COLUMBUS - Ohio State's defense left Northwestern's vaunted spread offense sprawled spread-eagle while a Wells-balanced offense allowed the Buckeyes to defeat the previously unbeaten Wildcats 38-20 last night in Ohio Stadium before a record crowd of 104,041.
OSU's swarming defense rendered Northwestern quarterback Zak Kustok ineffective. Buckeyes tailback Jonathan Wells allowed Ohio State quarterback Steve Bellisari to be mediocre.
Wells rushed for a career-high 179 yards on 22 carries and scored three touchdowns, including a 71-yard TD run on the second play from scrimmage. The OSU rushing attack ran over and around the gasping, grabbing Northwestern defense for a total of 287 yards, controlling the ball, the clock, Kustok, his tailback sidekick Damien Anderson, and anything else that needed restriction.
But there was no controlling Wells.
“With the offensive family we have we know we've got as good a talent as anyone in the country and we just went out and executed tonight,” Wells said. “I might have been thinking too much the last few weeks. I just went out and relaxed tonight. I've got to thank the offensive line. I haven't seen that kind of job in a long time.”
After Wells' first touchdown, 14th-ranked Northwestern (3-1, 1-1) came right back to tie the score at 7-7 with a slick 80-yard drive, but that was the Wildcats' last hurrah except for 13 almost-meaningless points in the fourth quarter.
OSU strong safety Mike Doss scooped up an Anderson fumble and ran 30 yards for the Buckeyes' second touchdown at the end of the first quarter. The rout was on. It was Ohio State's 22nd straight victory over the Wildcats dating back to 1971.
Wells scored on a one-yard run just before halftime to give the Buckeyes (3-1, 2-0) a 21-7 lead.
Wells had 109 yards in 10 carries at halftime. Bellisari was only 2-of-8 passing for 81 yards with one interception in the first half, but his job description became very simple. Hand the ball to the tailback. He couldn't go to the Wells too often.
“It was good to get out of the gate like that,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. “I'm proud of the way we played. A lot was said about the emergence of Lydell Ross after last week (124 yards against Indiana), and that maybe Jonathan was old news. But he showed he wasn't and it's good to have a one-two punch like that.
“It's always important to run. We did it much better, quite honestly better than I thought we would, and our defense was flying around. Everyone asked to do a role stepped up and did his role.”
The Buckeyes got points on their first three possessions of the third quarter. Ross scored on a nine-yard run, Wells scored from six yards out and Mike Nugent kicked a 44-yard field goal to put OSU in front 38-7.
“I was really happy the way the kids came out of gate to start the second half. That was huge,” Tressel said. “We pounded and went down there and got points. That may have been the turning point that made it really tough for them to come back. They may have been over there saying, `These guys are even better than they were in the first half.'”
Kustok, third in the nation in total offense with 328.3 yards per game, was sacked four times and limited to 122 yards passing and 19 yards running for a total of only 141 yards. Anderson, averaging 125.7 yards per game, was held to 80 yards rushing in 21 attempts.
Northwestern's high-scoring offense, which was averaging 490.3 yards per game, was limited to 306 yards.
“We didn't change anything (after Northwestern's first touchdown),” Doss said. “They had a good first drive, but after that we slowed down, got a couple of deep breaths and just played football.”
Northwestern coach Randy Walker said, “For a lot of reasons we gave up some plays and I think it took the assertiveness and assuredness out of our game. We just played very tentatively in a lot of places. We didn't seem to make a play for a while and it all kept going against us. It just wasn't our best night.”
Northwestern and Ohio State were among six Big Ten teams with 1-0 records starting play yesterday, but now there are only three - Ohio State, Michigan and Purdue.