The Ohio State Buckeyes' road game against the Northwestern Wildcats on Saturday (8:00 p.m. ET on ABC) has all the makings of an upset.
With Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and the rest of the College GameDay crew visiting Evanston for the first time since 1995, expect the atmosphere to be electric. Furthermore, this might just be the best team the Wildcats have fielded for years.
If the Buckeyes aren’t careful, the nation’s longest active winning streak of 17 games could come to an end this weekend.
Here’s why head coach Urban Meyer’s team is on upset alert.
A Formidable Ground Game
Ohio State fans will be quick to point out that the team currently has the No. 8-ranked run defense in the nation (84.6 YPGA).
Sure, the Buckeyes had no problem shutting down Wisconsin’s No. 7-ranked rushing attack last weekend, limiting the Badgers to just 104 yards on the ground. However, in its other four contests, the team has faced an FCS school and the No. 97-, 102- and 106-ranked rushing offenses.
Not exactly the best sample.
This Saturday, Ohio State’s defensive line will be tested once again by Northwestern’s No. 18-ranked rushing attack (249.5 YPG).
Led by the trio of Treyvon Green (58 CAR, 404 YDS, 5 TD), Kain Colter (39 CAR, 237 YDS, 3 TD) and Mike Trumpy (41 CAR, 203 YDS, 2 TD), this backfield is no joke. Throw in the return of the Big Ten’s leader in all-purpose yards from a year ago, Venric Mark (1,470 YDS, 13 TD), and it gets even tougher.
With these four, the Wildcats have just enough versatility to keep the Buckeyes guessing.
Not the Greatest History With Road Games
Just because Ohio State hasn’t lost a game since the beginning of the 2012 season doesn’t mean that the team didn’t struggle on the road.
In fact, during the Buckeyes’ five road contests over that stretch, it’s been a little too close for comfort.
|Sept. 29, 2012||No. 20 Michigan St. (3-1)||W 17-16|
|Oct. 13, 2012||Indiana (2-3)||W 52-49|
|Oct. 27, 2012||Penn St. (5-2)||W 35-23|
|Nov. 17, 2012||Wisconsin (7-3)||W 21-14 (OT)|
|Sept. 14, 2013||California (1-1)||W 52-34|
Four of those games have been decided by two or fewer touchdowns. In the other road game, the Ohio State defense conceded 34 points to the Golden Bears' No. 97-ranked total offense.
Even more concerning, the team has struggled with turnovers during these games, committing seven. That becomes an issue against a Northwestern defense that ranks No. 12 in turnovers gained (11) and No. 3 in interceptions (10).
Furthermore, quarterback Braxton Miller has not been at his best away from home.
During 10 starts in front of the Buckeye faithful, the junior has thrown for 181.5 yards per game on 60 percent passing, with a total of 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has also registered a QB rating of 147.4 in those games.
Conversely, in four starts on the road, Miller has thrown for just 157.5 yards per game on 54.8 percent passing, with a total of just four touchdowns and three interceptions. His quarterback rating in these contests is only 126.3.
Can Miller get it together for Ohio State's biggest game of the season and rejuvenate his Heisman hopes?
Summing It All Up
There’s no doubt that the Buckeyes will have their mettle tested this weekend. However, Meyer has a reputation of stepping up in big games.
During his tenure at Florida, he compiled a 16-2 record against three of the team’s biggest rivals—Tennessee, Georgia and Florida State.
I’m not saying Ohio State will finally suffer its first loss during the Meyer era. Instead, I’m saying that the team needs to be highly cautious against a Wildcats team that is desperately seeking to earn some respect on the national stage.
Overall, the Buckeyes should be able to escape Ryan Field with a victory.
However, one or two mistakes could be the difference between a close win and a disappointing defeat.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com