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Ohio State looks to get its groove back against perhaps the most average team in the country

The Buckeyes look to correct some offensive inefficiencies against Northern Illinois.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Northern Illinois is one of the most average teams in the country. Looking at the Huskies' S&P+, they are ranked higher than exactly 50.1% (64th overall) of the teams in the country. By comparison, Hawaii was 112th, or better than just 10.7% of teams. But the crucial difference is that the Huskies don't operate out of an odd base defensive front.

Prediction Machine gives Ohio State a 99.7% chance of beating Northern Illinois. Bill's and Brian's F/+ picks give Ohio State a 96.7% of winning this week (by 32 points).

The point is, the Buckeyes' performance here should be fairly representative for their performance against many of the teams on their schedule, and Ohio State should win big.

Note: Only S&P+ stats are 2015 -- all others are from 2014.

The Buckeyes offense vs. the Huskies defense

S&P+ FEI Rushing S&P+ Passing S&P+ Success Rate+ IsoPPP+ Line
OSU 13 7 1 2 3 20 2/74
NI 105 97 89 86 85 32 103/51

The Buckeyes certainly stalled through three quarters against Hawaii's 3-4 odd front defense despite the talent differential. Part of this can be attributed to Hawaii's unique defense, part to the quick turnaround, and part to still not totally identifying the offensive identity, from play calling to go-to playmakers.

Ohio State will look to correct each of those issues against the Huskies. The Huskies were bend-don't-break, allowing a poor per-play success rate, but maintaining the 32nd-best explosive defense. The issues are primarily up front, where the defensive line was ranked just 103rd and the Huskies 89th overall in rushing S&P+. This likely spells a lot of Ezekiel Elliott and Braxton runs -- the question will be whether they come early or close out the game with heavy running. While the stats suggest that the Buckeyes can have a fairly straight forward ground-and-pound game plan, who knows if that's how Meyer and Warinner will call the game. Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson, and Corey Smith are still easing in to their roles, while starting receiver Parris Campbell has yet to record a reception -- will the coaches try and get these outside weapons practice for later in the season?

Overall the numbers suggest that the Buckeyes -- and particularly the offensive line -- can push the Huskies front seven around. The lone bright spot for the Huskies is their explosive play defense. The big question then for the Buckeyes will be whether they run a conservative or aggressive offensive game plan and are able to correct last week's protection and passing issues.

Watch for:

  • Whether the offensive line and quarterbacks turn it around against yet another inferior, but different, defensive front.
  • If the Buckeyes go aggressive to work their wide receivers like Marshall, Wilson, Campbell, Samuel and Smith, or rely on Elliott and the line to win the game on the ground.
  • Will the offense identify their primary play makers and overall identity?
  • Can Braxton find some explosive plays against a fairly successful bend-don't-break defensive front?
  • The Buckeyes relied on explosive plays to a large degree so far in 2015, sacrificing efficiency for highlight reel moments -- but against a defense that (relatively) excelled in preventing big plays, will they have the efficiency or early success rate to still be successful and cover a large spread?

The Buckeyes defense vs. the Huskies offense

S&P+ FEI Rushing S&P+ Passing S&P+ Success Rate+ IsoPPP+ Line
OSU 3 7 42 8 34 28 47/11
NI 19 63 72 68 32 81 53/27

Much like when Jordan Lynch commanded the Huskies offense, quarterback Drew Hare put up similarly efficient numbers but with almost zero explosive capabilities, averaging just 6.7 yards per attempt. Hare also paced the Northern Illinois run game as the leading returning rusher with 927 total yards at 6.5 yards per carry and an efficient 47.6% opportunity rate.

But Hare struggled with fumbles, dropping seven and losing five. And there's a large drop off in rushing efficiency behind Hare and the lead tailback, Joel Bouagnon. From both the opportunity rates for Hare and Bouagnon (39.2%), it's easy to see how the Huskies were able to get to 32nd in Success Rate+, but there wasn't much explosive power from the offense.

While the Huskies offensive line protected Hare well, he doesn't return a receiver that averaged more than eight yards per target. The receiving corps is fairly deep with many high percentage catch rate options. The thing to watch will be long, steady drives and a lack of focus from the defense. The Huskies solved the turnover issues and possession efficiency problems at least against Murray State last week, reaching scoring opportunities on 73% of their drives and averaging 7.6 yards per play.

Watch for:

  • A warning sign will be early long and efficient rushing drives that break in to scoring opportunities for the Huskies; a missed assignment or lack of focus could lead to a broken explosive play for a typically unexplosive offense.
  • Turnovers by the Husky offense, which factored in to their poor drive efficiency relative to their per-play efficiency last season. The Buckeye defense will look to play aggressively and add to that turnover margin. Expect plenty of Vonn Bell roaming and Tyvis Powell playing close to the line.