Fourth-ranked Ohio State is playing for more than just its fourth straight Big Ten title vs. No. 14 Northwestern on Saturday in Indianapolis.
The Buckeyes (5-0, 5-0 Big Ten) are looking to cement their spot in the College Football Playoff despite critics contending they haven’t played enough games and weren’t impressive when they did play.
“Like I’ve been telling a lot of my teammates, we have to blow them out,” Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade said Tuesday. “We have to come to play. … We have to show the world what we can do.”
Northwestern (6-1, 6-1) knows the odds are against it, just as they were in the 2018 conference title game, which the Buckeyes won 45-24.
“I think last time we had the approach of we were happy to win the West,” Wildcats receiver Riley Lees said. “But I think our goals have superseded that, and our expectation now is to win the Big Ten championship, and that’s going to be our mindset going into this game.”
The Buckeyes beat the Wildcats 52-3 in the 2019 regular season, the first for Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, who was considering Northwestern when he was transferring from Georgia after the 2018 campaign.
Fields is 107-for-137 (78.1 percent) for 1,407 yards and 15 touchdowns this season, with three interceptions.
“The way that he carries himself, the way he leads that offense and the team, he makes such great decisions with the ball,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
Ohio State is fourth nationally in scoring average at 46.6 points per game. The Wildcats want to keep that offense off the field by using drives like the 17-play, 64-yard march guided by quarterback Peyton Ramsey in the team’s 28-10 victory over Illinois on Saturday. Cam Porter capped that long drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
“Peyton Ramsey’s given them a shot in the arm,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “They’ve controlled the football, they’re smart and they really don’t turn the ball over. So, when you do that, you’ve got to really be on your game. They’re not going to give you anything.”
Northwestern averages 25.3 points per game to rank 90th of 127 schools, but defensively the Wildcats are second in the nation by allowing 14.6 points a game.
“It’s very hard to run the ball on them, and they keep it all in front of them,” Day said. “They force you to work down the field.”
Day said he expects most of the 23 players who missed the Dec. 5 game at Michigan State because of COVID-19, injuries or other illnesses to be cleared to play vs. Northwestern.
The Buckeyes have had three of their past five games postponed due to COVID-19 issues, including last Saturday’s game against Michigan.
Ohio State got a waiver to play in the championship game since it did not meet the original minimum six-game requirement to be eligible.
The Buckeyes feel that by beating Northwestern they deserve a shot at their first national championship since 2014.
“This team can play with anybody in the country,” Day said. “To go undefeated and win the Big Ten championship, that speaks for itself.”
–Field Level Media