COLUMBUS – It might have been the most important 12 minutes of the season for Ohio State, which is something that has rarely if ever been said when the Buckeye were playing Northwestern.
With 12 minutes, 19 seconds to play in OSU’s 24-17 win over Northwestern on Saturday at Ohio Stadium, it found itself tied with the Wildcats at 17-17.
After scoring a touchdown, a field goal and another touchdown the first three times it had the ball, No. 6 Ohio State (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten) had seen five consecutive drives end in punts.
Meanwhile, Northwestern had erased a 17-7 lead that Ohio State had built with six minutes left in the first half.
A second consecutive loss after a 24-21 surprise at Penn State would have meant Ohio State almost certainly couldn’t reach its goals. Surrendering a double-figures lead two weeks in a row might have left the Buckeyes doubting themselves.
But when they needed to make plays they did and were able to put away the Wildcats (4-4, 3-2 Big Ten).
First, Ohio State drove 63 yards in six plays to take a 24-17 lead with 9:43 to play on a 3-yard touchdown run by Curtis Samuel. The big play in that drive came from OSU’s often-disparaged deep passing game when quarterback J.T. Barrett connected with wide receiver K.J. Hill for 34 yards down to Northwestern’s 10-yardline.
Then, after a Northwestern field goal had cut the lead to 24-20 with 3:31 to play, Ohio State was able to get three first downs on its last possession to run out the clock. A 35-yard run by Barrett and a 16-yard from him to Noah Brown were key parts of that final drive.
“I thought our guys stepped up when they had to. The final two drives were big,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “It’s good to be home and get a win, a hard-fought win against a team that had a lot of momentum.”
Ohio State answered some of the questions that came out of the loss at Penn State, but it also answered a question that has been an issue all season when it scored a touchdown on its opening drive for the first time in eight games.
OSU drove 94 yards on nine plays, the final yard coming on a touchdown run by Mike Weber, on its first possession.
After a Damon Arnette interception on a ball Raekwon McMillan tipped, the Buckeyes went up 10-0 on a 42-yard field goal by Tyler Durbin. They took a 17-10 lead into halftime before Northwestern tied it 17-17 on a two-yard pass from quarterback Clayton Thorson to wide receiver Austin Carr with 3:49 left in the third quarter.
Barrett completed 21 of 32 passes for 223 yard and rushed for 71 yards on 13 carries. Mike Weber had 87 yards on 14 carries and Curtis Samuel caught 7 passes for 68 yards and rushed for 31 yards on 7 carries.
Northwestern’s most effective way to move the ball was Thorson throwing to wide receiver Austin Carr.
Thorson was 22 of 42 for 256 yards and a touchdown. Carr caught 8 of those passes for 158 yards. Justin Jackson rushed for 76 yards on 17 carries.
The Wildcats came close to a game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter when they got to OSU’s 3-yard line, but a costly holding call forced them to settle for a field goal.
“I like the fact we started fast,” Meyer said. “And I love the way we finished it off. We had to go score a touchdown and we did. We had to hold them to a field goal and we did. And then we had to eat the clock and finish the game on offense, which is a sign of a good team and we did.”
Meyer said Ohio State is “a project” and is “still working things out.”
Senior center Pat Elflein said he saw growth from the young players in OSU’s lineup.
“It’s a long season and a lot of these young guys haven’t been through it yet. They walked into a very good program. We addressed (last week) what it took to get this program where it’s at.
“We just have to keep growing and keep working hard and I think we’ll have a really good team when it comes down to it,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.