Northwestern Debriefing: Concerns Abound As Ohio State Grinds Out Ugly Win in Inclement Weather

By Andy Vance on November 6, 2022 at 9:35 am
Ryan Day

Running back Miyan Williams summed up the game pretty succinctly:

Yeah, that just about covers it.

Let's break it down.


Ohio State may as well have been playing the Greek god of wind, as the conditions in Evanston were pretty dreadful for a team that likes passing the ball. But for a team that plays in the Big Ten, grinding out a win in crummy weather is a requirement.

Northwestern's defense held Ryan Day's team to the lowest statistical output of his career in these categories: passing yardage, completed passes, passing touchdowns, yards per completion, yards per attempt, longest pass, passing percentage, passing first downs total yards, yards per play, and tied with the Notre Dame game for fewest points scored. (Shout out to the Eleven Warriors Stats & Research Department for pulling that list together.)

But at the end of the day, "A win's a win in The Ten," as one Buckeye Basketballer once put it.



It's important to note that Northwestern is not a good football team. And while there's certainly something to be said for the conditions in which the game was played, the long and the short of it is that a team that could well finish 1-11 on the season gave the top offense in the country some major fits, and further opened a path for concerns that this Ohio State team isn't tough enough to square up with its hated rival in a few weeks.

On the other hand, if you're feeling bad about Ohio State's performance Saturday, imagine how you'd feel if you were a fan of Tennessee, Clemson or Alabama. Sometimes a win really is a win.

Ohio State's wide receivers collectively had a case of feet for hands because – although the wind was fierce – too many passes hit them in the chest or hands and were not caught. Julian Fleming caught just one pass out of nine targets, and Marvin Harrison Jr. proved to be the only receiver who was effective in the contest. Emeka Egbuka added some meaningful yards on the ground.

With TreVeyon Henderson not dressed Saturday, Miyan Williams ran for 111 yards on 26 carries, along with two touchdowns and the most viral celebration of the game (not that there were many, mind you):

The most exciting thing for many fans was likely that C.J. Stroud ran the ball! His six carries for 79 yards, including a 44-yard scamper, made a considerable difference in Ohio State's final stats and gave the offense a shot in the arm on a day when he completed just 38% of his passes (due in no small part to the drops mentioned above by his receivers).

Helmet Stickers
  1. Miyan Williams: The team's leading rusher on a day when it was critical to run the ball.
  2. C.J. Stroud: Did you see him RUN THE BALL?!?!?


We reminded ourselves last week of the old saying that defense wins championships. Suffice it to say that defense has been winning ballgames for the Buckeyes, or at the very least, keeping them in a position to win ballgames. That was certainly the case at Penn State, and once again, the road team needed its defense to stand tall Saturday while the offense sputtered early in the contest.

Heading to Evanston, the Buckeyes had the No. 1 offense in the country according to SP+ and the No. 6 defense. SP+ is what creator Bill Connelly calls a predictive tool, meaning it's not so good at explaining what has happened (although it does that fine) but at helping understand what might happen next.

Watching the Georgia Bulldogs take down the Tennessee Volunteers Saturday night showcased why people often rely on that old saw about defenses and championships. Georgia has the No. 2 defense in SP+ and the No. 8 offense, while Tennessee had the No. 2 offense and the No. 34 defense.

...and look what happened: Georgia's otherworldly defense thoroughly abused Tennessee's high-powered offense. Ohio State will be fine if its offense sputters against Indiana or Maryland, for sure, but it will rely heavily on its defense to hold firm against the Wolverines. Whoever they face in a hypothetical playoff battle should the Buckeyes win out and claim the conference crown.

Helmet Stickers
  1. Tommy Eichenberg: Paced the team with 13 total tackles, including 10 that were credited as solo tackles.
  2. "Rocket" Ronnie Hickman: Was right behind Eichenberg with 10 total tackles and six solo.
  3. The Defensive Ends: J.T. Tuimoloau and Zach Harrison continued to be disruptive up front.


At this point in the season, you know the deal: The Debriefing doesn't believe Ohio State's revamped defense needs to be among the Top 5 in the country to win titles. With Ohio State's offense, Jim Knowles doesn't need to turn the Silver Bullets into the '85 Bears, they just need to suck 30% less than they did last season.

The benchmark for comparison is that last season's defense coughed up an average of 372.9 yards and 22.8 points per game. Abysmal. We continue to track if the defense is meeting that goal each week and we'll circle up at the end of the season to see if "The 30% Hypothesis" holds water.

Ohio State allowed 285 yards of total offense, which is getting close to 30% better than the average they allowed last season, and the 7 points allowed is way better than a 30%  improvement, so we're going to call this a win.

VERDICT: A resounding YES.

As previously mentioned, this defense is one of the country's top six, according to SP+. They're No. 10 in scoring defense and No. 6 in terms of yards allowed. All in all, it's a massive improvement year after year. 


Saturday morning started like many others in the Tressel household: with a warm bowl of oatmeal to keep the system working, along with a pot of tea ("Lots of sugar and lots of milk, because what's the point of a drink if you don't like the taste, really,"), and the morning Sudoku.

After returning a raft of emails that he certainly won't miss after retiring from the presidency of Youngstown State University, Coach Tressel had been working on a particularly challenging variation called an "impossible Sudoku" in between drives of the game. He was beginning to get a feel for the pattern when it became clear Ohio State was still struggling to run the ball.

"You have to be able to impose your will on the ground in these kind of conditions," he said to Lady Ellen. She nodded supportively, although she'd heard him utter similar thoughts more than a few times over the years and this was in no way news to her.

The game had its ups and downs, but overall it felt like Big Ten football. Defense getting the job done, relying on the kickers to do what they could given the conditions, and controlling the clock and keeping things close to the proverbial vest.

So while it wasn't a perfect game by any stretch, he was by and large pleased with the result, thinking back to his National Championship season in Columbus and the many scares his men avoided that year.

But he snapped the lead out of his pencil when, during the postgame press conference, he heard head coach Ryan Day describe the game as feeling like "a trip to the dentist."

"Now, son, that's no way to act," Tressel snorted. "That was a good win on the road against a tough Big Ten opponent in November. Those are the kinds of wins that build character."


...Miyan Williams scored his second touchdown of the day late in the fourth. You could argue it was over after his first touchdown midway through the third quarter, given how stout Ohio State's defense played against an admittedly pedestrian Northwestern offense. Still, the way things were going, no one counted the proverbial chickens before they hatched.

UP NEXT: Ohio State returns to the friendly confines of The Horseshoe next week to host the Indiana Hoosiers. The Buckeyes will be the feature of another Big Noon Saturday showdown on FOX.

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