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NCAAF: Northwestern needs to protect the ball against Ohio

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It’s a chance for improvement for two struggling programs when the Northwestern Wildcats host the visiting Ohio Bobcats on Saturday in Evanston, Ill.

The Wildcats (1-2) opened the season with a lopsided loss to Big Ten-rival Michigan State and still have plenty to fix before heading back into the rest of the nine-game conference slate. Northwestern has been weak offensively, ranking 104th nationally with 22.7 points per game, and now appears to be undergoing a switch at quarterback.

Starter Hunter Johnson was benched during the Wildcats’ 30-23 loss at Duke on Saturday after four first-half turnovers. Northwestern trailed 27-0 at the time. His replacement, Andrew Marty, led three scoring drives but was knocked out of the game late with an unspecified injury. The third quarterback, Ryan Hilinski, failed to move Northwestern.

If that wasn’t bad enough, coach Pat Fitzgerald also needs to solve his team’s turnover problem while also picking which quarterback gets the starting honors. Northwestern has seven lost turnovers in three games.

“We’ve got to play cleaner football,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a point of emphasis. We can’t keep doing this stuff.”

The Wildcats will get no sympathy from Ohio, which has been awful in the three games under new head coach Tim Albin. Albin, who was elevated to the role after the sudden retirement of 16-year head coach Frank Solich in July, has a team that has done very little right so far.

Ohio ranks 120th (out of 130 teams) in scoring offense with just 16.3 points per game, and is tied for 114th nationally in scoring defense (35.3 ppg allowed). The Bobcats have been blown out by Syracuse (29-9) and Louisiana (49-14). Between those games, Ohio was stunned at home by an FCS team in a 28-26 loss to Duquesne.

“We’re looking at everything,” Albin said. “Personnel changes, making things simpler. Tackling better is going to help.”

Neither team has tackled well in the early going, and whoever can show progress there will have an upper hand.

Ohio is allowing 5.51 yards per carry and 253.7 rushing yards per game (124th nationally). The Wildcats are only marginally better, giving up 189.3 rushing yards per game and 5.07 per carry (106th).

–Field Level Media

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