For the second consecutive week, The Ohio State University Buckeyes struggled at home against an unranked opponent. While the Buckeyes managed to defeat the Northern Illinois Huskies 20-13 Saturday, Buckeye fans will not view the game fondly. Ohio State committed a startling five turnovers – three interceptions and two fumbles – while managing only one offensive touchdown. The Buckeyes’ defenders answered the bell all afternoon, forcing two turnovers of their own and a score. Northern Illinois had the ball with a chance to tie the game as late as the 1:17 mark of the fourth quarter before the Silver Bullets applied the clamps. Let’s take a look back at how it went down.
14:36, Third-and-15. Junior Cardale Jones’ pass is intercepted by sophomore Shawun Lurry and returned to the Ohio State 33-yard line. The ball did not look right coming out of Jones’ hand, possibly the rain playing havoc.
13:18, First-and-goal. Northern Illinois wideout (and Akron native) Aregeros Turner rushes into the end zone untouched for a five-yard score, giving the Huskies an early 7-0 lead.
10:50, Fourth-and-1. Slightly into NIU territory, head coach Urban Meyer calls for a run up the gut on fourth down. It seems tailback Ezekiel Elliott would have had enough to move the chains, but he fumbles and Huskies linebacker Sean Folliard recovers.
6:30, Fourth-and-6. Jack Willoughby kicks a 31-yard field goal to bring the score to 7-3.
First Quarter Analysis
Turnovers told the story early on. Jones threw a bad interception that the Huskies immediately exchanged for a score. Elliott could not hold on to the ball on a first down run. Eli Apple picked off a Drew Hare pass leading to a field goal. Overall, the Ohio State rush defense did their best work after bad turnovers to hold NIU to only seven points. Cardale Jones has a very strong arm, but he does not look comfortable trying to run read option scheme. The Huskies defense is sending a lot of pressure and seems to know where Ohio State’s plays are going.
Ohio State’s offense seems to be running most of their plays towards the sidelines. The offense has yet to really attack between the tackles or challenge the safeties downfield. The only deep passes Jones attempted were intercepted.
14:00, First-and-10. Lurry records his second interception of the day, picking off Jones and returning the ball to the Ohio State 29-yard line. Cardale walks to the sideline and sits down as J.T. Barrett begins to warm up.
12:12, First-and-10. The sun is out to play and so is Barrett. The redshirt sophomore takes over at quarterback in relief of Cardale Jones.
13:20, Fourth-and-2. Sophomore kicker Christina Hagan kicks a 38-yard field goal staking Northern Illinois to a 10-3 lead.
8:44, Second-and-4. Barrett completes 23-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas. On his second drive, Barrett and the Buckeye offense go uptempo while engineering a 44-yard drive that ends in a well-placed touchdown toss to level the score at 10.
4:08, Fourth-and-4. On the NIU 31-yard line, Urban Meyer elects to go for it, but the Huskies defend the pass and force a turnover on downs. It would have been a 48-yard field goal attempt. Urban always plays more on the aggressive side, but it does lead one to wonder how much faith he has in senior Jack Willoughby that he did not go for points in that situation.
If you had told NIU coach Rod Carey before the game his team would be tied 10-10 with the defending National Champions at the half, he no doubt would have taken it. Considering how poorly Ohio State played the first thirty minutes, however, it seems like the home team felt luckier to have a close score at intermission.
The strongest part of Ohio State’s first half performance was defense and special teams. While the three turnovers were difficult to swallow, the defensive front continued to stand tall against the Husky rushing attack. Northern Illinois seems content to try and run up the gut or dink-and-dunk their way up the field. The defensive line is doing a strong job negating their run game and forcing incompletions.
9:09, Fourth-and-3. Jack Willoughby connects on 24-yard field goal. J.T. Barrett used a hurry up approach to lead the Ohio State offense down the field. He distributed the ball well, and scrambled for good yardage. Ohio State leads for the first time, 13-10.
3:03, First-and-10. After marching to the NIU 40, Sean Folliard intercepts a J.T. Barrett pass and returns it to the NIU 45. The pick marks the third interception of the game for Ohio State, first by Barrett, and fourth turnover overall.
1:44, First-and-10. Possibly the play of the game, Darron Lee intercepts Drew Hare and returns it to the house for a 41-yard score. All afternoon the defense held firm after a Buckeye turnover, but this was the most immediate reversal of fortune for the home team. Buckeyes take a 20-10 lead.
Third quarter analysis
Ohio State scored ten unanswered points in the quarter to claim a 20-10 lead. While turnovers continue to plague the Buckeyes, Ohio State’s defense continues to hold firm, shutting out the Huskies for the quarter.
13:26, Third-and-8. Adolphus Washington sacks Drew Hare for a clutch seven-yard loss. Washington made his presence felt all afternoon. Hare will see him in his sleep this week.
7:55, Third-and-6. Trying to close out their longest drive of the day, NIU held the ball on Ohio State’s 9-yard line. Hare lofted a pass to the end zone that sophomore Gareon Conley perfectly defended. The Huskies settled for a field goal which drew the score to 20-13 with less than eight minutes to go in the game.
4:24, First-and-10. With time winding down, Ohio State held the ball in NIU territory with a chance to ice the game. Curtis Samuel received the ball on a jet sweep and fumbled the ball. Husky linebacker Bobby Jones IV recovered the ball to give NIU another chance to tie or win the contest. The flub marked the fifth turnover on the day for Ohio State’s offense.
1:17, Fourth-and-10. After exchanging punts, NIU again held the ball, down a touchdown against the No. 1 ranked team in the country. The Huskies failed to gain any yardage on their last possession, and their final pass harmlessly skipped across the turf. Ohio State took over on downs and knelt twice to polish off a 20-13 victory
Stars of the game
Northern Illinois: Cornerback Shawun Lurry picked off Cardale Jones twice, gaining a combined 45 yards after the picks. Additionally he recorded two tackles and nearly collected a third interception in the end zone. Arguably Lurry was a big reason Meyer decided to bench Jones in the second quarter.
Ohio State: Senior Adolphus Washington greatly disrupted NIU’s offensive line. He recorded five total tackles – three solo and two assists – as well as a sack for a seven-yard loss. Washington seemed to be in the Husky backfield as much as Drew Hare. He pressured the quarterback all afternoon and did not allow hare to get comfortable on the road.
Fans who thought the Hawaii win was ugly had no idea this game was coming. While Northern Illinois never truly threatened late, the fact that they had the ball and a chance to tie in the dying embers of the fourth quarter does not reflect well on Ohio State. On the plus side, minus their first series, the Silver Bullet defense stymied the usually potent Northern Illinois attack. Drew Hare completed only 14-of-31 passes for 80 yards and was picked off twice. The offense? Yikes. While the Buckeyes looked better with Barrett running tempo there were not enough cohesive plays or consistent drives to feel good about. Here is the direct comparison between Jones and Barrett for the day.
I would not be surprised to see No. 16 get the nod against Western Michigan next week.