Don’t Hate the Player: Week 6 vs. Ohio State

WNUR Sports Online Content Director Cameron Songer (@CameronSonger) presents the fifth installment of a season-long series in which he tries to “predict” the outcome of Northwestern football games using EA Sports’ NCAA Football.

In real life, the matchup between Northwestern and Ohio State carries more national significance than it does in this simulation. Northwestern lost in week 1 of the simulation and is not ranked. Ohio State has held the #2 ranking all season, and defended it with a narrow victory over Wisconsin last week. The Wildcats face a steep uphill battle this week, as the computer tends to underrate Northwestern and equate the Buckeyes with an NFL team. Plus, Ohio State (like Northwestern) is injury-free, so Buckeye fans aren’t worried about Braxton Miller’s knee.

Key Players on Northwestern
SS Ibraheim Campbell (JR): 91 Overall, 88 speed
QB Kain Colter (SR): 91 Overall, 86 agility
HB Venric Mark (SR): 89 Overall, 92 speed

Key players on Ohio State
QB Braxton Miller (JR): 96 Overall, 92 agility
OLB Ryan Shazier (JR): 93 Overall, 94 hit power
SS Christian Bryant (SR): 92 Overall, 95 pursuit

Northwestern: Overall: B, Offense: B, Defense: B
#2 Ohio State: Overall: A, Offense: A+ Defense: A-

Northwestern Game Recap
Ohio State’s opening drive took nearly half of the first quarter, spanning 80 yards in 14 plays. What was more impressive was that the Buckeyes only faced two third downs, and both were pretty short. Northwestern drove the ball into Buckeye territory thanks to a 20-yard pass to Dan Vitale, but ultimately punted, pinning Ohio State at its own 2 yard line. This time, the Buckeyes only ran 11 plays (with only 1 pass attempt) before being faced with a 4th and 5 at midfield. Rather than punt, the play called for the punter to pass. He had all day to throw, but overthrew his intended target and Northwestern took over with momentum.

Early in the second quarter, Northwestern’s eighth offensive play happened when Ohio State had already run 26 plays. From midfield, the ‘Cats needed only five plays to find the endzone, with Venric Mark scampering in from eight yards out. Ohio State’s next drive ran through most of the remainder of the second quarter (remember, five minute video game quarters) and ended with a 53-yard field goal by Drew Basil. With a minute left in the half, Northwestern faced a 10-7 deficit, knowing that they would get the ball to start the second half. The Wildcats got the ball into Ohio State territory, but not into Jeff Budzien’s field goal range, and the last play of the first half was a hail Mary that fell harmlessly to the turf.

At halftime, Northwestern must have felt that they had a solid chance to win the game. Sure, the Buckeyes had almost double the time of possession and a stellar 71% success rate on third downs, but the ‘Cats trailed by just 3 points and hadn’t done anything to beat themselves.

With Northwestern trailing for most of the game, Kain Colter attempted a lot of passes.

With Northwestern trailing for most of the game, Kain Colter attempted a lot of passes.

Perhaps too pumped for the second half of their Big Ten opener, Northwestern’s first drive went three-and-out thanks to a false start and a missed block on a Mark outside run. Ohio State capitalized, continuing to pick up yards on the ground in five to seven yard clumps, ending up with Carlos Hyde in the endzone on a quick dive play. 17-7, Buckeyes. Northwestern’s next drive came to a crucial 4th and 1 from the Ohio State 40. A failed attempt could irrevocably swing momentum. Instead, Kain Colter kept it for a 9 yard gain on the read option and the ‘Cats were back in business. Five plays later, the third quarter ended with Northwestern preparing to face 3rd and 5 from the Buckeye 7 yard line.

The important thing in that situation is to not turn the ball over. Kain Colter was pressured immediately and, rather than throw it up for grabs, wisely took a sack. Jeff Budzien trotted out, drilled a 36-yarder, and the score was 17-10 with 4:33 remaining in the game. It would be up to Northwestern’s defense to force Ohio State into their first punt of the game. That’s exactly what happened, as the Buckeyes went three-and-out, punted, and Venric Mark returned the punt to the NU 41 yard line.

This is when the folks at EA Sports know too well about the Cardiac ‘Cats. Faced with an almost immediate 3rd and 12, Kain Colter hit Dan Vitale for 13 yards and a first down into Ohio State territory. Four plays later, Northwestern again faced third down, although this was 3rd and 2. The handoff to Venric Mark netted just a few pixels more than two yards, and the drive stayed alive entering the red zone. The next three Wildcat plays were all dropped passes, two by Kyle Prater and one by Mark. Suddenly, the clock showed 2:37 and Northwestern faced 4th and 10, down by 7, at the Ohio State 22. Showing faith in his defense, the ‘Cats sent out Jeff Budzien for a 39 yard field goal. Easy, right? Not so fast. Budzien missed wide left, giving Ohio State the ball with 2:33 left. Northwestern’s defense, which had been thoroughly beaten for most of the game, forced another three-and-out, including a clutch pass breakup (why was Ohio State passing?).

The Wildcats got the ball back at their own 30 with 1:45 left and, somehow, all three timeouts. The offense had another chance to tie the game. With Kain Colter in the shotgun formation (we want “backup” Trvor Siemian here!), Northwestern used the whole field, with passes to Christian Jones, Venric Mark and Kyle Prater. Once they reached the OSU 25 yard line, the ‘Cats tried to go to some Venric Mark handoff plays, but the Buckeye defense was somehow expecting that (?) and stuffed two in a row. The ‘Cats took their first timeout with a minute left, facing 3rd and 10, needing a touchdown. Rather than play it like they were in four-down territory, Northwestern went for broke, throwing a jump ball in Kyle Prater’s direction in the endzone. Interception. Touchback. Ohio State runs out the remaining clock for the 17-10 win.

Final Thoughts
Boy, Northwestern was *this close* to shocking the virtual college football world. They ended up just a bit short, but it’s hard to be too bummed. Heck, the Wildcats even outgained Ohio State. There were some questionable coaching moves on both sides, but Ohio State simply had more firepower. In terms of a specific key stat, how about rushing yards? Ohio State had 157. Northwestern had 49.

Northwestern's defense kept Ohio State's star quarterback contained for most of the game.

Northwestern’s defense kept Ohio State’s star quarterback contained for most of the game.

Northwestern’s defense kept this a close game by keeping Braxton Miller away from the big play. He averaged about 6 yards per passing attempt and less than four yards per carry.

Big Games This Week
Oklahoma 24, TCU 6
Tennessee 49, Georgia 37
Colorado 23, Oregon 21
West Virginia 38, Baylor 27
Mississippi State 35, LSU 14
Kansas State 20, Oklahoma State 17

Around the Big Ten
Michigan State 31, Iowa 17
Penn State 19, Indiana 14
Nebraska 52, Illinois 18
Michigan 31, Minnesota 22

Heisman Top 5
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Daniel Sams, QB, Kansas State

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