-of-7 third downs over the final two quarters after posting the eight bagel in the opening 30 minutes.
The Buckeye offense also played the final two quarters without a penalty following three infractions in the first half.
Again, a painful offensive performance in many ways regardless of the weather in but you want to see the team adjust and respond after halftime and that's what happened.
- #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