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Since opening up as two-touchdown underdogs over the summer, the Northwestern Wildcats sit closer to four touchdown underdogs against the Ohio State Buckeyes as kickoff approaches. While Ohio State has proven to be slightly better than expected, Northwestern has struggled mightily out of the gates, scoring just 72 points through five games. After opening up against the likes of Stanford, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, the Wildcat’s scheduling nightmare only gets worse Friday night as they welcome in a Buckeyes’ team who is considered by many the best in the nation. Let’s take a deeper look at this Big 10 matchup to see where we can find an edge.
Ohio State Buckeyes @ Northwestern Wildcats
Friday, October 18th, 2019 – 8:30 pm EST
Northwestern +28, O/U 49.5 (via PointsBet)
Since winning the Big 10 West last season, the Wildcats find themselves on the verge of going 0-4 to start conference play this season as the Buckeyes come to town. Northwestern’s only win to this point of the season came in Week 3, a 30-14 home win against UNLV. In their three games since, all against Big 10 foes, the Wildcats have dropped each by an average of 11 points per game. While their defense has been decent, allowing just 318.8 yards (26th in FBS) and 19.8 points (30th in FBS) per game, their offense has been horrendous.
Of the 130 teams in FBS, the Wildcats currently rank 125th in points per game on the season at just 14.4. A former five-star recruit and one of the most highly-touted transfers of the summer, Wildcats quarterback Hunter Johnson has struggled. Before being benched in their game against Wisconsin, Hunter had thrown just one touchdown and four interceptions while turning in a completion percentage of 48.3% on the season. Junior Aidan Smith hasn’t been much better for the Wildcats as his replacement, and we could see a combination of the two Friday night against an elite Buckeyes’ defense.
Ohio State had a marquee quarterback transfer this summer as well, which has played out decidedly different for Buckeye fans. Through his first six games, Georgia transfer Justin Fields has been stellar, throwing 18 touchdowns and just one interception on the season. He also ranks sixth in the nation in Rating at 187.54 and is 11th in the nation in yards per attempt at 9.2. Fields and his high-powered offense also leads the nation in third-down percentage, converting 55.9% on the way to scoring 49.3 points per game.
Fields tends to get guys open downfield in large part due to one of the best rushing attacks in college football. Junior running back J.K. Dobbins is the leader of this Buckeyes’ offense, averaging 137.7 yards per game (second in FBS) while positioning himself as an early-season Heisman hopeful. In addition to a lethal offense, the Buckeyes boast one of the most stout defenses in the nation. Through this point in the season, they are just one of four teams remaining (three in the Big 10) allowing less than 10 points per game (8.8).
With a game back in Columbus looming next week that could have College Football Playoff implications against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes need to avoid looking ahead in a spot here that will certainly be easy to do. Luckily for Ohio State, they could (and probably will) get some of their younger guys playing time and still handily take care of this Northwestern team that has yet to find an identity. While he is having a down year, Pat Fitzgerald is still a highly-respected coach, and while it may prove difficult, I look for Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day to call off the dogs late in the third. It would also be a shock if this Wildcat’s offense can muster more than seven points, making anything less than 42.5 points form the Buckeyes an automatic cash.