Northwestern Primed for an Upset of Ohio State, but Is It Capable?
For the second straight week Ohio State will take the Big Ten spotlight, as they take on cross-divisional foe Northwestern in prime time in Evanston. Even ESPN's famed College GameDay will be in town for this one.
The Buckeyes passed test No. 1 last week in taking down Wisconsin, but Northwestern is a completely different animal (pun intended).
Pat Fitzgerald's crew bring a whole different set of challenges to the table than the Badgers did last week, and the reality is, this could be a bigger test of just what the Ohio State defense has.
The offensive numbers sure suggest that Ohio State is going to be facing an offense that can keep you off balance, simply because Northwestern is so balanced.
Coming into the Big Ten opener the Wildcats are averaging 249.5 yards a game on the ground and 233.8 yards a game through the air. Those both rank fourth in the Big Ten and are pretty balanced to say the least.
Let us not forget that was all done without Venric Mark, who went out in the opener, and minus Kain Colter for parts of a few games as well this season.
In fact, since Week 2, Colter has attempted all of 16 passes.
Instead, Colter has been much more of a running threat, putting up 144 yards on 27 attempts in the past two games alone. To date, Colter has as many touchdowns rushing as he has passing at three apiece.
What has made this offense even more deadly is the emergence of a second home run hitter in the backfield, thanks to the performance of Treyvon Green in the absence of Mark. He has racked up 404 yards, five touchdowns and has averaged 101 yards per game through four contests.
Not shabby for a backup who's done it on fewer carries than all but Indiana's Tevin Coleman to date. He is fourth in the Big Ten in rushing average per game and fifth in touchdowns.
This week though, it appears Venric Mark may just be back and that means things get even more scary for opposing coaches.
Is Northwestern Capable of Beating Ohio State?
Now close your eyes and imagine the possibility of trying to defend against a Northwestern backfield that could feature Colter at quarterback with Green and Mark flanking him on either side.
Or, try picturing Trevor Siemian at quarterback with Green and Mark flanking him and Colter lined up in the slot as a receiver.
Both scenarios are equally troublesome for opposing defenses and the guessing game could drive Ohio State's co-defensive coordinators Everett Withers and Luke Fickel crazy.
Let's also remember that Ohio State will be missing their team captain and leader, safety Christian Bryant, for the first time thanks to a season-ending broken ankle suffered last week against Wisconsin.
Whoever it is that replaces Bryant needs to be able to recognize and react with the poise of Bryant's experience to stop the multiple looks and weapons Northwestern can attack you with.
That, more than anything, could be why Northwestern is capable of pulling the upset at Ryan Field on Saturday night.
However, what may be the biggest difference maker for a team that was all of 5:03 away from an undefeated season last year is the fact that the defense has been getting it done for them as well.
The Wildcats are tied with Nebraska and, gasp, Ohio State at the top of the turnover margin game. Northwestern has forced 11 turnovers over four games, while giving up seven of their own for a +4 turnover margin (that equals +1 a game, just like OSU's +5 in five games)
If this isn't the most complete Northwestern team Pat Fitzgerald has had, I'd love for you to show them to me because it sure seems like it.
This also may be one loose team coming into the game. I mean Fitzgerald even had a bit of fun with the reporters already this week:
He's also made it clear to his team that he wants them to embrace the challenge and the atmosphere that will surround the game, something most coaches would rather shield their teams from.
So, if there is ever a Northwestern team capable of pulling off this upset and controlling its own destiny in the Big Ten, it is this year's version of the Wildcats.
Even our own Barrett Sallee see's it happening....
...and it isn't a far stretch to say this is a heck of an even matchup on Saturday night in Evanston.
*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Join the B1G conversation by following him on Twitter.
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