EVANSTON, Ill. — Ohio State struggled more than expected before coming away with a 21-7 win over Northwestern on Saturday in what might have become known as the gone with the wind game if it had turned out differently.
Northwestern, with only one win this season, led much of the first half and still was tied with the No. 2 Buckeyes at halftime before OSU took control in the second half.
That was part of the struggle. The other part was a steady powerful wind that grounded Ohio State’s passing game and was unlike anything OSU coach Ryan Day had ever seen.
“I’ve never been around conditions like that. There were times I was concerned about the snap getting to the quarterback in the shotgun,” Day said.
Ohio State got the win, but not before having more trouble than expected with an opponent for a third game in a row. And, at least for the first half, it had difficulty running the ball for a third straight game.
Northwestern stunned Ohio State with a 9-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on its second possession of the game for a 7-0 lead.
It stayed that way until OSU got a 15-yard touchdown run from wide receiver Emeka Egbuka to tie the game at 7-7 with 2:26 left in the first half.
In the first two quarters, Ohio State was out-gained 140 yards to 118 yards and running back Miyan Williams had only 22 yards on 11 carries. And the feeling in Ryan Field was that Northwestern had been the aggressor more than the Buckeyes.
No. 2 Ohio State (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) knew something had to change. And enough things did change in the second half that the Buckeyes could walk away with a win.
The running game reappeared. Quarterback C.J. Stroud made the biggest contribution of his career in the running game. And the defense raised its level of play.
“I think our defense played strong and as the game went on we realized the pass was not going to happen (for Northwestern). There was a point in the game where the defense had a lot of energy. You could feel that flipping. We decided coming out of halftime we really needed to win the third quarter,” Day said.
The defense set the tone early in the third quarter when it stopped Northwestern on third down and one yard to go and fourth down and one yard to go at the Wildcats’ 45-yard line, with Lathan Ransom and Taron Vincent making big stops.
Three plays later Williams broke a tackle near the line of scrimmage and went 27 yards for a touchdown that put OSU up 14-7. He added a two-yard touchdown run with 4:21 left in the game and finished with 111 yards on 26 carries.
Stroud rushed for a career-best 79 yards on six carries. He was 10 of 26 passing for 76 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Tommy Eichenberg had 13 tackles and Ronnie Hickman had 10.
Ohio State played without running back TreVeyon Henderson, who was listed as unavailable with an unspecified injury and wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
“We tried throwing the ball and it was very, very difficult. It was almost impossible. When somebody knows you’re not throwing the ball they can put two extra guys down in the box. There are only two things you can do at that point. You can run the guy over, which Miyan did a couple of times, or you get the quarterback involved (in running the ball),” Day said.
Northwestern (1-8, 1-6 Big Ten), which lost its eighth game in a row since beating Nebraska in its opener, got 122 yards on 30 carries from Evan Hull.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said, “A lot of good happened today. Unfortunately, the bad is the outcome on the scoreboard.”
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.