Ohio St.-Northwestern Preview
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald knows all the story lines.
Ohio State has won 28 of the last 29 meetings, it's riding a nation-best 17-game winning streak and, more personally, Fitzgerald watched his teams get outscored by 130 points in the three times he's faced the Buckeyes.
Fitzgerald, though, isn't letting his 16th-ranked Wildcats get caught up in the past, nor in the fact that ESPN's College GameDay will be broadcasting from Evanston prior to their highly anticipated, nationally televised showdown with No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday night.
"You embrace whatever comes along with college football," Fitzgerald said. "Nothing changes for us this week. Our routine is our routine. It's an embrace-the-improvement mentality."
Northwestern is on the verge of starting 5-0 in two straight seasons for the first time since 1904-05. Doing so again, however, means defeating Ohio State (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten), led by two-time national championship coach Urban Meyer who guided a team on a one-year postseason ban to a 12-0 mark in his first season in Columbus in 2012.
The Buckeyes beat the Wildcats 54-10 in 2006, 58-7 in '07 and 45-10 in the most recent meeting in '08 during Fitzgerald's tenure as coach.
Ohio State started fast in a 31-24 win over then-No. 23 Wisconsin last week, and Northwestern may have to hold off another early surge in this contest. The Buckeyes have outscored opponents 216-21 in the first quarter.
The Wildcats don't sound intimidated.
"This is why you come to play Big Ten football and Division I football," defensive lineman Tyler Scott said. "This where we want our program to be at - to have this hype for this game."
"At the same time, we don't want to overhype it," said Colter, who threw for a touchdown and ran for another in a 35-21 win over FCS opponent Maine last week. "We don't need to play out of this world. We just need to play our game to be able to win."
Whether that will be enough to knock off the vaunted Buckeyes remains to be seen. Northwestern is averaging 249.5 rushing yards, but Ohio State ranks eighth nationally in run defense at 84.6 per game.
The Buckeyes limited the Badgers, who average more then 300 yards on the ground, to a season-low 104.
The Wildcats hope their solid rushing attack will get a boost from the return of Venric Mark, who has missed the last three games with a leg injury. Treyvon Green averaged 7.0 yards per carry while rushing for five touchdowns in Mark's absence.
Ohio State's defense took a hit Saturday when star safety Christian Bryant was lost for the season with a broken ankle. Corey "Pitt'' Brown, redshirt freshman Tyvis Powell and freshman Vonn Bell will be tasked with helping fill the void.
"The sign of a good team is always that someone must step up in his place,'' Meyer said.
The Buckeyes got a lift last week from the return of quarterback Braxton Miller, who missed the previous two games with a knee sprain. He went 17 of 25 for 198 yards and four touchdowns while adding 83 yards rushing.
"Braxton is a dynamic athlete," Northwestern linebacker Damien Proby said. "Anyone who watches the game of football knows he can do things with the ball in his hands and when he's in space. We're just looking to minimize the ground he's able to cover in any given play."
The Wildcats are tied for third in the country with 10 interceptions, four of which have been returned for touchdowns.
"It's hard to score on very sound defenses because at some point, they are going to force you to make up a mistake," Meyer said. "They are not going to give up the big one and are going to force you to make a mistake."
Still, Meyer again plans to have Miller throw the deep ball. The Buckeyes' 19 TD passes are second most in the country, and Northwestern ranks 117th out of 123 FBS teams with an average of 308.8 passing yards allowed per game.
"This Saturday, we are going to try the same thing," Meyer said. "That's a big part of who we are."
Ohio State has won four meetings in a row since Northwestern's last victory in the series, 33-27 at home Oct. 2, 2004.