Overcoming a 10-point deficit in the second half, Ohio State remained undefeated by riding atop the shoulders of senior tailback Carlos Hyde for a 40-30 victory on a rainy Saturday night at Northwestern.
Hyde fought off the muggy conditions as well as a hyped-up Wildcats defense to carry 26 times for a career-high 168 yards and three touchdowns. All three of Hyde’s touchdowns came in the second half of a game that saw six lead changes, three of them in the fourth quarter.
“That was a street fight, a real 12-rounder,” OSU head coach Urban Meyer told ABC Sports following the game. “The best thing about being in a 12-rounder and surviving is that it makes you stronger.”
The Wildcats gave the Buckeyes all they could handle for much of the game, mostly thanks to interchangeable quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Kain Kolter as well as running back/return man Venric Mark, who missed the previous three games with a leg injury.
Siemian and Kolter combined to throw for 343 yards and two touchdowns, while Mark rushed 17 times for 60 yards, caught four passes for 57 yards and returned a kickoff 38 yards.
OSU quarterback Braxton Miller had an up-and-down game, turning the ball over three times – two fumbles and an interception – to help keep Northwestern close. But Miller still managed to complete 15 of 26 pass attempts for 203 yards while adding 68 yards rushing.
Receiver Corey “Philly” Brown was the Buckeyes’ leading pass-catcher with six receptions for 127 yards. Hyde also caught four balls – three of them for second-half first downs – for 38 yards
The game turned on a crucial fourth-down play late in the final period when Colter mishandled a snap and was stopped inches short of first-down yardage. NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald challenged the spot, but replay appeared inconclusive as to where Colter had actually been stopped and the call on the field stood. The Buckeyes then proceeded to run out most of the rest of the 2:43 on the clock, getting a gift touchdown on the game’s final play as the Wildcats tried several laterals before fumbling in the end zone.
Ohio State kept alive its streak of scoring on the first possession of each game, but rather than a touchdown against the Wildcats, the Buckeyes had to settle for a field goal that set the tone for the first half.
Miller completed his first six passes for 67 yards to march his team to the NU 8-yard line, but the drive stalled from there and OSU was forced to settle for a 27-yard field goal from kicker Drew Basil, giving the Buckeyes a 3-0 lead at the 12:31 mark of the opening period.
After Northwestern was forced to punt away its initial possession of the game, Ohio State appeared poised to add to its lead. But after Hyde broke off an 11-yard run on first down, Wildcats defensive end Tyler Scott knocked the ball loose from Miller’s grasp and then pounced on the fumble to give Northwestern excellent field position at the OSU 23.
Five plays later, Colter lined up as a slot receiver and Siemian found him in the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown pass, giving the Wildcats a 7-3 lead with 8:00 remaining in the first quarter. It was the first time the Buckeyes had trailed all season, but they didn’t trail for long.
Another promising OSU drive fizzled, but punter Cameron Johnston buried Northwestern inside its own 1-yard line. When the Wildcats were unable to gain a first down, Ohio State junior Bradley Roby smothered the NU punt in the end zone and recovered the ball for a touchdown. That pushed the Buckeyes back into the lead at 10-7 with 2:33 to go in the first quarter.
The rest of the first half belonged mostly to the Wildcats. A 4-yard option run by Colter capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive to give Northwestern a 14-10 advantage at the 13:19 mark of the second period, but the Buckeyes appeared ready to answer as they marched to the NU 6-yard line with a first-and-goal. After two short runs, however, Miller overthrew a wide-open Chris Fields in the end zone on third down, and Ohio State had to settle for another Basil field goal. This one was from 20 yards out and made it 14-13 Northwestern with 8:38 remaining until halftime.
The Wildcats tacked on a pair of field goals of their own before the break – kicks of 23 and 29 yards from kicker Jeff Budzien – to account for the 20-13 halftime score. The 29-yard field goal came with just 55 seconds remaining in the half and was set up when the Buckeyes tried a fake punt deep in their own territory and were stopped at their own 30-yard line.
After completing his first six passes of the evening, Miller connected on only 1 of 9 the rest of the first half. Meanwhile, Siemian and Colter were combined to go 11 of 13 against the OSU defense for 144 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Mark already had 92 of his total yards – 42 on nine rushes and 50 on two receptions – by halftime.
Northwestern continued to apply pressure to the Buckeyes at the beginning of the second half, taking the third-quarter kickoff and marching to the OSU 7 before settling for another field goal. This one, a 32-yarder from Budzien, gave the Wildcats a 23-13 advantage at the 10:40 mark of the third quarter.
Ohio State seemed ready with its answer when it quickly drove into Northwestern territory and had a first-and-goal at the NU 7. But Miller was stripped of the football on the next play as he neared the goal line, and the Wildcats recovered to end OSU’s threat.
The Buckeyes managed to retain field position, however, after the defense forced a three-and-out and Northwestern was penalized for interfering with the Ohio State return man on the punt. That gave OSU the ball at the Northwestern 36, and six plays later, Hyde thundered into the end zone from 4 yards out to trim his team’s deficit to 23-20 with 3:54 to go in the third quarter.
That set the stage for the frentic fourth quarter which began when OSU cornerback Doran Grant intercepted Siemian and returned the pick 7 yards to the Northwestern 16. Four plays later, Hyde managed to stretch the football out with his right arm and break the plane of the goal line – a play that was ultimately called by the replay booth – to give the Buckeyes a 27-23 lead at the 11:29 mark of the fourth quarter.
And back came the Wildcats, thanks mostly to a 67-yard catch and run by NW receiver Rashad Lawrence that set up a 12-yard touchdown pass from Siemian to wideout Cameron Dickerson to push Northwestern back into the lead at 30-27 with 9:20 remaining.
Ohio State responded with an eight-play, 81-yard drive highlighted by a 38-yard pass play from Miller to Brown and capped by Hyde’s third touchdown, a 7-yard run at the 3:48 mark to give the Buckeyes a 34-30 lead.
Mark returned the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to the Northwestern 41, and the Wildcats advanced as far as the OSU 34. But facing fourth-and-1 from there, Colter was stopped with 2:43 remaining and the Buckeyes heaved a collective sigh of relief.
The offense killed all but 21 seconds on the clock, and after Johnston pinned Northwestern back at its own 16, the only finishing touch left was when Ohio State freshman defensive end Joey Bosa fell on a fumble in the end zone on the final play of the game