With Ohio facing yet another third and long halfway through the third quarter, Ohio quarterback Boo Jackson thought he’d use his legs for the first down, only to be stopped by his hair.
Linebacker Prince Kwateng, with all but Jackson’s shoulder-length afro-curls out of his reach, latched onto his locks and dragged him to the ground with all the verve of a five-year-old whose brother just snatched his toy. Jackson retained an intact scalp, but no first down.
This kind of raw attrition was the name of the game for Northwestern football on Saturday. Sack by sack, takeaway by takeaway, NU bludgeoned its way to a 16-8 victory over Ohio at Ryan Field on Saturday.
Defense and special teams by-and-large policed the day. The Wildcats nabbed four takeaways, blocked two field goals, limited the Bobcats to 233 yards and sacked Jackson five times. Throughout most of the game the Ohio offense looked utterly overwhelmed.
But the Wildcats will surely be worried about their running back, Tyrell Sutton, who came up limping after a 31-yard gallop that set up the Wildcats’ only touchdown at the end of the first half, and didn’t return.
For the offense, it was a disturbing Jekyll-and-Hyde tale of before and after Sutton’s injury. With Sutton in the ranks, the offense moved the ball with ease but only had three field goals, courtesy of Amado Villarreal, to show for it. Without Sutton, Omar Conteh did punch home from the one-yardline to finish what Sutton started, but after that the offense and quarterback C.J. Bacher — who threw four interceptions on the day — looked deflated, nervous and reckless.
With a 16-0 lead at halftime, it seemed Northwestern could canter home with a victory without breaking too much sweat. But Northwestern’s offense started the third quarter at a crawl, as Bacher lobbed up a daft interception on its first second half possession. Unfortunately, in the third quarter this was norm, not anomaly: the embarrassing results of NU’s six third-quarter possessions were three punts and three turnovers.
Meanwhile, Ohio managed a touchdown and two-point conversion, and when wide receiver Eric Peterman fumbled a punt with 1:02 left in the third quarter, NU’s one-possession lead looked slim. The defense held strong, but the offense still couldn’t get anything going, and halfway through the fourth quarter the Bobcats were driving, having converted a 4th-and-8 to close in on Northwestern’s red zone.
But with 5:55 remaining, our boys on the other side of the ball pulled off one more game-preserving play when senior John Gill recovered a fumble at the Northwestern 18 yard line. Bobcats’ reciever Lavor Brazill appeared to have been down and the play was reviewed before eventually being upheld. A couple of much-needed first downs from the offense later, and Wildcats fans could breath a little easier: the ‘Cats are 4-0 for the first time since 1962. But NU heads to Iowa City for its first Big Ten game next week with a whole host of issues to address.