Evanston, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - For the second straight week, the fourth- ranked Ohio State Buckeyes will tangle with another member of the Top-25, this time hitting the road to challenge the 16th-ranked Northwestern Wildcats on Saturday night.
Ohio State improved to 5-0 on the season and won its 17th straight game overall by getting past No. 23 Wisconsin at home last Saturday, 31-24. The Buckeyes have yet to lose a game under head coach Urban Meyer, and they got a leg up in the race for the Big Ten's Leaders Division title by beating the Badgers.
As for Northwestern, it too is undefeated after the first month, bringing a 4-0 record into this meeting. The Wildcats were idle last weekend, giving them some additional time to prepare for this contest, which is their Big Ten opener. After kicking off the season with a win at California, NU opened a four-game homestand, which culminates this week against the Buckeyes. The 'Cats will play three of their next four on the road.
Ohio State owns a commanding 59-14-1 lead in the all-time series with Northwestern, and the Buckeyes have won the last four meetings and 28 of the last 29 overall. NU's lone victory during that span was a 33-27 upset of No. 7 Ohio State in overtime on Oct. 2, 2004.
For those who thought Ohio State would experience a full-blown quarterback controversy once Braxton Miller returned from the injury that sidelined him for a couple of games, that simply isn't the case. Miller's return to the field against Wisconsin was a triumphant one, as he matched his career-high with four TD passes in helping the Buckeyes add to their lengthy winning streak. Miller, who had missed the previous two games, went 17-of-25 for 198 yards, and while he was sacked twice, he also finished with 83 rushing yards on a team-high 22 carries. Miller is now Ohio State's all-time leading ground gainer among quarterbacks (2,151 yards). Carlos Hyde turned his 17 totes into 85 yards. Corey Brown was Miller's favorite target in the passing game, tallying eight catches for 85 yards and a pair of scores.
Despite owning one of the nation's top rushing attacks, the Badgers were held to 104 yards and only one TD on the ground by the Ohio State defense, which got nine tackles from Ryan Shazier. The unit only forced one turnover, but it logged a couple of sacks while allowing Wisconsin just a 3-of-12 success rate on third-down conversion attempts.
With Miller out of action, Kenny Guiton was brilliant in completing 68.4 percent of his passes with 13 TDs against only two interceptions, but this is Miller's team when healthy and the preseason Heisman hopeful has also hit the mark on nearly 70 percent of his throws with six TD passes and only one pick.
Despite what others may have thought, Meyer never entertained the idea of having his two signal callers compete for the job this far into the season.
"Oh, no not if he's healthy," when referring to Miller's status as the starter. He continued, "So those are no, but with Braxton, when I saw on Thursday what I saw, then there was no doubt who was going to be our starter."
Both quarterbacks are capable of doing significant damage with their legs, each having run for more than 150 yards this season. That said, Jordan Hall is the team's leading ground gainer with 427 yards and eight TDs, the Buckeyes averaging a gaudy 287.2 rushing ypg with 14 scores.
Brown and Devin Smith are OSU's top receiving threats with 24 and 20 catches, respectively, the duo combining for 585 yards and 10 TDs.
With Shazier (37 tackles, 7.0 TFL, one sack) leading the way, Ohio State allows 17.0 points and 304.0 yards per game, with its effort against the run (84.6 ypg, two TDs) being particularly impressive. The Buckeyes have recorded 11 sacks and have yet to allow more than 26 points total in any one quarter this season.
Northwestern has had similar offensive success in staking claim to its second straight and fourth 4-0 start in the last six years, averaging 41.2 points and 483.2 yards per contest. Balance has been the key for the Wildcats, as they churn out 249.5 ypg on the ground and another 233.8 ypg through the air. They are fortunate to have three guys who have rushed for more than 200 yards, with Treyvon Green leading the way with 404 yards and five TDs.
As for the team's quarterback play, both Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter have seen action, the former completing 67.1 percent of his tosses for 671 yards, four TDs and two interceptions, while the latter has been even more efficient in hitting 77.1 percent of his throws for 264 yards, three TDs and two picks.
Tony Jones is the club's leading receiver with 24 grabs for 362 yards and three TDs, and he had six catches for 69 yards and a TD in the team's 35-21 win over FCS foe Maine on Sept. 21. In all, the 'Cats churned out 251 yards on the ground, with Mike Trumpy generating 94 yards and a TD on 17 carries.
From a defensive standpoint, the Wildcats are led by Chi Chi Ariguzo (35 tackles, one forced fumble, one INT), and feature other productive guys like Ibraheim Campbell (three INTs), Collin Ellis (26 tackles, two INTs) and Tyler Scott (three sacks). Ariguzo was credited with 12 tackles in the win over Maine.
As a collective unit, the Northwestern defense is permitting 23.8 points and 426.8 yards per game, and foes have found it easier to move the ball via the pass (308.8 ypg) than on the ground (118.0 ypg), and that's mainly due to the fact that they've had to play catch-up most of the time. NU has allowed only 27 points total in the first half of its four games this season, with only 10 coming in the opening quarter, and the team is tied for tops in the country with 2.5 interceptions per contest.
NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald is excited to get Big Ten play underway.
"I think we've been a part of a lot of games that are important. This is the first opportunity to play Big Ten football so that's why it's important. That's why all of our guys come here. It's one of the first things we talk about in recruiting, is the opportunity to play Big Ten football at the best academic school in the country. And our guys are excited for that challenge to play in this conference."