Ohio State, Northwestern have similar goals despite wildly dissimilar records

Matchup set for noon Saturday in Evanston, Ill.

Ohio State is set to take the field Saturday against a team that has lost as many games since the beginning of September as the Buckeyes have since the beginning of the 2017 season.

On paper, 1-7 Northwestern might not do much to get his team’s attention, but Ohio State coach Ryan Day says that should not matter much, if at all.

Here are five things to know about the game:

1. Day is framing this game as Ohio State against itself.

That is part of his message every week, but it might resonate more Saturday with the Wildcats being the only team in the FBS still looking for its first win in North America this season.

(Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s squad opened the season by beating Nebraska 31-28 in Dublin, Ireland, and hasn’t won since.)

“We’ve always said it’s about us, so why does that change this week?” Day said. “It doesn’t matter. Last week going into Penn State, it was about us. It was about our preparation, so if that’s the case, then let’s just focus on us and getting better.”

2. Weather could be a factor.

They don’t call Chicago, “The Windy City” for nothing, and the forecast for Evanston calls for a wet night and morning leading up to the game near the shore of Lake Michigan.

“I always say that the biggest thing is we just have to handle it better than our opponent because they have to deal with it as well,” Day said. “If it’s extreme, then we have to make adjustments.

“I don’t know if it’ll be extreme, but the weather doesn’t look great. The forecast doesn’t look very promising, so we’re starting to talk about some of the ideas and thoughts in all three phases, but why you plan like this and you have balance in game planning because in November the weather is unpredictable in the Big Ten.”

3. The Buckeyes running game figures to be under scrutiny.

After struggling the past two weeks against defenses that have good numbers against the run, Ohio State faces the No. 110 run defense in the country this week.

His team found a way to score plenty of points against Iowa and Penn State, but Day has reiterated he wants to have a balanced attack in the biggest games of the year after the Buckeyes were reduced to being one-dimensional at times last season.

“You have to continue to do what you’re doing and get better every week,” Day said. “If you don’t, not only do you show weakness, but you set yourself up for problems down the road.

“And I think that when you have a problem or you lose a game, maybe it’s something you did that week, but maybe it’s something you did the weeks leading up to it.”

4. Northwestern’s left tackle is one to watch.

Peter Skoronski was Pro Football Focus’ top-rated offensive tackle in the country entering the season, and he has not disappointed this season even as his team has struggled.

This week the junior from Park Ridge, Ill., figures to be tested by Ohio State’s rotating defensive ends, most notably reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week J.T. Tuimoloau.

Of course, Skoronski also presents a challenge to whatever Buckeye is lined up across from him.

5. The Wildcats are playing through a downturn.

After decades as a doormat, Northwestern has been a solid Big Ten program for more than 20 years.

The renaissance started with the mid-90s teams on which Fitzgerald was a star linebacker, and he has taken them to the Big Ten Championship Game twice since become head coach of his alma mater.

They are working on consecutive losing seasons, though.

“When you look at the ‘why,’ it starts with turnover ratio,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s been a huge component to our lack of wins. Our explosive play battle, offensively and defensively collectively, and third, making the plays that need to be made down in crunch time, especially this year, that needed to be made to win games.”

Close games have been a way of life in the Fitzgerald era, and that is no different this year as they are 1-5 in games decided by eight points or less.

“Almost all the games that we’ve been in, we had ample opportunities and we weren’t able to capitalize on that,” Fitzgerald said. “We graduated a lot of experience (after 2020). When you look at where we’re at now and where we’ve kind of been, we’ve got a lot of guys that are growing up on the field. They’re gonna get better, and they’re gonna improve. We’re not where we want to be. There’s no doubt about that from a record standpoint, but we’ve got a plan to get that back.

“It’s one rep at a time and one guy getting developed more and more at a time and continuing to add competitive depth, so it’s not rocket science.”


Ohio State at Northwestern, Noon, ABC, 1410

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