Before Ohio State’s Week 3 matchup against Northern Illinois, The Lantern’s sports editors Ryan Cooper and Kevin Stankiewicz gave their five things to watch for. Here is what came of those five elements of the 20-13 OSU victory.
Will OSU’s secondary maintain its lockdown play?
After holding Hawaii quarterback Max Wittek to just 67 passing yards and two interceptions last week, the Ohio State secondary did much of the same against NIU redshirt junior Drew Hare.
Hare came into the game with 359 passing yards per game, good for seventh in the nation, as well as throwing six touchdowns and no interceptions.
After the game, the O’Fallon, Missouri, native could only add 80 yards to that total, no touchdowns and his first two interceptions of the year.
It was on Hare’s first pass attempt when the secondary first made its presence felt, as redshirt sophomore cornerback Eli Apple picked off a pass.
Apple and fellow redshirt sophomore cornerback Gareon Conley kept up the strong play throughout the game, especially on Hare’s favorite target: redshirt junior wide receiver Kenny Golladay.
Golladay, a transfer from North Dakota, entered the day second in the country in receiving yards with 357 on 17 catches. Golladay, like his quarterback, saw those numbers take a major hit as he only caught three catches for 19 yards.
“Our secondary across the boards is as fine as any secondary I’ve had,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said. “We’ve had some really good secondaries over the years.”
Can Willoughby keep it in-bounds?
After OSU’s strategy of having redshirt senior kicker Jack Willoughby aim his kickoffs for the left-side corner led to three penalties in the first two games, Meyer abandoned that strategy and had the Duke transfer kick inside the hashmarks.
The more conservative style was successful for the Buckeyes, as none of Willoughby’s five kickoffs were penalized.
Three of those kicks went for touchbacks, while two were returned for a total of 35 yards.
NIU junior kicker Josh Orne, on the other hand, had three of his four kicks go out of bounds.
Willoughby completed his perfect day by converting field goals of 31 and 24 yards and hitting on both extra-point attempts.
Offensive line play
Even though OSU’s offensive line created the holes for junior running back Ezekiel Elliott to rack up his eighth straight 100-yard game against the Huskies, the unit still was not overly impressive.
The Buckeyes only averaged 4.4 yards per carry and NIU was able to get into the backfield and apply pressure on both OSU quarterbacks — redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett and redshirt junior Cardale Jones.
Senior left tackle Taylor Decker said he is aggravated with the unit’s struggles.
“It is very frustrating because I know we’re capable of executing much better,” he said.
The senior said he feels that the play of “The Slobs” is holding back the offense, but he reiterated that he thinks a resurgence similar to last season is in the future, saying he has “ all the confidence in the world” in the line.
As for the origin of the struggles, Meyer said a lot of it has to do with the constant change in the types of defenses the Buckeyes have faced early on.
He said the line and the coaching staff have “a long way to go” to get back to last year’s level.
“The good thing is we’re going to devote a lot time to getting this thing right,” Meyer said.
Will Bosa make his presence felt?
After a mundane performance in his season opener against Hawaii, junior defensive end Joey Bosa reminded the nation why he was a unanimous All-American in 2014.
Bosa disrupted NIU’s offensive line all night, as he ended with 6 tackles, half of a sack and three quarterback hurries. Two of those hurries came on third-down plays that forced Hare to make poor throws leading to incompletions.
Bosa also made a key tackle on special teams when NIU’s punter dropped the snap on a fourth-and-one.
As the punter tried to scramble and pick up the first down, Bosa stopped him cold, which allowed the Buckeyes to take over on offense already in Husky territory.
Bosa’s strong performance early on caused NIU to place a lot of attention on him, allowing other members of the defense to consistently make plays. It was a strong outing for No. 97.
Can Cardale Jones get it together?
After quarterback Cardale Jones nearly got pulled in the opening game at Virginia Tech and did get pulled in Week 2 against Hawaii but regained his job in the second half, the poor performance by the redshirt junior on Saturday might have cost him his job moving forward.
Jones was brutal in his slightly more than one quarter of work, completing just four of nine passes for 36 yards and threw two interceptions.
The first pick he threw seemed to slip out of his hand due to the wet conditions at the time, while the second was on a miscommunicated route with redshirt senior H-back Braxton Miller.
Taking away a 25-yard pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Michael Thomas, Jones was just 2-of-6 for seven yards in his first three drives.
It remains to be seen if Jones will lose his starting spot to redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett, who completed 11 of 19 passes for 97 yards, a touchdown and an interception. After the game, Meyer said he doesn’t know who the starting quarterback next week against Western Michigan will be.
After Jones got the start against Virginia Tech in the opener, Meyer said Jones was the first-stringer because that’s where he ended the 2014 season, and he did nothing in training camp to lose the spot. Now three games into the season, it seems like he has done plenty.