Why Ohio State Will Win
– The Buckeyes have the ability to turn the lights out in a hurry. Northwestern needs the pace to be low-scoring and relatively slow, and Ohio State’s offense can hit the big play and go on the fast scoring marches to end this in two drives. Despite a comeback earlier in the year against Iowa and a good push in the loss to Michigan State, this isn’t a team built for big rallies.
– The Ohio State running game has improved as the season has gone on. JK Dobbins might not be around anymore, but the ground attack hit 200 yards in each of the first three games and then rolled for over 300 in each of the last two games. What’s scariest was the performance against Michigan State – the Buckeyes rumbled for 322 yards despite missing most of the key pieces on the O line.
– Turnovers – they shouldn’t be a problem. Northwestern can’t do this without being at least a +3 in the turnover margin, but that’s not going to be easy. After coming up with nine takeaways in the first three games and five against Wisconsin, there was just one in the last two games.
Justin Fields might have thrown three picks against Indiana, Ohio State was still +1 in turnover margin. The team has yet to be on the wrong side, being at least +1 in every game and +7 on the year.
Why Northwestern Will Win
– No one does a better job of slowing things down and mucking things up. Wisconsin might be better at making teams play a certain style, and nationally, Kentucky is normally wonderful at dominating the tempo, but Northwestern is brilliant as it gets at dominating on third downs and getting opponents out of their groove.
You can’t make a mistake against this team. It’s fantastic at hanging around, hanging around, hanging around, and then … boom. There’s an opening, and then it takes full advantage. Just ask Iowa how that works.
– The Northwestern pass defense has been a brick wall. Purdue leads the Big Ten in passing, and it was held down to 263 yards and just over five yards per throw. Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz couldn’t stop throwing picks, Maryland and Iowa each gave up three interceptions, and overall, teams have combined to connect on 51% of their passes with seven touchdowns and 12 picks against the nation’s leader in pass efficiency defense.
– When healthy – and as it turned out against Michigan State, even when it isn’t – the Ohio State offensive line has been strong for the running game. However, it’s struggling a bit at keeping aggressive defensive fronts out of the backfield. Part of that is Justin Fields holding on to the ball and trying to make things happen, and part of it is a problem.
Northwestern doesn’t generate a ton of sacks or tackles for loss, but it’s a bit by design. There’s enough pressure coming to be a problem.