COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — No. 4 Ohio State is going for its fourth-straight Big Ten Championship title when the Buckeyes face No. 14 Northwestern on Saturday at noon in Indianapolis.
OSU is 5-0 this season and is coming off an off week after its game against Michigan was canceled due to positive COVID-19 cases in the Wolverines’ program. The Wildcats are 6-1 and back in the Big Ten championship game for the first time since 2018 and just the second time in school history.
The last time Northwestern was in the title game it lost handily to Ohio State 45-24.
Northwestern’s biggest strength
Northwestern wins because of its defense. The Wildcats are first in the Big Ten in scoring defense and second in the country allowing only 14.6 points a game. They’ve also only given up more than 20 points just one time this season, which ended in a 29-20 loss to a subpar Michigan State team.
Northwestern is particularly good at forcing turnovers with 16 this season, including 12 interceptions. The Wildcats have a stout run defense allowing 121 yards a game — but something’s got to give when they face an Ohio State team that averages 251 yards a game, first in the Big Ten and seventh in the nation.
Northwestern’s biggest weakness
Pat Fitzgerald’s team is one dimensional on offense. The Wildcats have run the ball 309 times this season while only throwing 212 times. And when they do throw, the Cats aren’t very successful. Northwestern ranks second to last in the Big Ten in passing yards per game and second to last in yards per pass. Northwestern quarterback Peyton Ramsey, a transfer from Indiana, has nine touchdowns this season and six interceptions with an underwhelming 59 percent completion percentage. If Ohio State can stop the run, which they’ve been able to do in five games, Ramsey won’t be able to keep up with Justin Fields and OSU’s high-powered offense.
Ohio State’s strengths
The Buckeyes are one of the most well-balanced teams in the country. OSU’s rush attack is lethal and top 10 in the country, and its passing game is equally effective averaging 281 yards a game and three touchdowns a game. Despite an uncharacteristic three inceptions against Indiana, Justin Fields has been close to perfect. Fields has a pass efficiency rating of 196.12, second only to Alabama’s Mac Jones and is No. 1 in the country in completion percentage at .781 this season.
Ohio State will also likely benefit from the return of four starters on the offensive lineman who missed OSU’s last game against Michigan State after testing positive for the coronavirus.
The Buckeyes still have one of the best defensive fronts in the country when it comes to quarterback pressure percentage and defensive line rating as rated by Pro Football Focus.
It remains to be seen which players will be eligible for Ohio State, but one of them is Fields who was shown boarding the plane for Indianapolis on Friday night by Ohio State Athletics.
But no matter who plays, Ohio State knows it must win to clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff. Northwestern will not come in the way of OSU’s goal to get back to the playoff and avenge last year’s loss to Clemson. Ohio State wins comfortably 42-14.