Gareon Conley came up clutch against Hawaii and was key to the Buckeyes' shutout. Now Ohio State faces another potent passing offense, and Conley will once again be under pressure.
Weight: 195 lbs.
Current Stat Line: 9 total tackles, 4 solo, .5 sack, 1 int
It came out after the Hawaii game that Conley almost went to Michigan, but Meyer and assistant coach/fireplug Kerry Coombs wouldn't let him get away:
"I said to Gareon, 'I saw your film, and I only had the job only a short period of time, and I went in and said, 'We gotta get this kid. This kid has to be a Buckeye,' " Coombs said. "The (former defensive line coach) Mike Vrabel looked at me and said, 'Let's get it done.' And we did. So for me, this is where Gareon belongs. And I think that's what he feels."
Good thing Conley made the right choice.
The game situation
During his weekly press conference, Urban Meyer had praise for Northern Illinois:
When you have a team that’s really good on video, it’s all about preparation," said Meyer on Monday at his weekly press conference at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. "Our players will respect them. I don’t anticipate a problem with that. Because they’re good. They’ve beaten Northwestern, Purdue, Iowa, and Minnesota, and they beat — I wouldn’t call those upsets. I think these guys are very good."
NIU is off to a hot start this season, already beating UNLV by 8 and weakling Murray State by 31. NIU's two QBs are averaging over 10 yards per passing attempt, and Drew Hare is hitting a 78% completion rate. Three Husky receivers have already notched 30+ yard receptions. The passing attackis legit.
On the rushing side of things, NIU's top 2 rushers are averaging about 5.5 yards per carry, and have 5 TDs between them through two games. 5.5 yards per carry is nothing to sneeze at, although they Huskies haven't faced the hulking Buckeye defensive line yet.
Going into Saturday, the potency of the Husky's passing attack must be an area of concern. MAC or not, NIU is a legitimate contender. If their offensive line holds and gives Drew Hare time to throw, all the pressure will be on the Buckeye secondary.
What to watch for
After letting some big plays through against Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes secondary was fantastic against Hawaii. Remarkably, the Silver Bullets were able to drape themselves all over the Rainbow Warrior receivers without interfering or drawing penalties. Conley was excellent all on his own, grabbing a key interception to maintain Ohio State' momentum after Darron Lee's boneheaded punter roughing. Hawaii's longest drive of the day took place mainly through runs - their vaunted passing game never materialized.
Eli Apple sets the bar very high for cornerback play, and so far Conley has been matching him. If these two are able to keep up their lockdown defense, Ohio State's tall linebackers and fast safeties will have a much easier job covering the middle of the field. Conley has been able to handle his receiver on straight man-to-man play so far, freeing other Buckeyes up for pass rush or run defense. That must continue.
No one would call NIU a "big game" for Ohio State, but Conley's had some growing pains on the big stage. Last year against Michigan State, Conley let two TDs go past him before Eli Apple, initially sidelined with a sore hamstring, replaced him off the bench. Ohio State might be able to afford another Michigan State-type game from Conley, but for his confidence's sake and for the sanity of Buckeye Nation, those days need to be behind him.
Eli Apple has off games, but he's got a longer and more solid track record than Conley at this point. Conley's CB play needs to continue at this high level all season, and this pass-heavy NIU offense will be another good proving point. If Conley comes through again, another shutout might be in the making.