Opponent Preview: Ohio
By Adam Clark
Northwestern will return to Evanston for the fourth contest of their 12-game regular season and will face a fellow feline foe in the Ohio Bobcats. Ohio is coming off an extremely shortened season, finishing the year with two wins and a single loss.
The Bobcats will be led by new head coach Tim Albin after the great Frank Solich, the all-time leader in Mid-American Conference wins as head coach, stepped down just over a week ago to focus on his health. Solich boasted 11 bowl appearances in just 16 seasons with the Bobcats. Tim Albin was quickly named the new Head Coach after serving as the Associate Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator on Solich’s staff. Albin and Solich worked together for 21 years before Solich’s retirement.
On the other side of the aisle, Northwestern is sporting a new defensive coordinator in Jim O’Neil who is coming off three seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders with two of those as the defensive backs coach.
The Wildcats are 3-1 against the Ohio Bobcats while Pat Fitzgerald is 1-0 in his head coaching career. The last meeting between these two teams was in 2008 when the Wildcats defeated the Bobcats by a score of 16-8 to start the season with a 4-0 record.
ADAM’S KEYS TO THE GAME
- D-D-D Defense
It is no secret that the Ohio Bobcats score a lot of points, averaging over 33 points per game in each of the last three seasons. However, it is also no secret that the Wildcats play staunch defense, allowing less than 24 points in each of the last seven seasons, compared to the 27.1 points per game given up by the Bobcats in their last full season. The game script will probably go one of two ways. Ohio could squeak out a win in a high-scoring affair as Defensive Coordinator Jim O’Neil continues to struggle to establish the Northwestern defense. Alternatively, the Northwestern defense hits its stride in a comfortable win led by a strong defensive showing. Football fans already know what the Northwestern offense will do; the big question mark is how well O’Neil and the Northwestern defense will respond to the strong mid-major offense of the Ohio Bobcats.
- Establishing the Run
Both Ohio and Northwestern are historically notorious for keeping the ball on the ground and the result of this contest will likely come down to who gets the run game going. The Wildcats will be doing this early in the season to ease their new quarterback into their role at the helm of the Northwestern offense. Offensive Coordinator Mike Bajakian has proven he’s not afraid to throw the ball, but with a fresh face at quarterback and a depleted receiving corp, expect the Wildcats to go to the ground early in the season. Northwestern’s run defense has been impressive in years past, excluding the 2020 Big Ten Championship, and the Ohio rush defense has been perfectly average. However, with a new defensive coordinator whose prowess lies in the secondary, the Wildcats may be hard-pressed against the experience and talent of senior De’Montre Tuggle. The Northwestern run game looks to be in the strong legs of Cam Porter and Evan Hull, so expect this game to be a metaphorical race to the finish line (endzone).
Prediction: 23-21 Ohio
I think this will be a wake-up call for Northwestern offensively and defensively. Tuggle will rush for 150 yards, and Northwestern will have one of its worst games offensively of the season with the passing game stymied and not enough horsepower in the backfield. Expect this to be a turning point for Northwestern, no matter the result because this game, close win or loss, will notch a chip into every shoulder of the Northwestern roster and produce a spectacular in-conference performance for Northwestern.