Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald lets defensive coordinator go

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports
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EVANSTON, Ill. – Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is shaking up his staff after the Wildcats’ worst season in 33 years, announcing that defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil and two other assistant coaches will not return.

Defensive line coach Marty Long and wide receivers coach Dennis Springer also were let go after the Wildcats finished 1-11 for their worst record since the 1989 team went 0-11. The lost 17 of their last 18 games.

Northwestern opened the season with a win in Ireland over Nebraska, which later fired coach Scott Frost. The Wildcats went into a tailspin after that and ranked among the worst in the nation in run defense and total offense.

Fitzgerald is 110-101 in 17 seasons leading his alma mater and is by far the school’s winningest coach. He led the Wildcats to Big Ten West championships in 2018 and 2020 plus five bowl victories. But they are 4-20 over the past two seasons.

Williams runs for 2 TDs, No. 2 Ohio St gets by Northwestern

Ohio State v Northwestern
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EVANSTON, Ill. – Ryan Day was more than willing to take the win and move on from this one. The way the wind was blowing and rain was falling, it was hard to blame the coach.

Miyan Williams ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns, and No. 2 Ohio State overcame the ugly weather and a stiff challenge from Northwestern to win 21-7 on Saturday.

The Buckeyes (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten, No. 2 CFP) came in tied with Tennessee in the AP poll and trailing only the Volunteers in the season’s first College Football Playoff rankings. But what figured to be an easy win turned into a struggle.

The heavy rain that fell at times and gusting winds that blew passes off course all afternoon helped make it that way. Northwestern’s physical play, particularly in the early going, only added to the difficulties.

“I’ve never been around conditions like this,” Day said. “It must have been 30-mile-an-hour winds. And if you’ve ever tried to golf in 30-mile-an-hour winds, it’s hard to get off the tee, (let alone) throw a football. We saw this coming, so we had a plan. … There were times I was concerned about the snap coming back.”

The Buckeyes didn’t score until the closing minutes of the first half, when Emeka Egbuka ran it in from the 15.

Williams gave Ohio State the lead with a 27-yard touchdown in the third quarter and celebrated by making snow angels in the grass. He made it 21-7 when he scored from the 2 with about 4 1/2 minutes remaining in the game after C.J. Stroud broke a 44-yard run, and the Buckeyes came away with a tougher-than-expected win.

Stroud, the Big Ten leader in yards passing, set a career low with 76. He completed just 10 of 26 passes in his only game this year without a touchdown throw. But he ran for 79 yards, a big number particularly for a quarterback with minus-4 yards rushing coming in.

“We had to find another way to win,” Stroud said. “I’m like that every game, where I tell coach run me if he wants to, or if he doesn’t it’s up to him.”

The Buckeyes set by far a season low with 283 yards and matched one in scoring. But they made enough plays to pick up their 10th consecutive win against Northwestern and 34th in the past 35 meetings.

SLIDE CONTINUES

The Wildcats (1-8, 1-5) dropped their eighth straight, matching their worst skid since the 1998 team lost eight in a row. They are 5-17 since falling to Ohio State in the 2020 conference championship game.

“A lot of good happened today,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Unfortunately, the bad is the outcome on the scoreboard. I thought our staff put together a really good plan to be prepared for the elements, and I think we pretty much executed it except for a couple plays. Those ended up being the difference in the game.”

Evan Hull ran for 122 yards and a touchdown. Brendan Sullivan threw for 79, completing 10 of 14 passes, and Northwestern remained winless since beating Nebraska in Ireland to start the season.

SLOW START

Ohio State came came in averaging 48.9 points – second only to Tennessee – and hadn’t scored fewer than 44 in a Big Ten game. But the Buckeyes had a tough time getting going.

Northwestern, which has not beaten a top-five team since knocking off No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 5 Iowa in the first two games of the 1959 season, grabbed a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter when Hull took a direct snap and scored from the 16.

Egbuka turned up the right side and scored from the 15 to tie it at 7 with 2:26 left in the half. Stroud kept that drive going with a 16-yard keeper on fourth down at the Northwestern 37.

Williams, who left last week’s game at Penn State early with an injury, gave Ohio State the lead with 8:44 left when he bounced off a pack, turned to the right and beat three or four defenders for his 27-yard TD. He put this one away with his short score run in the fourth.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Though the Buckeyes remained unbeaten, they could drop a spot or two

THE TAKEAWAY

Ohio State: The Buckeyes asserted themselves more as the game wore on after getting pushed around in the first half and found a way to pull out a difficult game.

Northwestern: Though they hung in against one of the Big Ten’s powerhouses, the Wildcats continue their slide.

UP NEXT

Ohio State: The Buckeyes have a home game against Indiana next week and visit Maryland before a showdown with No. 4 Michigan in Columbus on Nov. 26.

Northwestern: The Wildcats will try to stop their skid when they visit Minnesota.

Northwestern unveils plans for new football stadium

Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
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EVANSTON, Ill. – Northwestern unveiled plans Wednesday to build a new Ryan Field and replace the current 97-year-old football stadium with a state-of-the-art facility featuring a reduced seating capacity and greater emphasis on the fan experience.

The school said the stadium would seat 35,000, down more than 12,000 from the current Ryan Field, and feature a canopy designed to keep noise and light focused on the field. It would include cutting-edge technology and scoreboards, as well as concessions with food from local restaurants.

Northwestern said the stadium would achieve Gold LEED certification, and “set a new standard” for accessibility. The plan calls for plazas outside, a community park and other green spaces that could be used year-round.

Northwestern said it is also considering hosting “a limited number” of concerts.

The project that athletic director Derrick Gragg called “transformational” was made possible a year ago by a $480 million donation from the family of Patrick and Shirley Ryan that was the largest in school history. Some of that money is also funding academic ventures. The school said the Ryans have committed to increasing the donation to ensure the funding for the stadium and plazas does not come at the cost of “research, scholarship, student aid, tuition or staff and faculty support.”

It’s not clear where the football team would play during construction, assuming the city of Evanston, Illinois, approves the project. The school said it is “exploring all options.”

The current Ryan Field opened in 1926 and expanded in 1949 and 1952. The stadium underwent an extensive renovation in 1997 supported by a gift from the Ryans.

In recent years, Northwestern has also constructed a sparkling lakefront practice facility and overhauled its basketball arena.