Lori Schmidt

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Northwestern Preview

Northwestern (8-4) football isn't flashy. 

Rather they are disciplined. They are the least penalized team in the nation both by volume (2.8 per game) and yardage (26.7 yards per game). And they are tested, with half their games having been decided by five points or fewer, although it should be noted that two of those six contests did not go the Cats way.

They have also won their last nine road games, dating back to last season. 

So even though Ohio State is a heavy favorite, the Wildcats are determined not to make things easy on the Buckeyes tonight. 

"I look at us as a program that has been built on a bedrock, not on  sand," said head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "We've been doing things the right way for a long time."

Fitzgerald, a former Northwestern linebacker himself, leads a scoring defense that gives up a mere 21.7 points per game, good for 29th nationally. 

Their leading tackler, sophomore linebacker Blake Gallagher, is second in the Big Ten with 112 stops. Only 6.5 of those have been tackles for loss, but that's not surprising. Despite their defensive proficiency, the team is ranked 92nd in that category. They are, as Buckeye coach Urban Meyer put it this week, a defense that keeps the play in front of them. 

They are also a defense that plays zone coverage, which has not always stymied opposing quarterbacks. Northwestern is giving up 238 passing yards per game (77th nationally) and they only have nine interceptions (70th nationally). 

Indeed, the teams that beat Northwestern this year tended to rely on their passing game, so much so that those opponents actually ran for fewer yards (122 yards per game) than the teams that Northwestern actually defeated (141 yards per game). 

It says something when you're giving up more rushing yards in your wins than losses, right? 

As far as their offense, it is led by Clayton Thorson, who has more starts (51) than any other quarterback in Big Ten history. 

He is throwing for around 223 yards per game, completing about 61 percent of his passes, and he has 14 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. You might not think he's the most mobile signal caller, given that he's been sacked 29 times, but he does have a team-leading eight rushing touchdowns. 

Ohio native, and true freshman running back Isaiah Bowser has come on strong lately. He's put up 122.3 rushing yards per game in their last six contests. Still, the Wildcats are 120th nationally in rushing offense. 

They are making their first ever trip to the Big Ten title game tonight, and it will kick off just after 8:00 p.m.

Extra Points:

  • Northwestern is the first ever team to lose all their non-conference games, while winning a conference division title. 
  • The Buckeyes and Wildcats last met in 2016, when OSU squeaked out a 24-20 win at home.
  • More often than not, a team that gets into the red zone vs. Northwestern will come away with fewer than six points. The Wildcats have only given up 16 touchdowns on the 35 times they have allowed an opponent inside the 20.

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