Ohio State football: First look at struggling Northwestern

Ohio State football is preparing for a second straight road game this week.

After rallying to beat Penn State last Saturday, Ohio State opens November with a trip to Northwestern.

ExploreIs Ohio State ready for challenges waiting at the end of the season?

Here are five things to know about the Wildcats:

1. This looks like the worst team in the Big Ten.

Northwestern got the first Big Ten win of the year by surprising Nebraska 31-28 in a game Aug. 27, but the Wildcats have not been victorious since.

That game was played in Dublin, Ireland, so the Wildcats are still looking for their first win in North America since they beat Rutgers 21-7 at home Oct. 16, 2021.

Four of the Wildcats’ seven losses are by eight points or less, and scoring has been a problem. Northwestern ranks 120th out of 131 FBS teams nationwide at 17.9 points per game while checking in 59th in passing yards per game (249.2) and tied for 106th in rushing (113.4).

The Wildcats are the lowest-ranked Big Ten team in SP+, an advanced metric that measures teams by efficiency and explosiveness on a play-by-play basis and adjusts for opponent, at No. 96. The offense is 108th in SP+ while the defense is closer to middle-of-the-pack at 78.

Explore4 things to know about Ohio State's win over Penn State

2. Northwestern has lost 16 of its last 20 games.

After losing a competitive Big Ten Championship Game 22-10 to Ohio State in December 2020, the Wildcats beat Auburn 35-19 in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 2021. They have only won four games since.

This will be the second time in Pat Fitzgerald’s 17 seasons as head coach at his alma mater the Wildcats post consecutive losing seasons. They went 5-7 in 2013 and again in ‘14.

3. Ohio State leads the all-time series 64-14-1.

The Buckeyes have won nine in a row and 33 of the last 34 games against Northwestern.

Northwestern scored a 33-27 overtime win in Evanston in 2004 for the Wildcats’ first win in the series since 1971.

The teams played in the 2018 and ‘20 Big Ten Championship Games, but they have only played once in the regular season since 2017. That was a 52-3 rout in 2019 in Evanston.

4. One local player is among the eight Ohioans on the Northwestern roster.

Jaiden Cameron is a third-year defensive end for the Wildcats. The Northmont grad joined the program in 2020 but has been held back by injuries during most of his time in Evanston.

“Great kid, great student,” Fitzgerald said of Cameron at Big Ten Media Days in July. “He’s been close. We’ve just got to get him over the hump injury-wise, and once we do, the sky’s the limit.”

Another Thunderbolt is set to join the Wildcats next season as four-star linebacker Nigel Glover verbally committed to Northwestern in April. They also have a commitment from three-star cornerback Joshua Fussell of Lakota West.

5. Northridge High School Hall of Famer Matt MacPherson is a long-time member of the coaching staff.

The son of legendary Polar Bears coach Butch MacPherson joined the Northwestern coaching staff in 2006, the same year Fitzgerald became head coach following the sudden death of Troy native Randy Walker that summer.

“I believe he is one of the best secondary coaches in the country,” Fitzgerald said of MacPherson at Big Ten Media Days in 2019. “You see the way he goes about his business — he’s got high standards, high expectations. He works diligently to build relationships with his players. He’s a great recruiter. He’s got an amazing family, and he just does a great job on the field. He’s a great, great fundamental teacher. He’s got an unbelievable understanding of the big picture. He’s got an acumen on offense, and he brings that to the defensive back end.”

ExploreTom Archdeacon profiles Butch MacPherson

The younger MacPherson coached running backs and was recruiting coordinator until 2018, when he was promoted to his current position and changed sides of the ball, and he has produced three first-team All-Big Ten DBs in a short time.


Ohio State at Northwestern, Noon, ABC, 1410

About the Author