Northwestern vs. Ohio State

The Sports Xchange

November 28, 2018 at 2:03 pm.

KICKOFF: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
SITE: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
SERIES: Ohio State leads 61-14-1. The Buckeyes won the last meeting, 24-20 in 2016.
RANKINGS: Ohio State No. 6


–LB Paddy Fisher had four total tackles against Illinois, including one for a loss, and is the Wildcats’ second-leading tackler with 92. He also leads the team in forced fumbles with three, making him a significant factor in Saturday’s game if he can help Northwestern win the turnover battle.

–RB Isaiah Bowser rushed 18 times for a career-best 166 yards against Illinois, marking his fourth 100-yard game in six appearances as the team’s primary ball carrier. Bowser leads the team in rushing with 736 yards on 161 carries and six touchdowns and will need to play his best game yet against the Buckeyes to help control time of possession.

–DE Joe Gaziano has 37 tackles this season, including a team-best 11 for loss, as well as six sacks and eight quarterback hurries. Gaziano will be tasked with pressuring the Buckeyes’ dynamic and elusive quarterback Dwayne Haskins.


–WR Parris Campbell’s NFL draft stock is on the rise this season. He has answered some of the questions about his hands this year with fewer drops. There’s no question about his blazing speed, which he flashed in Ohio State’s win over Michigan with a 78-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. The senior has a team-best 72 catches for 903 yards and 11 touchdowns in 12 games this year.

–RB J.K. Dobbins is just 39 rushing yards from reaching 1,000 for the second consecutive season. He’s averaging 4.7 yards on 206 carries and has eight touchdowns while adding 19 receptions for 198 yards and another touchdown. Fellow RB Mike Weber had more carries (13-12) and yards (96-46) in the win over Michigan, but the two backs seem to rotate having good games.

–LB Malik Harrison leads the Buckeyes in tackles with 64, with 2.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, one interception and one fumble recovery. Harrison wasn’t Ohio State’s leading tackler against Michigan last week, but he finished with seven tackles (five unassisted), two tackles for loss and one sack. Coach Urban Meyer said it was “arguably his best game as a Buckeye. (He) was all over the field.”


A month ago, Ohio State and Northwestern seemed unlikely candidates to reach the Big Ten Championship Game.

The No. 6 Buckeyes had just been drummed at Purdue and the No. 21 Wildcats blew a 17-point lead in a home loss to Michigan. But neither team slipped up again after those stumbles, winning out and reaching the conference title game on Saturday night (8 p.m. ET, Fox) in Indianapolis.

The Buckeyes (11-1, 8-1 Big Ten) will be playing in Lucas Oil Stadium for the fourth time in coach Urban Meyer’s seven seasons at the school. Ohio State is a heavy favorite to take down Northwestern (8-4, 8-1), which lost non-conference games to Akron, Duke and Notre Dame but will make its first appearance in the Big Ten final after claiming the West Division title.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer stressed to his coaches and players to prepare for Northwestern as they did for Michigan in order to avoid any type of lull.

“I’m going to be very hard on everybody this week, and we cannot see anything other than the same effort we did last week,” Meyer said, later adding, “When you win and you win the way you did, now that’s the time to cut it loose and be very, over-the-top demanding of them.”

Northwestern has pulled off some upsets this season, beating Michigan State and Iowa as double-digit underdogs, and brings a nine-game road winning streak to Indy.

“I don’t think anyone outside these doors would pick us to win this game,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said Monday. “My mom and dad I guess would. I’m not even sure if my sisters would. But I don’t need them; I just need the 74 guys who will put on the purple and white Saturday.”

Ohio State wasn’t expected to beat rival Michigan and claim the East Division championship, but the Buckeyes annihilated the Wolverines 62-39 last week in their best performance of the season to keep alive their aspirations of making the four-team College Football Playoff.

The defense rose to the challenge against Michigan, limiting 1,100-yard rusher Karan Higdon to 72 yards on 15 carries and keeping quarterback Shea Patterson in check (20 of 34, 187 yards passing, three touchdowns, one interception) most of the way. Ohio State also was able to avoid giving up big plays — a bugaboo in the narrow 52-51 overtime escape at Maryland the previous week.

“There’s not a lot of holes in their defense,” Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson said. “When they really turn it on and are in tight situations, they make the plays when they need to.”

Ohio State’s offense, led by quarterback Dwayne Haskins, absolutely riddled the nation’s top-ranked defense. He completed 20 of 31 passes for 396 yards and six touchdowns, and the Buckeyes racked up 567 total yards. The 62 points were the most ever scored against Michigan in the rivalry.

Haskins is having the best season by a quarterback in Ohio State history. He has broken numerous school records and also set Big Ten records for touchdown passes (42) and passing yards (4,082).

“I want to be one of the best to ever do it playing here at this university,” Haskins said. “And this is a dream come true for me. I have no words to say about all we’ve done this year.”

Northwestern and Ohio State haven’t met since 2016 when Thorson was a sophomore. The Wildcats gave the Buckeyes a battle at Ohio Stadium before losing 24-20. He passed for 256 yards and a touchdown with an interception in that game.

“I remember we took them to the limit … but we couldn’t finish the job,” Thorson said.

He has started 51 consecutive games and thrown for more than 10,000 yards, including 2,675 yards this year while completing 60 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Northwestern’s offense ranks 110th nationally in total yards (351.8 yards per game) and 107th in scoring (23.7 points per game).

The Wildcats win with a tough defense that is 29th in the country in points allowed (21.7 ppg) and 49th in total defense (372.7 ypg). They’ve given up just 40 points in the past three games and are expecting several injured players in the secondary to return this week.

But the defense hasn’t faced anyone as gifted as Haskins, who ranks third nationally in yards per game (340.1) and fifth in passing efficiency rating while throwing just seven interceptions in his first season as a starter.

“What jumps out is his poise, his accuracy and his understanding of the offense,” Fitzgerald said. “He does a phenomenal job of taking what the defense gives him. If I had a Heisman Trophy ballot, I would vote for him.”