Stop me if this sounds familiar: There’s a Big Ten team with a perfect record, which runs an up-tempo spread offense, has two talented quarterbacks who have each received their fair of snaps without there being a controversy, a running back who may pace the team after missing three games, and a schedule that has them playing their Big Ten Opener at home, at night.
As much as that description applies to Ohio State, it also goes for the Northwestern Wildcats, who will welcome in the Buckeyes–as well as ESPN Game Day–this upcoming Saturday.
The aforementioned quarterbacks are Kain Coulter and Trevor Siemian. They have both seen time in all four games this season. Coulter is the starter, and the greater threat to use his feet. Siemian started out the year posting 276 and 259 yard passing days against Cal and Syracuse respectively.
Tony Jones is their top target, and has three touchdown catches.
Make no mistake, though, Northwestern is a team that likes to run. They are ranked 18th in the country in rushing yards per game (249.5), and they could get a big-play threat back this week in running back Venric Mark. Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune reports that Mark has been out since he carried the ball 11 times against Cal with “a mysterious lower-body ailment,” but that the All-American punt returner could return to play OSU.
It’s been Treyvon Green getting the bulk of the carries in Mark’s absence, and he has done very well. He covers an average of 7 yards every time he receives a handoff.
All that adds up to a Northwestern offense that has scored 30 or more points in a school record six straight games.
If there is a difference between the Wildcats and Buckeyes, it’s on the defensive side of the ball. Unlike the relatively inexperienced Scarlet and Grey, the Cats had 7 defensive starters return this year.
That includes defensive end Tyler Scott, the team’s 2012 defensive MVP, and leading tackler linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo, a Gahanna, Ohio native who played his high school ball at DeSales, and Ibraheim Campbell who has three of the team’s many interceptions.
Despite this, Northwestern is just 87th nationally in total defense.
You see, the opposition has been testing the Wildcats defense and getting mixed results. While Northwestern has racked up 10 interceptions in just four games (and has picks in eight straight contests dating back to last season), they are also giving up an average 308.8 passing yards every time out. That makes them the 117th ranked pass defense in the country.
The Wildcats have a wealth of experience on special teams. 2012 Big Ten Co-Kicker of the Year Jeff Budzien is 6-for-8 this season. His misses have both come from beyond the 42-yard mark.
Speaking of experience, this is the third straight season that coach Pat Fitzgerald’s staff has worked together. In fact, all but one of Fitz’s assistants are in at least their fifth year with the program, and–in general–their teams have improved as the season has gone along. Fitzgerald is a combined 15-9 in November. However, he’s 12-17 in October, the only full month of the college football season in which he has a losing record.
In addition, Fitzgerald has faced the Buckeyes three times, and fallen all three times by a combined score of 157-27. Then again, Ohio State’s last trip to Northwestern, indeed the last time these teams have collided, was in 2008. The long-awaited rematch comes this Saturday on 97.1 The Fan.