After months of debates about who should be the starting quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes, coach Urban Meyer seems no closer to a final decision than he did in the spring, and that’s a problem. After coming into the game as heavy favorites, OSU needed a spirited defensive performance to help overcome five turnovers to stave off the perennial Mid-American Conference powerhouse Huskies of Northern Illinois at Ohio Stadium, 20-13.
NIU has consistently played at an above-average MAC level over the past five years, culminating in 57 wins and no more than 3 losses in a season, including wins at Northwestern, Iowa and Purdue the past two seasons. The Huskies have consistently proven to be the best football team from the state of Illinois. Yet this game should not have been this close.
OSU’s offense went from bad last week against a mediocre Hawaii team to horrendous this week inside the ‘Shoe. Redshirt junior Cardale Jones got the nod for starting quarterback once again, only to disappoint with two interceptions. After he was benched in favor of redshirt sophomore J.T. Barrett, OSU’s offense continued to struggle to find its groove.
OSU edged NIU in total yards (298-190) and first downs (14-10), though the offense was hardly anything to brag about as the Buckeyes went two for 13 on third downs, with five costly turnovers along the way.
Neither OSU quarterback was able to breach 100 yards passing, though junior running back Ezekiel Elliott was still able to pound away 108 yards on the ground in 23 carries. Sophomore linebacker Darron Lee intercepted a pass from NIU redshirt junior quarterback Drew Hare and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown to help lead the Buckeye defense.
On the other side of the ball, NIU’s offense was almost as bad, punting 10 times and throwing two interceptions in the game. However, it was able to capitalize off OSU’s sloppiness with 10 points coming off Buckeye turnovers. Hare threw for 80 yards on 14-of-31 passing with two interceptions, while junior running back Joel Bouagnon had 78 yards on the ground. Sophomore cornerback Shawun Lurry led the NIU defense with two key interceptions.
By the numbers:
20 – The fewest points NIU gave up this season, which was to OSU. Football Championship Subdivision school Murray State put up 26 on the Huskies, while winless UNLV posted 30 points earlier in the season.
1 – The difference in the number of wins by NIU (57) and OSU (56) over the past five seasons.
0 – The number of times OSU has fallen to a MAC team (The MAC didn’t exist when Akron defeated the Buckeyes in 1894).
39 – The number of games since the Buckeyes were last held to 20 points or fewer (Sept. 29, 2012, against Michigan State, a 17-16 OSU victory).