6 takeaways from reviewing Ohio State’s win over Northwestern

Credit: Quinn Harris

Credit: Quinn Harris

In rewatching Ohio State’s 52-3 win over Northwestern, I was most interested in two things.

How did Nicholas Petit-Frere play, and how did the Wildcats manage to rip off a few long runs?

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Here are answers to those questions and other observations:

1. The new guy was pretty solid. 

A pair of plays stood out to everyone live (including myself), but for the most part Petit-Frere held up well.

He was called for holding on a run play and beaten cleanly on a nice pass-rush move by Northwestern’s Joe Gaziano. He was also driven into the backfield on the play J.K. Dobbins slipped trying to make a cut.

Otherwise, “NPF” did a nice job for his first start, particularly facing a good player. The redshirt freshman wasn’t dominant by any means, but he was not a liability, either.

2. I did not see anything systemic in Northwestern’s successful runs. 

As Ryan Day noted after the game, Ohio State only had 10 guys on the field for the first play.(Ironically linebacker/Illinois native Tuf Borland was the one who wasn’t out there.)

On Isaiah Bowser’s first double-digit yard run, well, everyone got blocked. A couple of other times, one or more players appeared to miss a run fit (a.k.a. wasn’t in the right gap). Another came against the nickel defense on third-and-long (this was a big issue for Ohio State last season but hasn’t been so far in 2019), and that was one of multiple long runs that came with the backup defensive tackles in the game.

As the night went on, Ohio State appeared to attack the line of scrimmage more and better results followed (this would be how things differ from last year).

Beyond that, Bowser gets a tip of the cap. The Sidney native made decisive cuts and ran hard, taking advantage of what was there in his return from a knee injury that marred the first half of his season.

Of course, Ohio State will need to tighten up those assignments and techniques this week with Wisconsin coming to town because that will be a whole new challenge.

3. Northwestern committed extra people to stop the run. 

The Wildcats scheme allows them to be flexible as far as defending the run and the pass, but their safeties were a little extra nosy Friday night. That helped them slow down Ohio State’s running game until they seemed to wear down in the second half. It also forced Dobbins and Master Teague to make some guys miss to manufacture yards, which they were able to do at times.

The approach had the desired effect of making Ohio State throw, something they seemed happy to do…

4. This was another big game for Justin Fields’ development. 

I wrote before the season Ohio State’s quarterback might end up being like 2005 Troy Smith, a guy who could throw but really needed his legs to keep defenses off balance. That hasn’t quite been true, as Fields has thrown more often and more accurately than Smith did early in his career.

That brings us to Friday night when the efficiency Fields showed against Northwestern really was more of a 2006 Troy Smith vintage. He picked apart the Wildcats defense in a way defenses were crying out for the Buckeyes to do in 2014, ’15 and ’16 before Ryan Day was brought in to help the passing attack.

That had to scare opposing defensive coordinators more than a little because if Fields is able to hit those medium- and long outs to go with a strong offensive line and talented tandem of running backs, Ohio State really might be just about unstoppable.

5. Dobbins’ long run had a little bit of everything. 

Ohio State put three receivers to the field to move a man out of the box, then Dobbins made a strong cutback to open space as the Wildcats were outnumbered on the backside. Things got worse for Northwestern when the weak-side linebacker overpursued and turned into an outright disaster when Dobbins juked the safety out of his jockstrap a dozen or so yards downfield.

He picked up a block from Chris Olave and only a good angle by a Northwestern player could prevent Dobbins from taking it to the house.

Jonah Jackson and Thayer Munford also got key blocks on the backside to open things up.

6. The Ohio State offensive staff’s ability really shone through all night. 

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald noted the first touchdown pass was a nice little scheme, and he was right. Ohio State took advantage of the Wildcats’ coverage rules by having Olave look like he would run a crosser then going deep up the middle. That threw off the safety’s read as the linebacker would be the one to pick him up if he kept going across the field, but he is the safety’s responsibility if he makes a move off the line as if he is going deep.

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The touchdown pass to Dobbins out of the backfield was also a new wrinkle, and Fields’ third touchdown pass of the night came on a bootleg that made Northwestern pay for overplaying the run as Olave easily beat single coverage in the end zone and Fields found him wide open. Although it’s a staple of (dare I write) “pro-style offenses,” that was not in Ohio State’s playbook last year.

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