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Northwestern running back Evan Hull (#26). Provided courtesy of Northwestern Athletics.

Football: What to know about Ohio's final nonconference opponent, Northwestern

Ohio (0–3) travels to Evanston, Illinois, to face Northwestern for the final game of its nonconference slate. It’s the first meeting between the two programs since 2008, when Ohio lost in Evanston 16–8 for its fourth-straight loss to begin the season.

Ohio now finds itself in the same position. The difference is that Northwestern is not on the hot streak it was 13 years ago. It struggled through losses to Michigan State and Duke, and its defense has allowed the most points through three games since 2018.

The Bobcats haven’t beaten the Wildcats since 1973. They have a chance to end that 48-year drought Saturday.

Here’s what to know about Northwestern ahead of Saturday’s game:

All-time series: Northwestern leads, 3–1.

Last time they met: Sept. 20, 2008. The Bobcats fell to the Wildcats 16–8 at Ryan Field in Evanston for their fourth-straight loss to begin the season. 

Northwestern rushed for 147 yards on the day, finishing with 280 total yards and one touchdown off a run from Omar Conteh. Ohio picked up just 232 yards, led by quarterback Boo Jackson, who threw for 228 of those yards and completed 27 passes.

Northwestern report: Now in his sixteenth season at the helm of Northwestern, Pat Fitzgerald is trying to pull his team up from a 30–23 loss to Duke last week. The Wildcats are out to a 1–2 start, with their only win coming against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Indiana State.

Allowing 412.7 total yards per game and 24.67 points per game, the Wildcats rank in the bottom half of the Big Ten Conference for team defense. It’s a far cry from a season ago, when they lead the conference and held opponents to 15.9 points per game.

The Wildcats are also in the midst of a quarterback battle. Starter Hunter Johnson threw three interceptions and was 6-for-16 against Duke. Johnson was subbed out for senior Andrew Marty, who threw for 151 yards before exiting the game in the fourth quarter with an upper-body injury.

Marty is expected to return for Saturday’s game, which raises questions over whether he or Johnson will get the start against Ohio. Fitzgerald has yet to make a decision, and the depth chart lists both Johnson and Marty as the first-stringers.

How Ohio beats Northwestern: For all of Northwestern’s struggles, it’ll be a tough nut to crack. The Wildcats are 18–11 all-time against Mid-American Conference opponents, with Fitzgerald responsible for 10 of those wins.

The Wildcats have developed a habit of scoring most of their points in the second half. 40 of their 68 points thus far have been scored after half time. Ohio’s defense needs to prevent the burnout it suffered against Louisiana, when it allowed 21 points in the fourth quarter alone. 

Ohio also needs to focus on turnovers. Northwestern has fumbled the ball five times this season, which might be an opportunity for Ohio to make up for lost time. It recorded its first turnover last week against Louisiana and needs to pick up the pace in order to stand a chance Saturday.

Number to know: Nine. Ohio has won nine games all-time against Big Ten teams.

Player to watch: Evan Hull, running back, No. 26

In just his second season, Hull has become the cornerstone of Northwestern’s running backs unit. The sophomore tops the roster with 262 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 41 carries. In the game against Duke, Hull rushed for 49 yards. 

@thejackgleckler

jg011517@ohio.edu

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