Prediction Friday – B1G Championship

The ‘Cats are taking their talents to Indy!

Andy Trent Roger Roche Paul Hack ZVon
nulogo nulogo nulogo nulogo nulogo

 

ROGER

Game Summary:

I’ll get into the significance of this game momentarily, but first I’d like to point out a few things about our opponent:

  1. This year’s version of Ohio State is NOT invincible. In fact, they are probably the most beatable Buckeyes squad in nearly a decade because they have an incredibly low floor relative to other OSU teams.
  2. Ohio State has a negative point differential in road games and a +5 point differential in road and neutral site games. That’s almost unfathomable for a top 10 team with 1 loss.
  3. Ohio State was losing in the 2nd half this season to 4-8 Nebraska, 5-7 TCU, 5-7 Maryland and, obviously, 6-6 Purdue.
  4. If Ohio State churns out a performance on par with point 3 above, they will not be one of the better teams we have played this year.
  5. Ohio State has churned out performances on par with point 3 above more often than not.

Usually I ponder which NU team will show up. This week, the more significant question is which Ohio State team will show up. I’ll be the first to tell you I have no idea. We absolutely cannot beat the Ohio State team that played last week in Columbus. That said, there are a few things here that suggest last week’s OSU team won’t be in attendance and there are a few more than could go our way earlier in the day on Saturday.

  1. This game isn’t in Columbus (see above)
  2. OSU isn’t playing their rival in the most heated rivalry in all of sports
  3. No matter what they say, every singly player on the OSU roster and every single coach on the OSU sideline thinks they are going to win this game comfortably
  4. OSU’s motivation could be almost non-existent – More on that below.

Per #4, we all know OSU’s football players don’t come to play school. But, I would also argue they don’t come to play for conference championships. They come to play for national championships. Thankfully, through positive circumstance here, Buckeye nation is going to bed Friday night thinking they still have a shot at the national title and that could be erased by 8pm EST pending the outcome of the Texas – Oklahoma game. The committee has indicated that they evaluate the entire body of work for each team in each week’s rankings. OU is ahead of OSU this week. If OU wins comfortably in the Big XII Championship Game, then the Buckeyes have effectively zero chance of jumping them. Even with a convincing win, OSU would have done absolutely nothing during the week to justify jumping an OU team that also had a convincing win, also won their conference championship game AND beat a higher ranked team and avenged their only loss of the season.

Given that motivation appears to have been a problem all year for Ohio State, the outcome of the OU Texas game is a GIGANTIC factor in this game.

Now, for the ‘Cats.

  1. This game isn’t in Evanston – that’s actually a positive for this bunch
  2. NU is playing what ‘Cats fans would consider the Evil Empire
  3. The entire world is counting NU out
  4. Motivation? Are you serious? More on that below.

Motivation is obviously not going to be an issue for NU in this one. I’ve heard a lot of the NU faithful say this is the biggest game since [INSERT GAME IN ’95 or ’96]. I’m not sure that’s true. I would argue this is the biggest game ever for this program. As I pointed out last week, NU has NEVER played a Rose Bowl play-in game. In ’95 they had to rely on help from Michigan after their season ended. In 1948, they backdoored their way into the game thanks to some weird conference rules and more help from Michigan. This is a Rose Bowl play-in game for the ‘Cats. That’s a first. Thus, I would argue this is the most important game in the history of this program.

So, what’s going to happen in the game?

If NU can slog their way to halftime well within striking range, then I like our odds. Not only will OSU be completely screwed in their attempt to win by 100, but the ‘Cats will also realize that they aren’t playing the OSU squad that showed up against Michigan. That’s quite appealing.

I’m actually most concerned about explosive plays on the special teams front early in this one. Our kickoff coverage has been a disaster for the better part of the year. That’s partially the result of not having an actual kicker for kickoff duties, but our guys have also exercised poor discipline in coverage (as LaVar Ball would say “stay in yo lane”). The Cats cannot get beat with special teams home runs and expect to stay close.

Offensively, the offensive line is nearly as critical as Clayton in this one. OSU’s defense isn’t anything to write home about, but they still have first round NFL talent on the defensive line. The ‘Cats have to avoid letting a few individuals dominate the game and dictate our offensive scheme. Our offense isn’t Purdue, but it’s also not that different schematically at the end of the day when Mick (rarely) gets creative. For that reason alone, I have some hope that the ‘Cats will be able to move the ball.

Defensively, we’re going to give up yards. There’s no way around that. We’re also going to give up points. But, it’s worth noting that OSU has the worst red zone offense in the B1G. Surprising? Maybe. But they rely a lot on the home run. We rely a lot on the bend-don’t-break. If we do a lot of bending and they hit a lot of singles and a few doubles, we’ve got a real shot here.

Thanks to some methodical offensive play, I think the ‘Cats will get this into halftime down something like 17-10 or 17-14.

At that point, the magic kicks in. Some backstory…..

Enter Rose – the van. Trent alluded to this, but Rose is a blessed van. She’s like an actual cat with nine lives… except she’s a 1990’s Chevy G20. Rose used life six, seven and eight this offseason. Her tires dry rotted, her battery died (yet again) and her brakes have essentially ceased functioning. Prior to paying our final respects to Rose, we thought it best to treat her with the utmost dignity in what could be her final season. So, she got a purple paint job. Unbeknownst to just about anyone (including Facilities Management at NU, Dr. Jim and the residents who live near Ashland and Isabella), Rose has a final resting place set aside: Lot 6, Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena, CA 91103. She also has final transportation arrangements made. Simply put, this is destiny.

On to the 2nd half.

Look for the Buckeyes to get tense in the 3rd quarter if this game is close. The ‘Cats will benefit from that by way of some turnovers and some blown coverages and we just may take the lead into the 4th quarter.

If this plays out, it’s time for Mick and Clayton to put up or shut up once and for all. There’s no chance in hell the ‘Cats will be able to hang on against a team like Ohio State. As bizarre as it sounds, NU will have to go for the kill if they have the chance. Purdue proved that it’s possible. You better believe Fitz has reviewed that film multiple times.

It’s your time to shine, Fitz.

Game Score: NU 31 – OSU 20

Play of the Game: Up 24-20 with less than 5 minutes to play deep in our own territory, Thorson throws a backwards pass to Riley Lees who finds Jefferson wide open down the sideline for an 85 yard score.

 Player to Watch: Thorson and the Offensive Line. Ball control will be our best defense early in this game.

Warrior to Watch: Rose. It is written.

Other Game to Watch: The Big XII Championship. See above. We could really use a convincing OU win here.

 

TRENT

Game Summary: One game. One freaking game.

Six years ago the Warriors banded together, bought a dilapidated van off of Craigslist and named it Rose. The implication was that someday, someway, Northwestern would get back to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Now, we are 60 minutes away from making that pipedream a reality.

The Warriors had been talking about painting the van purple for many years, but a lack of organization and effort delayed Rose’s purple coat until earlier this year. The honorable Patrick Grayhack braved the elements and likely some kind of lead poisoning as he went out and painted Rose purple on one hot summer day. Is it a coincidence that the year Rose finally turned purple also happens to be the year the ‘Cats win the West and get a shot at the Rose Bowl? I think not.

This is easily the biggest game for the program since I’ve been a ‘Cats fan. The boys are headed down to Indy this weekend to see One Republic rock out…and also see our beloved ‘Cats take on the Ohio State Buckeyes, I guess. OSU ‘upset’ Michigan in an outcome that shocked most…but shouldn’t have. Urban Meyer had never lost to Michigan, never lost as an underdog and was playing at home. The signs were there for an OSU win, but no one saw a total blowout coming as the Wolverines fell apart on defense and gave up 63 points. How about Pat Fitzgerald and NU making their first B1G title game appearance before Harbaugh and Michigan?

As I wrote a few weeks back, I wanted to face Michigan as opposed to OSU. OSU has the #3 passing offense in the country, and elite athletes at every skill position. When you factor in our beat up secondary, this is a bad matchup. The teams that have given OSU problems this year – Nebraska, Purdue and Maryland – all run an up-tempo spread offense and have speed at the skill positions. The ‘Cats do not play that style, and do not have a lot of speed. OSU’s defense has been much-maligned, but it’s really not that bad and doesn’t rank too far behind the ‘Cats D.

Basically this game feels like a college basketball matchup to me. Whenever you see a team like Virginia matching up with a team like UNC on the hardwood – two teams with competing styles of play – whoever wins the game will come down to who can impose their pace of play on the other. Virginia likes to grind it out, whereas UNC is up tempo – so a game where the teams are scoring in the 50’s caters more to Virginia, whereas a game where teams are scoring in the 80’s plays into UNC’s hands. In this analogy, the ‘Cats are Virginia and the Buckeyes are UNC. We want to slow the game down, play great D and turn this into a rock fight. OSU wants to speed the game up and turn it into a track meet. Whichever team can impose their pace of play on the other will have the advantage.

I have flashbacks to when OSU played Wisconsin back in 2014 in the B1G championship – they were on the outside looking up at the CFP at that point, and needed a statement victory to give themselves a chance to make the top four. They went out and whupped Wisconsin 59-0 in that game and just looked so much more athletic at every position. The Buckeyes are in a similar spot this year, needing a dominant performance in Indy to solidify their spot in the top four. They have better athletes than us at every position, and need to win big.

This could get ugly, and I wouldn’t be shocked in the slightest if OSU ran us out of the building. I’d like to think the ‘Cats have a chance here, as we haven’t gotten blown out in a game this year and have showed up each and every time we’ve been an underdog (winning five of those games outright). It’s moments like this, when nobody believes in us and everyone counts us out, that NU shows up in a big way and competes.

In my mind this game comes down to our offense. No what our defense does, Ohio State is going to put up points. They average more than 43 points per game. With their lethal deep passing game they could score on any one play. Meanwhile, the ‘Cats are only scoring 23 points per game. We need to turn this into a rock fight to win – in my mind the blueprint is what Michigan State did against OSU earlier this year. Though Sparty lost, they played a tight, low scoring field position game throughout. If this game is played in the 20s, we’ve got a shot. Once it gets to the 30s, we’re likely SOL.

Sadly I think OSU will be able to score more than 30 points on us. I see the ‘Cats keeping it tight for a while, but a few big plays in the second half puts the Buckeyes out in front and the ‘Cats won’t be able to catch up. Regardless, the Warriors and NU faithful will enjoy the Indy trip, and having our team in this kind of national primetime spotlight is fantastic publicity for our program. To make it to the B1G championship is no small feat, and the future looks even brighter.

Game Score: NU 23 – OSU 33

Play of the Game: Bowser with 2 TDs.

Player to Watch: Isaiah Bowser. The kid from working class Sidney, OH grew up in a town full of Buckeyes fans who have been converted over to NU fans ever since Bowser broke onto the scene earlier this year. Many of the folks from Sidney were planning to go to Indy for this game, and I’m sure that number has gone up since OSU beat Michigan.

How perfect would it be for the kid from Ohio to have a big game this weekend? To me, Bowser is the key to the game. If he has a successful day on the ground, the ‘Cats will be able to extend drives, slow the game down and burn clock. If Bowser can’t find room to run, the ‘Cats will go one dimensional and that’s not going to work against a team with so much talent like OSU. If Isaiah can run like he has the past five weeks, we’ll have a chance.

Warrior to Watch: Gotta be Rose.

Other Game to Watch: Really? Are there even other games happening? I guess you could say NU @ IU in basketball, which will be a nice appetizer for the Warriors during the day on Saturday.

 

ZVON

Game Summary: ‘Cats play okay in first half but I don’t think we’ve got the gusto to win. Another loss to An Ohio State University. We’ll get ’em someday.

Game Score: OSU 45 – ‘Cats 21

Play of the Game: Bowser scores a TD to tie it 7-7 in the first quarter

Player to Watch: OSU Marching Band

Warrior to Watch: This has ‘Paul’ written all over it. Does he switch allegiance once the game appears to be squarely in the hands of OSU? Does he wear an OSU shirt under his NU garb?

Other Game to Watch: This is the game

 

ROCHE

Game Summary: Roger’s verbose today, even for him. I am not.

Fetz turns 30 on game day, you guys. The ‘Cats deliver her a Rose Bowl birth for her big day.

I think the ‘Cats get a late score and snuff out a Buckeye final drive to seal the deal.

…Or this game is never close and Ohio State runs away and hides early.

Let’s go with the first one.

Game Score: NU 34 – OSU 30

Play of the Game: Bowser converts a Third and Goal to put the #B1GCats ahead for good.

Player to Watch: Thorson. He’s gonna need to show up for the biggest game of his career for the ‘Cats to have a chance.

Warrior to Watch: Rose is getting ready for her cross-country trip.

Other Game to Watch: I guess Roger makes a good point. Big 12 title game.

 

PAUL

Game Summary: This is certainly the biggest NU game I’ve ever been a part of and I’m pumped that we have five of the seven Warriors making their way down to the Circle City to watch this one in person. Sadly, Rose is taking this week off and resting up for New Years Day.

OSU was unreal last week, but I have to agree with Roger here that they are going to have an intense hangover and think they’ll be able to easily win. Add to the fact that they’ll be dejected after OU wins against Texas and this sets up the Cats well to pull this one off.

NU will keep this game close on the back of Bowser and some surprisingly clutch passes from Clayton – even one scrambling out of the pocket! We head into half time down 21-14.

The Cats D absolutely comes alive in the 2nd half and holds OSU to just 7 points. NU, without a reliable kicker makes a ridiculous 4th down conversion late in the game to tie this one up. WE ARE HEADING TO OVERTIME!!!

The D holds the Buckeyes to a field goal and Bowser gives the Cats their first ever B1G Championship with a 15 yard TD run. We are heading to Pasadena!

Game Score: Wildcats 35 – Buckeyes 31 (OT)

Play of the Game: Bowser’s winning TD run.

Player to Watch: Clayton Thorson – needs to have some key passes in this game and can’t turn the ball over.

Warrior to Watch: Rankin – how intense is he going to get during this game? Will the Warriors in 117 be able to hear him three sections over?

Other Game to Watch: There is no other game.

HACK

Game Summary: Michael Jordan years ago, the Cats took the purple to Pasadena. Tomorrow, on St. Chrispins Day, the Cats have an opportunity to do it again. Will they? Or won’t they? Only the Gods know.

 Game Score: CATS 33 – OSU 32

Play of the Game: Thorson completes a pass to Kyric McGowan for a 44 yard TD.

Player to Watch: Flynn Nagel. Need a big game.

Warrior to Watch: Andy Day – He brings it on big games and will be in attendance for this one.

Other Game to Watch: The North London Derby on Sunday. Arsenal 6 – Tottenam 0.

 

DAY

Game Summary: Cats Win!

Game Score:  CATS 30 – OSU 28

Play of the Game: Bowser on 4th and 1 to seal the game.

Player to Watch: Claydog

Warriors to Watch: HACK

Other Game to Watch: None.

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