No. 2 Ohio State uses C.J. Stroud's legs to overcome sluggish start against Northwestern

Will Ohio State stay at No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday?

The Buckeyes started slowly on a gusty day in Evanston before putting away Northwestern 21-7 on Saturday. The Buckeyes trailed 7-0 for much of the first half and didn’t score until there was 2:26 to go before the half on a 15-yard run by Emeka Egbuka.

The wind made passing the ball tough for C.J. Stroud and the Ohio State offense and Stroud responded by having his best rushing day as a starter. Stroud broke off a 16-yard run — longer than any run he had in 2021 — to set up Ohio State’s first TD and his 44-yard run in the fourth quarter set up Miyan Williams’ second TD of the day to put the Buckeyes up two TDs with 4:21 to go.

A win by Northwestern would have been the biggest upset of the college football season and one of the biggest upsets in years. The Wildcats entered the game at 1-7 and haven’t won on American soil in more than a year. Northwestern’s lone win of 2022 came at the start of the season over Nebraska in Ireland.

And Northwestern hung tough, especially in the first half when it forced five punts and a turnover on downs on Ohio State’s first six drives of the game. But the Buckeyes’ talent ultimately took over in the second half as Ohio State got a push up front and started to use Stroud in the running game.

The Heisman favorite’s two big runs came on read option plays where he watched the defensive front crash in on a potential handoff to Williams. They worked to great effect because teams haven’t had to prepare for Stroud in the run game. He rushed for negative yardage in 2021 — sacks are counted as rushing yards — as he threw for over 4,400 yards. And he entered Saturday’s game with -4 rushing yards in 2022.

Stroud finished the game 10-of-26 passing for 76 yards. The two teams combined to throw for 155 yards.

And while the Buckeyes ultimately won by two scores, Ohio State’s less-than-convincing performance over the course of the entire game makes it feasible that Clemson could jump up to No. 2 with a big win over Notre Dame on Saturday night. Or at the very least, it’s very likely Ohio State will stay at No. 2 and not jump ahead of Tennessee if it loses to Georgia.

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