Northwestern Notebook: Ohio State Holds Its First Opponent to Single Digits, Buckeyes Ride Miyan Williams at Running Back and Jyaire Brown Enters Rotation at Cornerback

By Dan Hope on November 6, 2022 at 10:54 am
Tanner McCalister and Lathan Ransom vs. Northwestern

While Ohio State ranks eighth in the country in scoring defense with only 15.8 points allowed per game, the Buckeyes did not hold any opponent to single digits in their first eight games of the season.

That changed on Saturday, when Ohio State yielded a season-low seven points to Northwestern.

Ohio State’s defense had plenty of advantages on its side to help make that happen in Evanston. Northwestern’s offense had to operate in the same windy weather that played a massive part in the Buckeyes’ offense gaining a season-low 283 yards and tying their season-low with only 21 points scored, and the Wildcats were already averaging only 17.9 points per game.

Nevertheless, Ohio State allowed Northwestern to score only once while limiting the Wildcats to only 3.75 yards per play. While the Wildcats gained 17 first downs – four more than Ohio State did, albeit on 15 more plays – the Buckeyes’ defense came up big when they needed to, stopping Northwestern on all four of their fourth-down conversion attempts.

The Buckeyes might not get too much credit for a dominant defensive performance considering the conditions and the competition, but they nevertheless did their job for Ohio State to remain unbeaten on a day where its offense lacked its usual explosiveness.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to scoring points, right?” Ryan Day said after the game. “They had a couple first downs, but they really weren't able to score on us. And I think that's a tribute to our defense and how well they played because any time you hold someone to seven points, even in conditions like this, it’s a job well done.”

Buckeyes lean on Miyan

With TreVeyon Henderson unavailable and the weather forcing Ohio State to run the ball on most of its offensive plays, the door seemed to be open for Chip Trayanum or Dallan Hayden to play a significant role in Ohio State’s running back rotation against Northwestern. Instead, Ohio State opted to stick almost exclusively with Miyan Williams.

No other tailback got a carry for the Buckeyes in Evanston, as Williams ran the ball 26 times while C.J. Stroud also ran the ball six times himself and Emeka Egbuka got the ball on two running plays. Trayanum, who made a midseason move from linebacker to running back, entered the game for one offensive play at RB but did not get the ball on that play.

Williams, who left the Buckeyes’ previous game against Penn State with an injury that he said “wasn’t serious,” struggled to get things going early against Northwestern as he ran for just 28 yards on his first 13 carries, including back-to-back plays in the first quarter on which he was stuffed for no gain on 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1 for a turnover on downs.

On his 14th carry of the day, Williams finally broke through, rushing for a 27-yard touchdown on Ohio State’s opening drive of the third quarter.

Williams finished the game with 111 total rushing yards on 26 carries and also scored the Buckeyes’ other touchdown of the second half on a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter.

Asked after the game if Ohio State considered giving Trayanum or Hayden any carries on Saturday, Day said the Buckeyes were always confident Williams would get things going if they kept feeding him the ball.

“We felt like Miyan was running good,” Day said. “There was a lot of guys down in the box, and we felt like with more and more at-bats that he’d start to break them there, the more opportunities he had, and that's part of the run game.”

Williams admitted after the game, though, that the Buckeyes “expected to put way more points on the board” than they did.

“Tough game,” Williams said in his postgame press conference. “I'm just glad we came up with the win.”

Brown plays regularly at cornerback

Ohio State continued to be shorthanded at cornerback against Northwestern. Cameron Brown was unavailable for the fifth time in six games. Jordan Hancock was expected to play for the third game in a row after missing the first six games of the year with a hamstring injury, but he too did not end up playing any snaps in Evanston even though he made the trip and went through pregame warmups.

JK Johnson made his fifth start of the season as a result, but Jyaire Brown also saw regular action in the cornerback rotation behind Denzel Burke and Johnson.

The only freshman to play a significant role on offense or defense against Northwestern, Brown initially entered the game on Ohio State’s third defensive series, which came after a missed tackle by Johnson on Evan Hull’s 16-yard touchdown run for Northwestern’s only score of the game. Johnson would re-enter the game and end up tying his season-high with 51 snaps at cornerback, per Pro Football Focus, but Brown also continued to mix in throughout the game for 28 total snaps.

The freshman cornerback did his job effectively. PFF graded Brown as Ohio State’s best cornerback on the day as he allowed zero catches and recorded a pass breakup on his only target of the game.

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