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EVANSTON, Ill. — Northwestern brands itself as Chicago’s Big Ten team, and splashes the marketing slogan across billboards citywide.
Saturday night, Ohio State fans again suggested otherwise.
While Northwestern took measures to ensure a purple-heavy crowd for its most high-profile game in program history, a mass of scarlet commandeered nearly half of Ryan Field’s 47,130 seats.
OSU fans tore through the school’s 3,000-plus allotment of tickets and raided a hot secondary market that featured tickets starting at $185 on StubHub. In an oddly bowl-like scene, Buckeyes supporters outnumbered the home crowd about 3-1 on one side of the stadium while Northwestern’s students and season tickets dominated the other half.
NU officials tried to keep the scarlet sea at low tide, limiting the number of extra tickets season-ticket holders could purchase and targeting alumni specifically for this game. But Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald acknowledged his team was prepared for a partisan scene.
OSU, which has more than 8,000 alums in the Chicago area, has often played before evenly split crowds here while the Wildcats last year had to employ a silent snap count — at home — to combat a raucous visiting crowd from Nebraska.
“Number one, you’ve always got to tip your hat to the Buckeyes fans,” Fitzgerald said last week. “Ever since I played and way before that, they’ve been some of the best in the country. They’ve supported that great program forever.
“I definitely think at times in the past we’ve had issues, and I know there will be [Ohio State] fans here. They probably have more alumnni in Chicagoland than we do from a pure numbers standpoint. You’ve got 50,000-plus students compared to 8,000 here. But our fans have been incredibly supportive.”
And they were Saturday night, the decibel level belying their modest numbers beginning at ESPN’s on-site “College GameDay” show in the morning. (Among the students’ signs: “Kanye named his baby after us,” “Braxton Miller has a 2-page résumé,” and “Urban Meyer cites Wikipedia.”)
HALL OUT: Starting Buckeyes running back Jordan Hall went from little used last week to not used at all Saturday.
Hall, who coaches pledged would be more involved this week, did not dress because of what an OSU spokesman called a “knee issue.”
The fifth-year senior remained listed as the starter this week, but a tweaked hierarchy became clear in the Buckeyes’ 31-24 win over Wisconsin last weekend. Senior Carlos Hyde bruised for 85 yards on 17 carries in his second game back from a suspension while Hall, a more versatile option, rushed only once.
Hall ran for 422 yards and eight touchdowns in the first four games, twice breaking his own single-game rushing mark with a 159-yard burst against Buffalo and 168 yards against California.
With Hall out, freshman Ezekiel Elliott paired with freshman Dontre Wilson on kick returns.
JERSEY TRIBUTE: Injured Ohio State safety Christian Bryant did not make the trip to Northwestern. But the senior safety remained strong on the Buckeyes’ mind Saturday.
Linebacker Ryan Shazier traded his usual No. 10 jersey for Bryant’s No. 2 as a tribute to the team’s top defensive leader. Bryant suffered a season-ending broken ankle late in the Wisconsin game.
Senior Corey Brown started in place of Bryant.
EXTRA POINTS: Senior left tackle and St. John’s Jesuit graduate Jack Mewhort, center Corey Linsley, quarterback Kenny Guiton, and Barnett served as Ohio State’s game captains. ... Scouts from 10 NFL teams — including the Lions — and representatives from the Gator and Citrus Bowls were among those credentialed Saturday. ... Northwestern dressed 19 players from Ohio, including junior safety and Southview graduate Jimmy Hall.