Doug Harris
Doug Harris

Doug Harris was a sports writer for the Dayton Daily News from 1997-2013, covering Ohio State football and University of Dayton basketball.  He won the Associated Press award for the best game story in Ohio for his coverage of the Buckeyes’ 2002 national championship win. He also won numerous state AP awards during his 10 years at the Springfield News-Sun. He was a four-year UD varsity basketball player, starting at guard in 1976-77 and serving as co-captain in 1978-79. Between his newspaper stints, he served for seven years as an area director for Young Life, an international Christian outreach ministry. He and his wife Dott live in Springfield and have two grown daughters and seven grandchildren.

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Sophomore quarterback passes for four touchdowns in 52-3 win … Northwestern has early running success, but defense has another solid showing … First-half fun even includes 55-yard field goal.

Ohio State night games at Northwestern just have a weird vibe.

The 2002 national champs pulled out a 27-16 win, but Maurice Clarett fumbled three times and ended up in a screaming match with his position coach.

The Buckeyes were handed an overtime loss in 2004. That was Jim Tressel’s worst team, but still …

And the gifted 2013 gang posted a 40-30 victory — but that was a one-score game until a bunch of laterals by the Wildcats on the last play morphed into a Buckeye TD.

Crowd noise is nonexistent. Ohio State almost has more fans than the home team.

The field usually looks like it hasn’t seen a lawn mower in weeks … or it’s ultra-slick because the sprinklers were kept on all day, making the speedier Buckeyes look a shade sluggish.

And the Wildcats, while always outmanned, are well coached and have enough fight in them to turn the game into an unentertaining slog.

That was the case Friday night in a rematch of last year’s Big Ten championship combatants. The fourth-ranked Buckeyes (7-0) sputtered offensively at times, scoring on a modest six of 11 possessions while the starters were in the game, and the defense looked vulnerable at the start, giving up 50 rushing yards on the Wildcats’ first seven carries.

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But let’s face it: The Buckeyes were never going to bring the same juice to this game that they will to the upcoming gauntlet of Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan (with perhaps another showdown against Wisconsin for the conference crown). They just needed to look impressive enough to still be considered one of the nation’s thoroughbreds. They did.

Justin Fields was an efficient 18 of 23 for 194 yards and four TDs in the 52-3 victory. He led Ohio State to 24 second-quarter points and a 31-3 lead at halftime, which ended with a rousing 55-yard Blake Haubeil field goal — tied for the second-longest by a Buckeye behind Tom Skladany’s 59-yarder in 1975. Yowzer!

Fields never looks real jacked up. And while a little fire can be contagious, the kid may just operate best in chill mode.

He’s got 22 touchdown passes with one interception this season. He has an FBS-best 30 TDs overall.

Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts are getting more Heisman buzz, but I don’t think the Buckeyes would trade what they’ve got for any of them. Yes, he misses a couple of passes each game, but he makes big-time throws and keeps plays alive with his feet. He’s got the whole package.

Northwestern (1-5) has a dreadfful offense but a solid defense, and it held J.K. Dobbins to just 21 yards on his first nine carries.

The shifty junior ripped off a 68-yard run in the second quarter, though, getting pushed out of bounds at the 5-yard line. He scored on the next snap.

Dobbins, who had 826 yards and a 7.1 average in the first six games, finished with 121 yards and a TD on 18 lugs. He also had three receptions for 30 yards and another score.

The Buckeyes had a 480-199 edge in total yardage. And though tougher tests are looming, their defense keeps playing at a high level.

They’ve surrendered only five touchdowns in seven games — a year after giving up a program-worst 25.5 points per game. They’ve allowed just four plays of 30 or more yards this season compared to 39 in 2018.

No one could have seen that kind of turnaround coming, and first-year coach Ryan Day deserves a lot of credit.

Those may be mostly Urban Meyer’s recruits, but Day had the moxie to give the defensive staff a necessary overhaul.

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THIRD-DOWN MAGIC: Being in third-and-long is far from ideal, but it doesn’t seem to bother the Buckeyes. Call it the Fields Factor.

On their opening TD drive, the sophomore scrambled for a first down on third-and-8, and Dobbins ran for seven yards on third-and-7.

On their next scoring march, Fields converted a third-and-15, throwing to K.J. Hill for a 20-yard gain. He also found Chris Olave for 14 yards on third-and-8.

The Buckeyes will need a healthy offensive line, and there are a couple of guys up front who are hobbled. But they can take comfort in knowing the offense can still hum if Fields is forced to improvise.

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NOT-SO-INSTANT REPLAY: Why do official reviews have to take so long? If college football is serious about addressing its declining attendance, that would be a good place to start.

A second-quarter Northwestern sideline reception clearly was made with the player’s foot out of bounds. We saw it after two replays. The crew on the field, though, needed five minutes to sift through the evidence.

Has anyone seen how little time tennis replays take? A player challenges a call with a raised hand, a replay screen pops up, and the spot where the ball landed is readily seen. Takes seconds.

C’mon people. We can do better.

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