After looking a bit sluggish off of a short week in the home opener against Hawaii, Ohio State is back on their regular preparation schedule when they host Northern Illinois on Saturday. The Buckeye offense didn't exactly look as fluid as many had expected heading into the Hawaii game, but the defense made up for the the lack of offense with their suffocating shutout against the Rainbow Warriors. Ohio State will be looking to improve on their dominance against the MAC, who the Buckeyes have amassed a 30-1 record against.
This marks only the second meeting of the Buckeyes and Huskies, with Ohio State winning the 2006 season-opening matchup 35-12 in Columbus. Heading into the game, Ohio State was also ranked first in the AP Poll, which they sit atop heading into Saturday's game. During their first meeting Ohio State was coached by Jim Tressel, who will be honored for his induction into the Ohio State Hall of Fame, along with Joey Galloway, Tim Anderson, and 11 other Buckeyes.
Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey has followed in the footsteps of previous coaches Jerry Kill and Dave Doeren in making the Huskies one of the most successful teams in the country in recent history. Carey has posted a 25-6 record during his time in Dekalb after taking over for Doeren following the 2012 season. The Huskies have used a dynamic offense over the past five years to stay at the top of the MAC despite their head coaching turnover.
This year is no different for Northern Illinois, as Drew Hare has found a new favorite target in North Dakota transfer Kenny Golladay. In his first game for the Huskies, Golladay racked up 213 yards on nine catches in the 38-30 win over UNLV. Through two games this season, Golladay's 357 receiving yards sit just three yards behind Baylor's Corey Coleman for best in the country. Coleman and Golladay are the only FBS receivers to amass over 300 yards this year. Golladay teamed with Tommylee Lewis, who caught 86 passes in 2013 before being injured for most of last season, create quite a receiving tandem which might be one of the strongest duos the Buckeyes might face all year.
Ohio State's biggest advantages
A return to normalcy. Last week wasn't exactly the most sparkling offensive performance for Urban Meyer's offense, but a lot of it could be blamed on the short week that followed the Buckeyes win over Virginia Tech last Monday night. Add in Ohio State getting back Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith, and Dontre' Wilson from suspension on offense and it looked as if the offense wasn't quite ready to run at full power last week. The streak of 24 straight games with a touchdown pass, which equaled a school-best stretch from 1994-96, was snapped against Hawaii, along with the streak of seven straight games with at least 40 points. One streak that did survive last week was Ohio State scored three touchdowns or more for the 31st straight game, which is by far the best active streak in the country with Baylor sitting in second at 18 games straight.
Take away the 80-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the season and Ezekiel Elliott is only averaging 3.9 yards per carry on his other 37 totes of the football. No wide receiver has 100 yards for the season so far. Still it's not time to start thinking the sky is falling when it comes to the offense. In their first game of the year, Northern Illinois allowed UNLV to pass for over 300 yards and rush for 164 yards on the ground. Last week the Huskies gave up 26 points to Murray State. Northern Illinois might be a little easier to crack than Hawaii was with their exotic blitz packages. This very well might be the game where we see the Ohio State offense finally click on all cylinders after showing glimpses of being able to do so early in the year.
Deep cover. If there has been one consistent bright spot this year for the Buckeyes, it has been the secondary. Vonn Bell is starting this season much the same way he ended his sophomore season. The junior got onto the scoreboard in the fourth quarter with a 14-yard fumble return to help Ohio State extend their lead to 31-0. Earlier in the game Bell recorded his eighth career interception for the Buckeyes, and very well could've had a couple more. After just two games, Bell is already leading the Big Ten with five passes defended on the season.
The biggest star in the secondary so far this season just might be cornerback Gareon Conley, who grabbed his first career interception against Hawaii. The redshirt sophomore took over the cornerback spot vacated by Doran Grant, and has shown tremendous improvement from what Ohio State saw out of him last year. After coming into this year with just 16 career tackles, Conley was able to notch a career-high eight tackles against Virginia Tech. The Ohio State secondary will need another shutdown performance this week with Northern Illinois having strong receivers like Kenny Golladay and Tommylee Lewis.
Tres amigos. If the secondary has been the best defensive unit so far, a close second has been the linebackers. So far this year, Joshua Perry and Raekwon McMillan have both recorded 15 tackles, which tie for best on the defense. The biggest playmaker so far among the linebacker has been Darron Lee, who has started this season much like he closed out last year. Following a year in which he registered 16.5 tackles-for-loss, Lee notched two TFLs against Hawaii to bring his total to 3.5 TFLs through just two games this year. During his young career at linebacker, wherever there is a big play to be made on defense, Lee seems to find a way to be in the middle of it.
Last week Hawaii was only able to muster 165 total yards against a dominate Ohio State defense. For the year, opponents are only averaging 2.6 yards per carry against the Buckeyes, which could make for some tough sledding for Northern Illinois running back Joel Bouagnon. The junior has averaged just over 100 yards per game in Northern Illinois' first two contests of the season, but it might be asking a little much to think he'll eclipse the century mark against Ohio State. If Bouagnon has designs on going over 100 yards on the ground, he'll have to channel Garrett Wolfe, who ran for 171 yards against Ohio State when the Buckeyes hosted Northern Illinois back in 2006.
Northern Illinois biggest advantages
Huskies against the world. Since 2010, Northern Illinois has been one of the most successful FBS programs in the country, with their 59 wins ranking fourth in the country over that span. In four straight years the Huskies have won at least 11 games. In each of the past five years Northern Illinois has earned a berth in the MAC Championship Game, winning three of the five contests. Their 2012 season was capped by an Orange Bowl berth against Florida State, and had it not been for a loss against Bowling Green in the 2013 MAC title game, the Huskies might have made two straight BCS games.
Success against the Big Ten has been plentiful for Northern Illinois lately, with the Huskies winning their last three games against the conference, and five of their last eight. Head coach Rod Carey has been at helm of the past three victories, with two of them coming in 2013 against Iowa and Purdue, and the latest coming last year against Northwestern. All three of those victories came on the road, where the Huskies have been a monster lately, winning 19 of their past 20 true road contests. The only loss during that span came in 2014 when Northern Illinois fell 52-14 at Arkansas. The Huskies have also found a great deal of success lately in the state of Ohio, winning their last seven games in the Buckeye State.
Beefing up the offensive line. Since Carey took over in Dekalb in 2012, one of the points of emphasis has been to strength an offensive line that was a little light. The Huskies line has been hitting the buffet table the last few years, with the 10 offensive lineman on the 2015 two-deep roster weighing in at an average of 311.4 pounds this year after averaging just 291.9 pounds in 2012. While mass isn't everything, it definitely won't hurt the Huskies when they try to slow down Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, and the rest of the Ohio State defensive line.
The elder statesmen of the Northern Illinois offensive line are center Andrew Ness and guard Aidan Conlon, who have each started 44 consecutive games for the Huskies. Since the first starts of their career, Ness has gone from 286 pounds to 314 pounds, and Conlon has gone from 267 pounds to 305 pounds. The Huskies might not have the number of returning starters that the Buckeyes do, but Ness and Conlon provide the veteran leadership needed to help make the Northern Illinois offense dangerous.
A string of successful quarterbacks. During their run of success of the past five years, Northern Illinois has produced a number of strong quarterbacks. Chandler Harnish was the first to make a name for himself in Dekalb, accumulating over 11,000 yards of total offense during his four seasons at Northern Illinois. Next up was Jordan Lynch, who threw for at least 2,800 yards and ran for at least 1,800 years in his two years as starter for the Huskies. The 2013 campaign where Lynch accounted for 47 touchdowns were impressive enough to earn him first team AP All-American All Purpose honors.
Now enter redshirt junior Drew Hare, who was named starting quarterback following last year's win over Northwestern, and has been a force since. Last year Hare was extremely efficient as quarterback, going 9-3 to finish out there season. What Hare does well is he makes good decisions with the football, as evidenced by the 18 touchdown and only two interceptions he tossed last year. Hare isn't quite as electric of a dual-threat as Lynch was, but he can still get the job done on the ground. Last year Hare rushed for 900 and eight touchdowns, so Ohio State can't just sit back and dare Northern Illinois to beat them through the air, a luxury they had last week when they matched up with Hawaii quarterback Max Wittek.
F/+ Projection: Ohio State 47, Northern Illinois 15
Win Probability: Ohio State 97%
This shouldn't be too much of a test for the Buckeyes, and if it ends up being a tight game there might be some reasoning for Buckeye Nation to panic. Northern Illinois is the class of the MAC, but they don't possess the athletes or depth that Ohio State has on their roster. Still the Buckeyes can't think just by showing up for the game they'll dominate. Northern Illinois does have some weapons on offense that Ohio State will have to key in on if they hope to have the same dominating defensive performance as they did last week against Hawaii.
Northern Illinois has given up some points in their first two contests, so this could be a good spot for the Buckeye offense to gain some momentum on their way to turning into the juggernaut we saw to close out last season. Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett both struggled at quarterback last week against the Rainbow Warriors, but it's hard to see them doing the same against a Northern Illinois defense that gave up over 300 yards passing to UNLV's Blake Decker to start the year.
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