COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State took a step forward against Northwestern in terms of the result. Whether the Buckeyes did so with their play is up for debate.
Ultimately, the Buckeyes executed well enough to beat a team that had been playing well entering the contest. But fans aren’t wrong for expecting more than a 24-20 win over Northwestern. That’s especially true when considering what Ohio State did at Oklahoma and at Wisconsin this season. A big win didn’t materialize, though, which leaves the Buckeyes with some questions to answer as Nebraska comes to town.
Here’s how Ohio State graded out, on a scale of zero stars to five. You can vote along with us, as well, so click on the tabs as you go along. Here we go:
Offense (3 stars)
H-back Curtis Samuel made his triumphant return as the focal point of the offense, but it came with mixed results. He caught seven passes for 68 yards but also managed just 31 yards on seven carries. Quarterback J.T. Barrett connected on 21 of 32 passes but only completed one that was 20 yards or longer.
The Buckeyes did earn credit for coming through when they had to on the final two drives. At the end of the day, though, Ohio State should expect to score more than 24 points against a unit that ranks 70th nationally in total defense.
Defense (3 stars)
It was a good but not great day for the Silver Bullets. The Buckeyes picked off Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson, but he also threw for 256 yards. Ohio State held running back Justin Jackson to 76 yards, but he too had his moments.
The most troubling sign for this unit is that it couldn’t get a stop in key situations, which is not something that could have been said about this defense earlier in the season.
Special teams (2 stars)
Ohio State is still getting nothing from the return game, but that’s not the end of the world. The bigger problem against the Wildcats was an uncharacteristically poor showing from punter Cameron Johnston, who averaged just 36.6 yards per punt with a net average of 32.6. Those numbers are each 10 yards worse than his season averages.
Kicker Tyler Durbin did well to make his lone field goal attempt, which came from 35 yards. It said a lot, though, that Meyer didn’t let him attempt a 50-yarder with the game tied in the fourth quarter. For someone they praise as having a big leg, the OSU coaches sure are reluctant to let him show it.
Coaching (3 stars)
The biggest concern here should be the conservative decisions that have suddenly taken root in this staff. The offensive play-calling wasn’t very imaginative against Northwestern, but it goes deeper than that. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Meyer-coached team punt twice in opposing territory. What’s even more confounding is that one of those times came inside the Northwestern 40. Meanwhile, the Wildcats kept themselves in the game in part by converting both of their fourth-down attempts.
On the bright side for Ohio State fans, two issues from the past looked better. The offense conducted its best opening drive of the season and the offensive line played much better.
Overall (3 stars)
Ohio State beat a team that had won three straight conference games, and that’s never something to dismiss. Furthermore, those three teams weren’t Purdue, Illinois and Rutgers, so the Wildcats may have figured out some things. Thorson and Jackson were a formidable combination, as well. Clearly, the talent well isn’t dried up in Evanston.
However, it’s fair for Ohio State to expect more from its team than 24 points and a four-point win against Northwestern. Even factoring in the wear-and-tear the Buckeyes experienced the past two weeks, they still should have been better. They weren’t.