Cardale Jones started the game and J.T. Barrett finished it, but the Ohio State defense stole the show as the nation’s top ranked team held on for a 20-13 win over Northern Illinois.
A week after a lackluster performance against Hawaii, the Buckeye offense struggled once again as they turned the ball over five times Saturday afternoon at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State (3-0) got a boost from its defense, though, as the Buckeyes held Northern Illinois (2-1) to just 190 yards of total offense.
The Huskies took the game’s first lead after Jones was intercepted on Ohio State’s opening drive before Barrett entered the game in the second quarter. He found Michael Thomas to tie the game on his second drive, but the Buckeyes managed just three points on offense in the second half.
An interception return for a touchdown by Darron Lee with 1:44 to play in the third quarter sealed the win as the Buckeyes narrowly avoided the upset.
Jones completed just four of nine passes with two interceptions and didn’t return to the game after Barrett took over. Barrett completed 11 of 19 passes for just 97 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Ezekiel Elliott hit the century mark once again with 23 carries for 108 yards on the ground, despite an early fumble.
Vonn Bell and Joshua Perry tied for the team lead with 10 total tackles, while Joey Bosa had 2.5 tackles for loss and redshirt-freshman Sam Hubbard tallied 1.5 sacks.
Northern Illinois quarterback Drew Hare found very little room to work as he completed just 14 passes on 31 attempts for 80 yards and two interceptions.
How It Happened
Ohio State had good field position on its opening drive after Northern Illinois kicked the ball out of bounds, but the drive was ill fated as Jones threw an interception on third-and-15.
It took the Huskies just three plays to take the first lead of the game after Hare put Northern Illinois at the Ohio State five-yard line with a 15-yard run. Aregero Turner polished the drive off with a touchdown on the next play, not even three minutes into the game.
Curtis Samuel opened the ensuing drive with a 12-yard run, but things went south from there once again. The Huskies forced a fourth-and-one try from Ohio State, and Elliott fumbled on what would likely have been a first-down run.
After the offense turned the ball over on its first two drives, the Buckeye defense responded with an interception of its own when Eli Apple stepped in front of an errant pass from Hare. Jones and Ohio State found some space from there, but had to settle for a Jack Willoughby field goal from 31 yards away to make it 7-3 with 6:21 to play in the first quarter.
A pair of Northern Illinois punts with an Ohio State boot in between left the Buckeyes with the ball to begin the second quarter, but Jones’ second interception of the day gave the Huskies great field position. Their offense stalled, however, but a 38-yard field goal made their advantage 10-3 with 12:20 on the second-quarter clock.
Barrett replaced Jones after the kick, but a three-and-out kept all the momentum with the Huskies.
A Sam Hubbard sack of Hare on third down quickly gave the ball back to Ohio State and Barrett remained in the game after a 26-yard punt return by Jalin Marshall. A seven-yard completion to Nick Vannett followed by 14 yards on two carries from Elliott set up a 23-yard touchdown strike from Barrett to Thomas to tie the game.
The scoring drive featured an up-tempo attack that hadn’t been utilized earlier in the game.
Ohio State forced a fourth-and-short on the Huskies’ ensuing drive and head coach Rod Carey elected to send out his punt team. The move backfired as Jake Ambrose fumbled the snap before being tackled by Joey Bosa for an eight-yard loss, giving the Buckeyes the ball at the Northern Illinois 37.
The field position wasn’t quite enough as Ohio State turned it over on downs before Northern Illinois elected to punt on fourth-and-one once again. The Buckeyes took over with 25 seconds on the clock and ran down the clock, taking a 10-10 tie to the locker rooms.
Ohio State outgained Northern Illinois, 143-92, in the opening 30 minutes, but three turnovers and a two-for-eight clip on third downs kept it close.
Barrett stayed in the game to start the second half after the Huskies punted and led the Buckeyes on 11-play, 73-yard drive that stalled after a near interception in the end zone. Ohio State settled for a field goal try, which Willoughby converted from 24 yards to give the Buckeyes their first lead of the game.
After a punt from either team, Barrett threw the Buckeyes’ third interception of the game to give Northern Illinois the ball at their own 45. But the tone of the game changed just a play later when Lee intercepted Hare on a screen pass and took it 41 yards to the end zone, making the score 20-10 with 1:44 to go in the third quarter.
The Huskies and Buckeyes traded punts on the next two drives before Northern Illinois drove down inside the Ohio State five-yard line with 7:56 remaining in the game. A false start on third-and-one pushed the visitors back. Hare’s pass on the ensuing play fell incomplete, but the Huskies moved within a touchdown with a 31-yard field goal.
Both offenses stalled over the next few minutes before the Buckeyes took over with 4:24 on the clock. A first-down strike for 12 yards between Barrett and Thomas provided a bright spot, but Samuel fumbled on the following play.
The defense kept up its pressure on the ensuing drive as Hubbard sacked Hare on third-and-six before the Huskies elected to punt with a seven-point deficit and less than three minutes to play.
Northern Illinois’ defense returned the favor by stuffing Elliott on third-and-two to give Hare and the Huskies’ offense one last chance to tie the game.