October 01, 2004

Northwestern riles Ohio State before kickoff

Then Northwestern had to go and rile up the No. 7 Buckeyes.

It didn't take long for the Buckeyes (3-0) to get wind of a remark Northwestern defensive tackle Luis Castillo made Monday. Asked about differences between the various Ohio State teams he's seen, Castillo said, ``They've always been a great defense and a mediocre offense that finds ways to make plays when they need points. They know how to win. That's just Ohio State for you.''

Castillo really didn't mean it as an insult. But teams look for motivation anywhere they can find it, and this was good enough for the Buckeyes.

"We heard it. We've got bulletin boards in there,'' fullback Branden Joe said. "Our goal is to not have them say that after the game. They can say anything they want before the game, but at 12 a.m. when the game's over and they're still saying we have a mediocre offense, then we did something wrong.''

The Buckeyes ARE built on defense, holding opponents to 261 yards of offense per game and just 3.9 yards per play. They've allowed four offensive touchdowns in their first three games.

They already have six sacks and three interceptions, and also have forced two fumbles. Against N.C. State two weeks ago, they scored 16 points off of five turnovers.

And Ohio State's offense hasn't exactly been awe-inspiring. The Buckeyes needed a 55-yard field goal from Mike Nugent as time expired to beat Marshall, and Nugent kicked five field goals in the victory over N.C. State.

Ohio State's average of 334 yards of total offense a game doesn't put the Buckeyes in the top 50 in the country. The Wildcats (1-3), meanwhile, are 12th in the nation with 479 yards of offense a game.

"I'll be flat honest, the numbers don't lie,'' Joe said. "We definitely haven't put up the numbers that other teams in the nation are putting up. But we have the personnel to do that. We have depth at receiver, running back, we have a young offensive line that continues to get better.

"I guess you say numberwise we are mediocre right now,'' Joe added. "But this is Ohio State. We have talent. We get talent here. I don't think we're mediocre in the talent aspect.''

It's also one thing if someone from Oklahoma or Southern California calls the Buckeyes mediocre. But not only are the Wildcats 1-3, they haven't beaten Ohio State since 1971.

"Sometimes teams at a Northwestern or an Indiana, they get caught up playing the traditions,'' running back Noah Herron said. "The tradition of Ohio State. The tradition of Michigan. The tradition of Penn State. We're not playing those years of tradition. We're playing the 2004 Ohio State Buckeyes, so we can't look at it like we haven't beat them in 33 years. What's that matter? Thirty-three years we were unlucky, so we've got to go out and change that.''

The Wildcats gave the Buckeyes quite a game in 2002, the last time the two teams played at Northwestern. Though Ohio State won 27-16, Northwestern missed two field goals and had to settle for field goals on two other possessions inside the Ohio State 10.

The Wildcats also had a touchdown wiped out by a questionable call in the second quarter.

"They were national champions that year and we were 4-7, something like that,'' Castillo said. ``We gave them a great game, and that let us know they are beatable. Going into that game, I don't know if many guys believed we could (beat them). And we gave them a great game. Going into this one, we know we can play with them.''

But the Wildcats will have to clean up their act. After making progress with their first victory of the season, they lost to No. 18 Minnesota last weekend, hurt largely by their own mistakes.

Northwestern still isn't executing as well as coach Randy Walker would like, and penalties are costing the Wildcats on both offense and defense.

"That doesn't minimize, however, my belief that we can be a good football team and play well,'' Walker said. "But we have to play with consistency that all football teams strive for. It needs to get better, because we're playing the Big Ten. You need to play your 'A' game and you need to bring it every week.''

Posted by Ron at October 1, 2004 06:25 AM