Ohio State used the one-two punch of Chris “Beanie” Wells and Terrelle Pryor to deal Northwestern a Big Ten knockout blow Nov. 8 as the Buckeyes rolled to a 45-10 victory at Ryan Field in Evanston.
Wells rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns while Pryor threw for 197 yards and three scores on a raw afternoon, leading OSU to its 14th consecutive conference road victory and its 16th win in the last 17 trips to Evanston.
The win also kept the Buckeyes well positioned in the Big Ten championship race. Ohio State (5-1, 8-2) remained a half-game behind Michigan State (6-1, 9-2), which was defeating Purdue, 21-7, at the same time OSU was dispatching the Wildcats. Atop the league standings is still Penn State, which was undefeated heading into an afternoon game at Iowa.
Northwestern has become a welcome tonic for Ohio State in recent years. Since losing an overtime contest to the Wildcats in 2004, the Buckeyes have clicked off four straight victories in the series by a combined score of 205-34.
While the contest ended in a lopsided rout, Northwestern appeared as if it would make a game of it early. Despite missing starting quarterback C.J. Bachér and being down to their third-string tailback, the Wildcats had the OSU defense on its heels throughout the first quarter.
But after Wells broke off a 55-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, the Buckeyes never looked back. In the final three quarters, Ohio State piled up 349 total yards to only 227 for Northwestern.
Most of the Wildcats’ offense came from backup quarterback Mike Kafka, who earned Big Ten offensive player of the week honors the week before by rushing for 217 yards against Minnesota. Against the Buckeyes, Kafka got loose for 83 yards on 29 carries and added another 177 yards through the air.
But the junior QB had precious little support from his teammates. His 260 yards of total offense represented 88.4 percent of his team’s 294-yard total.
In addition to Wells’ rushing performance, which came on 28 carries, Pryor added 33 yards on six scrambles. Ohio State ran for 244 yards in the contest, the third highest game total of the season and the team’s best effort since late September. The Buckeyes totaled 251 yards in the season opener against Youngstown State and a season-high 279 in their 34-21 win Sept. 27 over Minnesota.
Meanwhile, Pryor completed 9 of 14 pass attempts for his 197 yards, throwing several long passes despite a stiff wind that buffeted the playing field throughout most of the game. The freshman has now thrown for 423 yards in his last two games, and has nine touchdowns passes for the season.
Wells got the scoring started with a 2-yard run at the 10:48 mark of the opening quarter, capping an eight-play, 66-yard march for the Buckeyes. It marked the fifth time in 10 games this season that OSU had scored a touchdown on its opening possession.
The Wildcats answered quickly when Kafka scored on a 1-yard plunge with 4:43 remaining the first quarter. The quarterback ran for 35 of the 67 yards on the 13-play march, and the Ohio State defense aided the NU effort with a pair of 15-yard personal foul penalties.
The score remained tied at 7 until Wells broke the deadlock with a 55-yard bolt on the second play of the second quarter. After Pryor completed a 22-yard pass over the middle to tight end Rory Nicol, Wells exploded into the line, bounced off the back of one his own blockers, ran out of a would-be Northwestern defender’s arm tackle and steamrolled his way toward the goal line. The tailback stiff-armed away NU safety Brendan Smith near the 4-yard line and hopped into the end zone with his longest touchdown run of the season.
That made it 14-7 Ohio State with 14:03 left in the second quarter and the Buckeyes tacked on two more scores before halftime. Senior kicker Ryan Pretorius knocked through a 33-yard field goal at the 10:04 mark and then Pryor found senior receiver Brian Robiskie for a 15-yard touchdown pass with 1:26 remaining to make it 24-7 at the break.
Northwestern closed to within two touchdowns with a 25-yard field goal from senior kicker Amado Villarreal at the 11:03 mark of the third quarter, but Pryor found Nicol in the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown pass near the end of the period. The score capped an eight-play, 83-yard march and made it 31-10 in favor of the Buckeyes with 34 seconds left in the third quarter.
OSU tacked on two more touchdowns in the final period. Pryor and Robiskie hooked up again for a 34-yard reception that Robiskie gathered in between two defenders and backup tailback Dan “Boom” Herron ran 16 yards up the middle to pay dirt in the final seconds after Kafka fumbled and the loose ball was recovered by Ohio State defensive lineman Doug Worthington.
Robiskie wound up the game with three receptions for 58 yards and two touchdowns. The senior has a team-high seven TD catches this season and 23 for his career, the fourth best total on school history. Only David Boston (34, 1996-98), Cris Carter (27, 1984-86) and Santonio Holmes (25, 2003-05) have more.
Ohio State will be on the road again next week, traveling to Illinois (3-3, 5-5.) The Illini were 23-17 upset victims at Western Michigan today. Game time in Champaign is 12 noon Eastern (11 a.m. local time).