Northwestern poses one potential problem in an upset bid of Ohio State:
It’s with its defense.
Although the Wildcats have had plenty of issues on offense, they rank in the top 30 in the nation in scoring defense and total defense through seven weeks.
“It's hard to find a yard against them,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said.
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The most telling instance was in a 24-15 loss at Wisconsin last month, when the Wildcats limited the unbeaten Badgers to a season-low 243 total yards. For a comparison, in its other five games, Wisconsin has averaged 489 yards of offense.
The linebackers do much of the damage, bottling up running backs, a group that includes Paddy Fisher, the junior middle linebacker who is one of the team’s four captains.
Fisher is the second-leading tackler for the Wildcats with 38 through five games, and the 6-foot-4 standout has been disruptive, breaking up three passes, forcing two fumbles and intercepting a pass.
He was also second on the team in tackles last season and was the leader in tackles when he made his debut as a redshirt freshman in 2017.
Beyond Fisher's statistical production, Day remarked that he "is the guy in the middle" that "keeps everything going."
Fisher had 11 tackles when the teams met in the Big Ten championship game last season, when he was an all-conference selection.
It’s become typical for the Wildcats to feature sharp linebackers in the middle of their defense. They're led by coach Pat Fitzgerald, a former linebacker at the school during it resurgence in the 1990s. He also coached linebackers as an assistant under the late coach Randy Walker.
Day said he recognized Fitzgerald’s effect on them.
“Across the board, there's guys who have played a lot of football in that group,” Day said. “But it goes back to Pat. I mean, he is one of the more thorough coaches. He obviously played there and understands what he wants to get done, and they play that way. They're sound, and they don't give you anything.”