Two weeks ago, the ESPN College GameDay crew headed way out to Fargo to celebrate the two-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State Bison. For the sixth weekend of the 2013 season, the crew once again heads into relatively unfamiliar territory: Evanston, Illinois. The Chicago suburb is the home of the Northwestern Wildcats, a historically downtrodden program currently experience a renaissance under former star player-turned-coach Pat Fitzgerald.
Big Ten powerhouse Ohio State, however, has had a tendency over the years of stopping “renaissances” in their tracks.
On Saturday, the Buckeyes and ‘Cats meet north of the Windy City in a battle of Big Ten unbeatens. Can Northwestern earn a signature win in front of a nationally televised audience? Or will coach Urban Meyer’s bunch continue to roll towards the BCS national championship game?
It all may rest upon the right arm of Trevor Siemian. A week ago, Ohio State faced off against one of the best rushing teams in the nation in Wisconsin and held the Badgers to a measly 104 total yards on the ground. Seriously, that’s it – and that was against a team that has three players (Melvin Gordon, James White, Corey Clement) all on pace to break 1,000 yards on the year.
Most teams despise two-quarterback situations – the saying goes, if you have two QBs, you might as well have none – but Siemian and Kain Colter have flourished in it. Colter currently sits at No. 2 on the team with 237 rush yards, while also passing for another 264 with a 77.1 completion percentage. Siemian is Fitzgerald’s pure pocket passer. He has thrown for 671 yards and four touchdowns on 67.1-percent passing.
Can the two-headed, dual-threat monster of Siemian and Colter outplay the one-man wrecking crew better known as Braxton Miller?
The way Miller played against Wisconsin, that might not be possible. After missing two full games with a knee injury, Miller returned to the fold and promptly threw four touchdown passes without an interception. He passed for 198 yards and rushed for another 83.
Each defense is going to have a tough task ahead of it. Besides Siemian and Colter, Northwestern gets 2012 All-American punt returner and star running back Venric Mark back after suffering an injury in Week 1. He will join Treyvon Green in the backfield and the two Jones split out wide as big-time weapons. Tony Jones leads the team with 362 yards receiving, while Christian Jones sits at second with 223. A week ago, star Buckeyes cornerback Bradley Roby had a tough time dealing with Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis and this passing game matchup could be something the Wildcats look to exploit.
That isn’t to say Miller isn’t surrounded with weapons, either. What’s more is the fact that Northwestern has given up at least 17 points in every game this season. Its defense, led by senior defensive end Tyler Scott, will have its hands full with running backs Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall and Ezekiel Elliot.
The task of pressuring Miller in the pocket falls upon Scott, who already has three sacks this season, and sophomore Dean Lowry, who has two. Stopping Miller and Meyer’s elite rushing attack is the responsibility of linebackers Chi Chi Ariguzo, Collin Ellis and Damien Proby. This is a talented group, but it’s one thing to look good against the Syracuses of the world. It is quite another to shut down an All-American hopeful, his cadre of running backs and finally wide receivers Devin Smith and Corey Brown (who have combined for 10 touchdown receptions this year).
Is Fitzgerald’s crew up to it? Can his quarterbacking duo get enough support to do what Wisconsin couldn’t, and that’s to dominate Ohio State on the ground?
What about defensively? Braxton Miller would be a handful for a team like Alabama – can Northwestern prove it can handle that type of ability, and even shut it down?
This game is being played in Evanston, in a rare national spotlight game. Miller, Meyer, Hyde and linebacker Ryan Shazier have all felt the big-time before. Will that experience aid them in netting a massive road victory?
We have no idea what the answers to these many questions are, but the reality of the situation is that it will all boil down to just one thing come Saturday: Who will score more points?
To that end, we have no idea, but perhaps you do. It’s time to Settle It.