Ohio State vs. Northwestern: 10 Things We Learned from the Buckeyes' Win
No. 16 Northwestern pushed around No. 4 Ohio State for much of the night, but in the end, the Buckeyes were too strong for the Wildcats in a 40-30 victory.
The Buckeyes (6-0) extended the nation's longest winning streak to 18 behind a strong performance from Carlos Hyde and a defense that made a lot of plays in the second half.
The Wildcats (4-1) showed that last year's 10-win season was no fluke and that head coach Pat Fitzgerald is building something special in Evanston, Ill.
The two met for a prime-time matchup on Saturday night and gave us the game of the year in the Big Ten so far.
This Is Not the Same Old Northwestern
Ohio State and Northwestern last played in 2008. That matchup ended a four-game stretch of Buckeyes domination.
Since the Wildcats last beat Ohio State in 2004, the Buckeyes have outscored Northwestern 205-34. The average margin of victory in those four Ohio State victories was more than 42 points per game.
Northwestern has matured into a very dangerous football team that can play with anyone in the country.
The Wildcats showed that with their gutsy performance against the Buckeyes. Northwestern led Ohio State for most of the game, a rare feat considering the Buckeyes hadn't trailed at any point in their first five games.
The Wildcats went toe to toe with a national title contender Saturday night, and while they weren't looking for a moral victory, the close loss shows that their program is trending upward.
Ohio State Just Wins
It's not always pretty—in fact, sometimes it's hard to watch—but all the Buckeyes do nowadays is win football games.
That's a given, of course, when you consider Ohio State's 18-game win streak.
With the way the Buckeyes played in the first half, it looked like they were headed toward their first loss under head coach Urban Meyer.
Northwestern outplayed Ohio State in a big way way through two quarters. The Buckeyes were held out of the end zone for the first time all season while the Wildcats piled up 20 points and 213 total yards of offense.
If not for a blocked punt that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown, Ohio State would have entered halftime down two touchdowns.
Meyer and the Buckeyes adjusted in the second half, though, and despite three total turnovers, Ohio State found a way to come up with a huge road victory.
The Buckeyes Desperately Need Carlos Hyde
With Braxton Miller struggling, Urban Meyer turned to Carlos Hyde to swing the momentum back toward the Buckeyes.
The 6'0", 235-pound running back delivered in a big way.
Hyde finished with a game-high 168 yards on 26 carries, as well as all three of Ohio State's offensive touchdowns.
Without him, the Wildcats probably would have run away with the game.
"That suspension, it really hurt," Hyde said. "Not being out there with my brothers because I made a mistake."
Hyde paid his dues, and now, he's making a huge impact for the Buckeyes.
Braxton Miller Is No Longer a Heisman Candidate
After a Wisconsin game in which Braxton Miller piled up 281 yards of total offense and four passing touchdowns, Ohio State's star quarterback wasn't ready to give up his dream of winning the Heisman Trophy, according to Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch.
"It sat on my mind a little bit, just little things you think about while you're sitting out," Miller said. "But the big games always count (more), I feel like."
His chances greatly diminished after he missed most of three games with a sprained knee. Any chance he had, though, likely vanished against Northwestern.
The Wildcats held Miller in check Saturday night, forcing him to complete less than 60 percent of his passes while throwing for just 203 yards. Miller didn't record a touchdown and turned the ball over three times, all of which were critical mistakes in a close game.
That performance—on that stage—will likely keep him from winning college football's most prestigious award.
The Gap Between Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton Isn't That Big
Much was written about the quarterback controversy effectively ending last week when Braxton Miller torched Wisconsin.
While Miller was struggling, Urban Meyer was weighing whether or not to put Kenny Guiton in the game, according to Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer:
With Miller struggling for the No. 4-ranked Buckeyes – he had three turnovers, two fumbles and an interception – and Ohio State down to No. 16 Northwestern by as many as 10 points in the second half, Meyer said he was "really close" to bringing the backup into the game.
Guiton was phenomenal playing in place of the injured Miller, throwing for 643 yards and 12 touchdowns against just two interceptions in three games.
Pulling Miller for Guiton would have been a huge decision, one that Meyer wasn't ready to make.
"We were riding," Meyer said. "I didn't think that was the appropriate thing to do at that point."
Northwestern's Two-Quarterback System Works
It's hard to make a two-quarterback system work, but Northwestern has an outstanding combo in Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter.
The two combined for 360 total yards of offense and four touchdowns (two passing, one rushing and one receiving). Both worked in seamlessly. Neither showed that he needed every snap behind center to find a groove.
Siemian and Colter led a Northwestern attack that shredded Ohio State's defense for 437 yards and 30 points.
Siemian was the only one who made a mistake—and it was a big one—when he threw an interception to Doran Grant early in the fourth quarter.
Outside of that, Siemian and Colter played a phenomenal game for the Wildcats and nearly ended the nation's longest winning streak.
Ohio State's Pass Defense Has a Lot of Work to Do
While Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter were brilliant, Ohio State's secondary was equally inept.
The Buckeyes secondary was supposed to be the team's strength defensively, but the back four has largely disappointed this year.
Wisconsin's Joel Stave is a week removed from throwing for 295 yards and two touchdowns against the Buckeyes. Siemian and Colter combined to throw for 343 yards and two touchdowns on 25-of-31 passing.
In two weeks, the Buckeyes have surrendered more than 625 passing yards and four touchdowns.
Bradley Roby, who came into the season as one of college football's top cornerbacks, has been beaten badly a number of times. The tackling, especially in space, has been abysmal from the entire unit.
The Buckeyes will need to improve dramatically on the back end.
In Tight Games, the Coaching Staff Doesn't Trust Dontre Wilson
Dontre Wilson had a solid game against No. 23 Wisconsin last week, getting on the field as a situational playmaker and registering 42 yards on just three offensive touches.
Ohio State had command of that game throughout. Against Northwestern, the Buckeyes were either trailing or ahead by less than seven points the entire game.
The game was too close for the coaching staff to feel comfortable enough to utilize Wilson.
The hyped freshman was relegated to return duty, and he did get a crack at one kick, which he returned for 19 yards.
Other than that, Wilson was a non-factor. He didn't get a single rush or register a single catch. Urban Meyer went with more sure-handed upperclassmen in the tight game.
The Buckeyes Can Adjust to Dangerous Playmakers
Venric Mark returned to Northwestern after suffering a leg injury against Cal in Week 1, and he made an instant impact for the Wildcats.
In the first half, Mark torched the Buckeyes, piling up 92 yards of offense on just 11 touches. He showed the explosiveness that helped him rush for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns last year and a power that defies his 5'8", 175-pound frame.
In the second half, Ohio State adjusted and held Mark in check.
The versatile playmaker only got 11 yards from his 10 second-half touches as the Buckeyes completely shut him down.
Ohio State Has No Problem Trolling Vegas
On the gambling front, Ohio State closed as a seven-point favorite over Northwestern.
The Wildcats looked like they had covered the point spread before the final play of the game (which can be seen in the video above) gave Ohio State one of the most wild backdoor covers ever.
Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer recaps the mayhem of the game's final play here:
With one final desperation play, Northwestern did the familiar toss-the-ball-around-until-this-eventually-ends scramble. The problem—and perhaps this was far from it depending on which side you were on—was Northwestern's final lateral went astray and Ohio State jumped on it in the end zone.
With that, Ohio State increased its victory margin to 10 and also secured the cover.
There were a lot of people who made a lot of money on this bizarre play. For those who gambled on Northwestern to cover, this game ended in brutal fashion.
With another win under Urban Meyer's belt, it's becoming harder than ever to bet against the Buckeyes.
All Stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.