Ohio State, Northwestern have similar offenses, different QB situations

Ohio State and Northwestern don’t have much in common when it comes to football.

Although both play in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes have 385 more wins, 343 fewer losses, 30 more Big Ten titles, eight more national championships and 21 more bowl victories.

Ohio State also has a much larger stadium and alumni base while recruiting at a higher level generally.

One area in which the teams are similar, however, is how they try to move the football.

Although coach Ryan Day has expanded the packages and formations the Buckeyes run this season, they are still primarily a power spread team.

That former Troy High School star Randy Walker and current Ohio State offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson helped bring that style of offense into the mainstream as head coach and offensive coordinator, respectively, in Evanston at the turn of the century is well-documented, but this week Day revealed his role in the revolution.

>>RELATED: 5 takeaways from Ryan Day’s press conference

It turns out Day helped Chip Kelly develop Kelly’s version of the attack many miles away in New Hampshire, where Day played quarterback from 1998-2001 and Kelly was the offensive coordinator from 1999-2006.

“Chip went out (to Northwestern) and visited them and came back with all the different terminology, and I was like the guinea pig quarterback to try to figure it out,” Day said this week. “And some games and some plays were better than others, but that was the start of it.”

Here are four more things to know about the game between the Buckeyes and Wildcats:

1. With Ohio State not having a game last week, Justin Fields got back home then got back to basics.

“How’d I use off week? I went back home, hung out with the family little bit and I hung out with my sister, so that was good time,” the sophomore quarterback said. “So I’m glad I got to go back to Georgia. This is my first time being back since the summer, so it was good.”

Six weeks into his first season as a starter, the Kennesaw native said he feels more confident in what he is doing both as a passer and a leader.

“I feel I have total command of the offense, and I feel like I’m the leader of the offense,” said Fields, who cited his footwork and timing of his reads as areas he sought to improve over the past week. “I think those guys trust in me, and I definitely trust all the guys on offense.”

2. Who will be Northwestern’s quarterback remains to be seen.

Hunter Johnson and Aidan Smith are listed as co-starters on the Wildcats depth chart.

Johnson, a five-star recruit at Clemson who transferred to Northwestern last year, has been bothered by a knee injury and struggled to run the Wildcats offense effectively when he was healthy.

Those two factors opened the door for Smith, a less-ballyhooed recruit from Indiana, to pilot the attack, but he didn’t exactly set the world on fire, either.

“Hunter’s not been in the offense as long as Aidan,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s got to keep getting time-on-task of being involved and engaged in the offense. Then from a consistency standpoint, you’ve got to go out and produce on game day.”

He rejected the notion Johnson’s struggles should be measured against the success of Fields, who was a five-star freshman at Georgia last season before transferring to Ohio State. Fields has been among the nation’s best quarterbacks so far this fall.

“Do I expect Hunter will get his play up to where Justin’s is now? I believe so,” Fitzgerald said. “I believe in that, but that’s gonna come with time. For some players it just clicks right away because — I don’t know why, but with the way Justin has had it click with him, it’s been fun to watch. I’ve been really happy for him, especially with the relationship we had with him in recruiting. He’s a great kid.”

3. Fitzgerald raved about Fields.

The coach of the Wildcats couldn’t say enough good things about the quarterback of the Buckeyes, who was once on his team’s recruiting radar before becoming the No. 2 overall prospect in the country and ending up in the SEC.

“We recruited Justin and he’s a rock-star person,” Fitzgerald said. “We were blown away with him out of high school.

“And then all of a sudden with recruiting, you guys gave him too many stars,” he added with a laugh. “It would have been great if you would have kept him where he was when we were recruiting him, but just a stud of a guy and he’s playing outstanding football. He’s doing a great job of playing within the framework of what Coach Day wants him to do.”

4. Ohio State will be without at least two key players and possibly a third.

Left tackle Thayer Munford is among three players listed as a game-time decision for Ohio State, joining linebacker Teradja Mitchell and slot receiver C.J. Saunders.

If Munford, who had back and leg ailments last season, is unable to go, the Buckeyes will be down to their fourth tackle because top backup Josh Alabi is among eight players listed as unavailable.

That means Nicholas Petit-Frere, a highly regarded redshirt freshman, could make his first college start against the defending Big Ten West champions.

Also out Friday night is Baron Browning, a junior who splits time at middle linebacker with Tuf Borland and has been one of the team’s most productive defensive players of late. The Texas native is third on the team 23 tackles and has proven to be an effective pass rusher in some of the Buckeyes’ sub packages.

With Browning out, sophomore Dallas Gant is listed as the backup middle linebacker.

On the other side, the status of Northwestern running back Isaiah Bowser is uncertain. A sophomore from Sidney who ran for over 1,000 yards last season, he has missed two games with a knee injury.

The Chicago Tribune reported earlier in the week he remained sidelined.


Ohio State at Northwestern, 8:30 p.m., BTN, 1410

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