Buckeyes hold on to avoid another upset
COLUMBUS — The problems that have bogged down Ohio State’s offense put the Buckeyes in a bind again. J.T. Barrett and Ohio State did enough in the fourth quarter against Northwestern to avoid a second consecutive upset loss.
Curtis Samuel ran for a 3-yard touchdown with 9:43 left to give No. 6 Ohio State a lead, and Barrett converted two third downs on the game-sealing drive in a 24-20 victory Saturday.
After being upset by Penn State last week, the Buckeyes’ offense struggled against another multi-touchdown underdog. Ohio State (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten) punted on five straight drives in one stretch, but responded to Northwestern tying it at 17 with a touchdown drive, capped by Samuel’s run.
Northwestern (4-4, 3-2) then got to the Ohio State 3, but settled for a 33-yard Jack Mitchell field goal to close to 24-20 with 3:31 left. The Buckeyes mounted a final clock-eating drive. Barrett hit Noah Brown for 16 yards on third-and-8 and then took off on a 35-yard run to convert a third-and-10 and put the Buckeyes in the clear.
“It was a pretty good chess match back and forth, and I just loved the way we finished it off,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.
Barrett, who has struggled finding open receivers and whose offensive line had difficulty protecting him last week, was 21 for 32 for 223 yards, but he didn’t complete a pass over 19 yards until the fourth quarter when K.J. Hill turned a sideline completion into a 34-yard gain.
“I’m comfortable where we’re at,” Barrett said. “I know there’s things we can absolutely be better at as far as our offense. We’re executing.”
Mike Weber rushed 14 times for 87 yards and two touchdowns, the first coming on Ohio State’s opening drive. He found the end zone against in the second quarter, chugging around the right end for a 23-yard score.
Samuel ran the ball seven times and caught seven passes for 99 total yards.
Clayton Thorson was 25 for 42 for 256 yards with a touchdown and a first-quarter interception for Northwestern. Austin Carr, the Big Ten’s leading receiver, caught eight passes for 158 yards.
“It obviously didn’t start the way we wanted it to, spotting them a couple scores, but the guys didn’t flinch and kept swinging,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “And, you know, we ended up one punch short.”
Northwestern: The Wildcats continue to improve and showed their Big Ten wins weren’t a fluke. They nearly pulled off another one in Ohio Stadium. Still, the Wildcats have not won in Columbus since 1971.
“We came here to win, and not getting it done is bitterly disappointing,” Fitzgerald said.
Ohio State: Smarting from last week’s upset, the Buckeyes at least escaped with a win over a big underdog. But problems with their passing game persist, and they need to improve to get through the rest of the schedule unscathed.
“We’re a project, we’re still working things out,” Meyer said. “But I promise you, I’m going to enjoy this win.”
Ohio State’s effort might cost it a spot or two in the AP Top 25.
AT THE DOOR STEP
Northwestern had a chance to take the lead with first-and-goal on the Ohio State 3 with 4:36 left in the game. But a 2-yard loss on a keeper by Thorson, a holding penalty and two incomplete passes forced a field goal try from the Ohio State 15. Fitzgerald said it was a long fourth-and-goal so he opted to kick the field goal and try to stop the Buckeyes on the next drive, which backfired.
“We had two chances to get stops on long third downs, and we didn’t get it done,” he said.
Starting Ohio State wide receiver Parris Campbell left the game after he was injured blocking for Samuel in the fourth quarter. Meyer said he’s got a sprained ankle. X-rays showed it’s not broken.
Northwestern: The Wildcats return home to play No. 11 Wisconsin.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes host No. 7 Nebraska.