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Buckeye Breakdown: What we learned in Ohio State's win vs. NIU

It was a closer than expected win for Ohio State as the Buckeyes had to stone a late Northern Illinois drive to earn a 20-13 win. So who did well and who didn't? We have the answers in today's Buckeye Breakdown.

Unit Results

Ohio State run defense: Every facet of the Ohio State defense was stout against Northern Illinois and this area was no different. The Huskies entered the game averaging nearly 220 yards per game on the ground, and while those numbers were put up against inferior competition, the Buckeyes holding them to just 110 yards on 43 attempts (2.6 yards per rush) was mighty impressive. Ohio State lineman filled the gaps well and allowed the Buckeye linebackers and defensive backs to come up in support. -- Blake Williams

Ohio State pass defense: Drew Hare might have been the worst performing quarterback in this game, which is not exactly the ringing endorsement it would seem on a normal day. That is, however, pretty great news for the Ohio State defensive secondary. The Buckeyes harassed Hare into a final stat line that included 14 of 31 passing for 80 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns – unless you want to count the one he threw to Lee. That’s brutal production on a day when the Huskies defense forced five turnovers and gave the offense every chance to win the game. NIU couldn’t do it, and Ohio State’s pass defense was one of the biggest reasons why. -- Ryan Ginn

Ohio State run offense: While the offense was once again struggling to move the football, the one bright spot again was Ezekiel Elliott. While it took all of the four quarters, Elliott eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the eighth straight game. The downside was the fact that Elliott was held out of the end zone for the first time since a 31-24 win against Minnesota last season. Urban Meyer had said early in the week that OSU had largely gone away from the read option, but we still saw a bit of it against NIU, along with the speed option game. The run offense has to be worked on, but it's not all bad for the front five for the Buckeyes. -- James Grega

Ohio State pass offense: Well, this fell short of expectations for the second week in a row. In fact, that might be an understatement. Ohio State saw its streak of consective games with a touchdown pass snapped last week, but the good news was the Buckeyes didn't throw any interceptions, either. This week, there was a TD (and what a sweet one it was, a toe-tapper by Michael Thomas along the sideline that had to remind viewers of last year's Sugar Bowl snag) but also three interceptions which led directly to 10 of NIU's 13 points. And if we left last week confused about the QB situation, it's now fully muddled, with Urban Meyer sticking with J.T. Barrett for the last 44 minutes and then not naming a starter after the game. OSU's receivers also struggled to get down the field again with Thomas' TD grab of 25 yards the long gainer. This area of the game is the one perhaps most in need of improvement right now. -- Jeff Svoboda

Ohio State special teams: When the offense is struggling, the kicking game becomes that much more important. In general, that facet of the game was a positive for the Buckeyes, as Jack Willoughby converted both of his field goal attempts — from 31 and 24 yards — and Cameron Johnston averaged an impressive 52.2 yards on six punts. The overall special teams day could have been better, though, as three of Johnston’s booming boots ended up as touchbacks. Ohio State was typically good in kick coverage as well, allowing two kick returns for a total of just 35 yards. With the defense clicking and the offense missing, special teams might well have been the difference for the Buckeyes. -- Tim Moody 

What We Learned

Ryan Ginn: This might not be the quick fix I thought it was. Ohio State had plenty of excuses for its play against Hawaii – a short week, a physical opener, a less than formidable foe – but that mostly went out the window for the third game of the season. Over the last two weeks there’s been a noticeable lack of big plays, inconsistent quarterback play and no sign of the offensive line that straight bullied opposing linemen last season. For it to happen once is understandable, but twice in a row means this is something worth monitoring.

Blake Williams: I learned that Urban Meyer does not trust his offense, and honestly he shouldn’t right now. That unit has drastically under performed for two weeks now and it was clear that the head coach had no confidence in them when he punted on fourth-and-1 from the Buckeyes 44-yard line up by seven with a chance to put the game away. While turning things over to the defense turned out to be a good move – and the stop troops have earned that right – You can’t convince me Meyer would punt in that situation last year.

Tim Moody: The defense can, in fact, carry Ohio State. The Buckeye offense was terrible with five turnovers and not even 300 total yards, but the defense made that irrelevant. Sure, Northern Illinois scored 13 points, but holding any team, let alone a fairly talented Huskie squad, to 80 passing yards is impressive. Ohio State even forced a pair of turnovers as well, and the Huskies had to punt 10 times in the game. To top it off, linebacker Darron Lee made the play of the game when he jumped a screen pass and scored on the interception return to seal the win. 

Jeff Svoboda: There's a lot of work to do. You could explain away the Hawaii game easily enough -- four days rest, they won 38-0 after all, and the Rainbow Warriors ran a weird defense that flummoxed OSU. But this game felt different. We all knew Northern Illinois was a better team than Hawaii but I expected a businesslike approach and some offensive fireworks. Instead, we got a dud. Urban Meyer punting in fourth-and-short sitautions and taking a field goal so close to the end zone, to me, shows that the coach clearly knows his offense has work to do and his confidence is short in it right now. There are fundamental problems with the offense right now in just about every unit, and thoughts of a dominant, historic unit have to tempered until the Buckeyes figure things out.


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