Ohio State, behind a perseverant red-zone defense and RB Carlos Hyde’s 3-TD performance, survived No. 16 Northwestern, 40-30 Saturday night.
The Wildcats will likely wake up Sunday morning feeling like they blew a fantastic opportunity. The offense bogged down inside the Ohio State 10-yard line three times, having to settle for field goals each time.
Those Jeff Budzien field goals helped Northwestern build a 23-20 lead, but failed to put away a staggering Buckeyes team.
Instead, with everything on the line, Ohio State – on a night when QB Braxton Miller was far more ordinary than spectacular – found a way to leave Evanston with a critical victory.
Miller came to life when the Buckeyes needed him most.
With Northwestern leading 30-27 early in the third quarter, the quarterback hit Hyde for a third-down conversion. He followed by connecting on his next three passes to set up Hyde’s 7-yard touchdown run.
That proved to be the winning score for the Buckeyes, who not only remained undefeated, but successfully navigated what is easily their toughest two-game stretch of the regular season.
Ohio State, currently ranked third in the USA Today Coaches Poll, now finds itself halfway through what could be a second consecutive perfect regular season with both Wisconsin and Northwestern in the rearview mirror. The next five contests – home games against Iowa and Penn State, road tilts at Purdue and Illinois and another home game against Indiana – look like child’s play at this point.
In other words, tonight’s win over the Wildcats essentially leaves Ohio State’s national championship hopes hinging on three variables:
1) Beating Michigan;
2) Winning the Big Ten Championship Game;
3) Needing two of three of Alabama, Oregon/Stanford and Clemson/Florida State to lose.
If all three occur, coach Urban Meyer will have his team in the BCS National Championship Game the way he did Florida in Year 2.
Of course, Ohio State must continue taking care of business in games it has no business losing.
At times, Saturday night looked like a nightmare for Ohio State. It took a blocked punt for a touchdown and great red-zone defense for the Buckeyes to eke out a victory.
By the end of it, though, Meyer’s team reminded the public of its amazing ability to pull out wins when the odds seem stacked against it.
For that reason, the Buckeyes remain very much alive in the national title picture.