WHAT'S CLICKING: The Buckeye Turnover-Forcing Machine. They entered the game ranked ninth in the nation in turnover margin, having scored 93 points off of takeaways, and got five against the Wildcats. They caused two of NU's fumbles (the third was dropped by quarterback C.J. Bacher), picked off two passes (including one which Brandon Mitchell took to the house) and also blocked a punt. Those five turnovers, plus the big special teams play, were converted into 42 of their 54 points.
"Our defense did a great job of putting the pressure on," said Tressel. "We always talk about having a relentless defense no matter what's happening. That's the way our defense is, they just keep coming after you, and eventually, they're going to put some pressure on you and cause something to happen."
PRIMARY CONCERN: The defense. The turnovers masked the fact that NU, which isn't exactly an offensive juggernaut this season, had plenty of success with Tyrell Sutton, who carried 12 times for 57 yards and had seven catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. At halftime Bacher had out-passed Smith 212 yards to 148.
"We moved the ball pretty well in the first half," said Bacher. "It might have been a whole different ballgame if we didn't turn the ball over."
NU wideout Shaun Herbert, who had four catches for 57 yards -- and was stripped by OSU linebacker James Laurinaitis for the game's first fumble -- had a more blunt assessment: "Northwestern beat Northwestern today."
Against a team that takes care of the ball, like, say, Michigan, can the Buckeyes count on their bend-before-stealing approach? The Wolverines are No. 1 in the Big Ten in turnover margin and have a running back in Mike Hart who simply does not fumble.
X-FACTOR:Chris "Beanie" Wells. Some wondered if the vaunted freshman running back would be phased out of the Buckeyes' rotation altogether due to his penchant for coughing up the ball. He lost his fourth fumble of the year in last week's win over Illinois and sat out the second half. But Wells exploded against the 'Cats on Saturday, running for 99 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries -- and didn't fumble. (First-string back Antonio Pittman, meanwhile, had 19 carries for 81 yards and a score.) "[Wells] is going to need to be a part of something big if we're going to be the best we can be," said Tressel. If Wells, who had been averaging just 41.2 yards per game coming into Saturday, stays hot against Michigan, he adds a scary second dimension to the Buckeyes' backfield.
MOMENTUM METER: Northwestern may have felt like it gave this game away -- coach Pat Fitzgerald said, "You can't gift-wrap it for them; Christmas isn't for a month and a half, and Merry Christmas" -- but the Buckeyes also turned in an impressive performance. They topped their previous high score (44, against both Indiana and Minnesota) by 10, and posted a season-high in takeaways. After the Illinois game, in which they played flat and conservative against one of the league's worst teams, Ohio State needed this.
"We came out and just tried to be perfect all across the board," said Ginn. "To jump off to that 21-0 start with the help of us and our D ... showed that we can play as hard as we can and just be unstoppable."
What comes next won't be as easy. But No. 2 Michigan is what everyone at Ohio State -- even if the Buckeyes, like Smith, claim to take the season "game by game" -- has been waiting for. And it has finally arrived. As one Buckeyes assistant remarked while running off of Ryan Field, "Now, the week begins."