📵Northwestern *can* beat Ohio State
What’s up, everyone?
This week, 📵Blame the Phones is going to focus on one thing, and one thing only: the Big Ten championship game. (I know there was a ton going on this week, especially administratively, in Northwestern athletics … but those issues will have to wait. There’s a championship on the line.)
Let’s get right to it.
📵Blame Ohio State
There are countless potential outcomes to the Big Ten championship game. In this newsletter, we’re going to focus on one subset of them: the ones where Northwestern wins.
First, how likely is that?
ESPN’s FPI gives Northwestern a 9.1% chance to win.
Sports books are giving Northwestern an implied win probability of 12.3%.
Bill Connelly’s SP+ gives Northwestern about a 16% chance to win.
In 2018, Northwestern was an underdog, but not to the degree it is this season. Even the most pessimistic sports books gave Northwestern about a 14% chance to win.
Ohio State is probably better in 2020 than 2018. But, Northwestern is, too.
Now, I’m not saying Northwestern will win, but there’s a way. This is it.
Attack Ohio State’s biggest weakness
OK, Mike Bajakian. Now’s your time to shine.
By now, I’m sure he’s watched the tape of Michael Penix Jr. of Indiana throw all over OSU’s secondary for 491 yards and 5 touchdowns last month.
One key: Ohio State’s insistence on staying in their conventional 4-3 personnel.
Indiana did two things well in the passing game. They took advantage of blown assignments and got huge gains through the air (something I don’t think Northwestern will be able to do as well due to Peyton Ramsey’s weaker arm). And they got mismatches that exploited OSU’s linebackers. (This could be big.)
By playing three linebackers instead of an extra defensive back, Indiana was able to get favorable matchups by motioning out a running back and spreading the field with what are essential five wide receivers.
Enter: Kyric McGowan.
If you watched the Illinois-Northwestern broadcast last week, Mike Golic couldn’t stop talking about how Northwestern’s coaches referred to McGowan as the team’s best offensive player.
McGowan is the key for Northwestern’s offense in this game — if he’s used primarily out of the backfield. This season, he’s been more of a pure wide receiver, with 30 catches for 333 yards so far, compared to 19 carries for 115 rushing yards (in 7 games).
But this is mostly about where he lines up and how Ohio State defends him. If Northwestern starts him in the backfield, leading OSU to throw a linebacker on him, McGowan should have the speed to win those matchups pretty consistently, giving Ramsey windows in the short and intermediate passing game to move Northwestern down the field while possessing the ball long enough to keep Justin Fields on the sideline.
Speaking of Ramsey, Northwestern’s hopes largely rest on his right shoulder.
Ramsey has faced Ohio State as Indiana’s starter twice before: in 2019 and 2018. Last year’s performance was a rough one, with the Hoosiers losing by 41 at home.
In 2018, though, Indiana appeared much more willing to let him air it out. He finished with 322 yards on 49 attempts with 3 touchdowns and no picks.
By the end of the third quarter, it was still just an 11-point game, but Indiana lost 49-26 in Columbus.
Before coming to Northwestern, Ramsey threw for more than 212 yards in 17 games. This year, his season high for passing yards in a game is 212, which he’s done twice (wins over Maryland and Purdue).
Bajakian and Northwestern are going to have to let Ramsey cook at some point. And there’s no better time than Saturday. Ohio State’s pass defense is the team’s only real weakness. Find a mismatch and exploit it — again, and again, and again.
From Inside NU’s Lia Assimakopoulos: Mike Hankwitz dynamic as ever as he looks to earn 400th win before retirement
From 247 Sport’s Brandon Marcello: CFB's most successful, overlooked coordinator wants 1 more win
From Inside NU’s Eli Karp: The Big Ten Championship will be a measuring stick for Northwestern’s secondary
From the Daily Northwestern’s Andrew Golden and Peter Warren: Analyzing Northwestern’s new offense under Mike Bajakian
From Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer: ‘Part of a team.’ ACC fans get a first look at new commissioner Jim Phillips.
From the Daily Northwestern’s Ella Brockway: Ahead of Ohio State, a deep dive into Northwestern’s defensive kryptonite: the quarterback run
From Matt Fortuna of the Athletic: Pat Fitzgerald’s love affair with Illinois high school football
From the Daily Northwestern’s Peter Warren: Saturday is Peyton Ramsey’s moment
From Inside NU’s Dan Olinger: Veronica Burton has been historically great to start the season
That’s where we’ll end things this week. Thanks for sticking with another edition of 📵Blame the Phones.
Hopefully, I’ll be back in your inbox next week.
Please let me know if you have any questions or ideas. I’d love to hear them.