Game Data: Northern Illinois at OSU

In preparation for Saturday's opener against Northern Illinois, we look at the pertinent information, the TV coverage map, depth charts and one man's opinion on how it might play out. Click this free link for all of the details on top-ranked Ohio State's opener with Northern Illinois (3:30 p.m., ABC).

Northern Illinois at Ohio State

* Date, Time: Sat., Sept. 2; 3:30 p.m.

* Location: Ohio Stadium (capacity, 102,329).

* TV: ABC (regional broadcast; announcers, Mark Jones, David Norrie, Stacey Dales).

Here is the ABC coverage map for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. window:

ABC coverage map

* 2005 Records, 2006 Rankings: Ohio State, 10-2 overall, 7-1 Big Ten (tied for conference title), ranked first in Associated Press poll and USA Today coaches poll; Northern Illinois, 7-5 overall, 6-2 MAC (tied for MAC West title), unranked.

* Coaches: Ohio State, Jim Tressel (sixth year at OSU, 50-13; 21st year overall, 185-70-2; vs. Northern Illinois, first meeting); Northern Illinois, Joe Novak (11th year at NIU, 54-60; vs. OSU, first meeting).

* Series History: This will be the first-ever meeting between Ohio State and Northern Illinois.

* Northern Illinois Fast Facts: Location: Dekalb, Ill.; Enrollment, 25,208; Nickname, Huskies; Colors, Cardinal and Black; Stadium, Brigham Field at Huskie Stadium (surface, FieldTurf; capacity, 28,000).

* Northern Illinois Key Players (2005 Stats): QB Phil Horvath (168 of 238 passing, 70.6 percent, 2,001 yards, 18 TDs, 8 INTs), TB Garrett Wolfe (256 carries, 1,656 yards, 18 TDs), WR Britt Davis (42 catches, 441 yards, 3 TDs), DE Ken West (55 tackles, 3 sacks), FS Dustin Utschig (121 tackles, 3 INTs).

* Northern Illinois Schedule: Sept. 2, Ohio State; Sept. 9, Ohio U.; Sept. 16, Buffalo; Sept. 23, Indiana State; Sept. 30, at Ball State; Oct. 7, at Miami (Ohio); Oct. 14, at Western Michigan; Oct. 21, Temple; Oct. 28, at Iowa; Nov. 7, Toledo; Nov. 17, Central Michigan; Nov. 24, at Eastern Michigan.

Depth Charts

Ohio State Offense

SE 8 Roy Hall, 6-3, 240, Sr.

80 Brian Robiskie, 6-3, 195, So.

LT 75 Alex Boone, 6-8, 325, So.

71 Steve Rehring, 6-8, 329, So.

LG 68 Tim Schafer, 6-5, 290, Sr.

67 Kyle Mitchum, 6-5, 295, So.

C 50 Doug Datish, 6-5, 295, Sr.

54 Tyler Whaley, 6-1, 270, So.

or 64 Jim Cordle, 6-4, 280, R-Fr.

RG 72 T.J. Downing, 6-4, 305, Sr.

63 Ben Person, 6-4, 315, So.

RT 74 Kirk Barton, 6-6, 310, Jr.

79 Jon Skinner, 6-5, 300, So.

TE 88 Rory Nicol, 6-5, 250, So.

87 Brandon Smith, 6-3, 252, So.

FL 7 Ted Ginn Jr., 6-0, 180, Jr.

4 Ray Small, 6-0, 175, Fr.

QB 10 Troy Smith, 6-1, 215, Sr.

12 Justin Zwick, 6-4, 225, Sr.

TB 25 Antonio Pittman, 5-11, 195, Jr.

34 Maurice Wells, 5-10, 190, So.

or 28 Chris Wells, 6-1, 225, Fr.

FB 89 Stan White Jr., 6-2, 242, Sr.

49 Dionte Johnson, 6-0, 234, Jr.

SL 11 Anthony Gonzalez, 6-0, 195, Jr.

9 Brian Hartline, 6-3, 180, R-Fr.

K 20 Aaron Pettrey, 6-1, 195, R-Fr.

85 Ryan Pretorius, 5-9, 180, So.

Ohio State Defense

DE 99 Jay Richardson, 6-6, 276, Sr.

87 Lawrence Wilson, 6-6, 270, So.

DT 97 David Patterson, 6-3, 285, Sr.

98 Joel Penton, 6-5, 290, Sr.

DT 90 Quinn Pitcock, 6-3, 295, Sr.

92 Todd Denlinger, 6-3, 280, R-Fr.

DE 50 Vernon Gholston, 6-4, 260, So.

78 Alex Barrow, 6-5, 275, So.

SLB 1 Marcus Freeman, 6-2, 242, So.

55 Curtis Terry, 6-2, 234, Jr.

MLB 33 James Laurinaitis, 6-3, 244, So.

6 Larry Grant, 6-3, 225, Jr.

WLB 52 John Kerr, 6-1, 233, Sr.

26 Tyler Moeller, 6-1, 205, Fr.

or 51 Ross Homan, 6-1, 237, Fr.

CB 2 Malcolm Jenkins, 6-1, 202, So.

13 Andre Amos, 6-1, 180, R-Fr.

FS 23 Nick Patterson, 6-2, 210, So.

21 Anderson Russell, 6-0, 190, R-Fr.

SS 32 Brandon Mitchell, 6-3, 205, Sr.

3 Jamario O'Neal, 6-1, 200, So.

CB 14 Antonio Smith, 5-9, 195, Sr.

20 Donald Washington, 6-1, 195, R-Fr.

NB 21 Anderson Russell, 6-0, 190, Fr.

14 Antonio Smith, 5-9, 195, Sr.

P 15 A.J. Trapasso, 6-1, 220, So.

48 Jon Thoma, 6-1, 190, R-Fr.

LS 68 Drew Norman, 6-0, 230, Sr.

Northern Illinois Offense

WR 14 Jarret Carter, 6-3, 210, Sr.

89 Marcus Lewis, 6-2, 195, Fr.

LT 62 Doug Free, 6-7, 312, Sr.

66 Tony Holmes, 6-6, 293, R-Fr.

LG 70 Chris Acevedo, 6-5, 304, Jr.

59 Kevin Skatrud, 6-6, 314, R-Fr.

C 50 Eddie Adamski, 6-2, 265, R-Fr.

65 Jason Onyebuagu, 6-2, 305, Fr.

RG 61 Matt Rogers, 6-4, 280, Sr.

77 Tim Mayerbrock, 6-4, 313, R-Fr.

RT 60 Jon Brost, 6-6, 296, So.

78 Dan Keller, 6-4, 300, So.

TE 86 Jake Nordin, 6-3, 262, Sr.

88 Brandon Beal, 6-3, 227, So.

Z 7 Britt Davis, 6-2, 195, So.

17 Greg Turner, 6-0, 186, So.

QB 3 Phil Horvath, 6-3, 197, Sr.

19 Dan Nicholson, 6-2, 194, So.

TB 1 Garrett Wolfe, 5-7, 177, Sr.

20 Montell Clanton, 5-9, 185, So.

TE 87 Brandon Davis, 6-4, 261, Jr.

91 David Koronkiewicz, 6-3, 253, So.

SL 85 Matt Simon, 6-2, 199, So.

5 Marcus Perez, 5-11, 170, So.

K 25 Chris Nendick, 5-11, 180, Jr.

16 Luke Biondi, 5-11, 188, Sr.

Northern Illinois Defense

DE 34 Ken West, 6-1, 243, Sr.

56 Brandon Bice, 6-3, 236, R-Fr.

NG 92 Adam Schroeder, 6-5, 282, Jr.

49 Brad Benson, 6-1, 280, Sr.

DT 99 Craig Rusch, 6-4, 258, So.

69 Alex Krutsch, 6-2, 254, So.

DE 51 Larry English, 6-3, 236, So.

95 Robert Oruche, 6-4, 291, Jr.

WLB 9 Josh Allen, 5-11, 217, So.

4 David Bryant, 5-10, 193, R-Fr.

MLB 53 Tim McCarthy, 6-0, 235, So.

43 T.J. Griffin, 6-0, 232, So.

SLB 33 Keenan Blalark, 5-10, 228, Sr.

26 Cory Hanson, 6-1, 196, R-Fr.

CB 11 Alvah Hansbro, 5-10, 183, Sr.

2 Melvin Rice, 5-10, 185, So.

FS 35 Dustin Utschig, 5-10, 196, Sr.

27 Spencer Williamson, 6-2, 195, R-Fr.

SS 8 Mark Reiter, 6-1, 191, Jr.

24 Bradley Pruitt, 6-1, 180, So.

CB 12 Adriel Hansbro, 5-10, 181, Sr.

24 Bradley Pruitt, 6-1, 180, So.

P 18 Andy Dittbenner, 6-1, 192, So.

LS 48 Tommy O'Brien, 6-2, 235, Fr.

Breaking It Down

* When Ohio State Has The Ball: With the way Ohio State finished the season last year, everybody is under the impression the Buckeyes will be hanging 40 on every team they play just before they all go and sing "Carmen Ohio." Well, I think that will be true most weeks. I see an Ohio State offense that, when Troy Smith is on top of his game, will be hard to stop.

But I think it will be a touch different than what we saw a year ago. They don't have Santonio Holmes any more. So I think, while they'd like to be able to throw it for big numbers, they may put more behind their running game – at least to start the season. Another thought is if they can win this game without showing too much for Texas, that would be good as well. Northern Illinois' small defensive front (they average 255 pounds) tells me that Ohio State should do well pounding the ball between the tackles. Ohio State has a strong, veteran offensive line that should be able to blow holes open for Antonio Pittman, Chris Wells and Maurice Wells.

So it is my take that Ohio State will run the ball first and foremost and try to establish that before taking too heavily to the air. I think the things I will be watching for are how sharp Smith truly is, how well Chris Wells performs on the big stage and which of the young receivers/tight ends step up. I think the line play is a given. Because of that I see Ohio State approaching and maybe even breaking that magical 40-point mark.

* When Northern Illinois Has The Ball: Everybody is caught up in the fact that NIU is a running football team. After all, Garrett Wolfe has amassed 3,286 yards and 34 touchdowns over the last two years. They have an NFL-bound offensive tackle in Doug Free to run behind.

But I think it's a misnomer to call NIU strictly a running team. They love to run play action with QB Phil Horvath, who completed just over 70 percent of his passes a year ago. My guess is they will try play action and misdirection plays to try and keep OSU's inexperienced defense off-balance. Horvath could do well by throwing underneath all day and dinking the Buckeyes down the field. It may take a full half – and some chalktalk in the intermission by the vastly underrated Jim Heacock – to get a handle on what NIU is trying to accomplish.

Wolfe is not a small running back. He is diminutive at 5-7 and 177 pounds. Even against a reloading OSU offense, I can't see him having that big of an impact – particularly if DTs Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson gum up the middle. I say it every time we see a big-time back face the Buckeyes. Stopping the run is Ohio State's forte. It's who they are. It's what they do. I call it the Amos Zereoue Club. Some other charter members are Darren Sproles (almost identical in size to Wolfe), Mike Hart, Vernand Morency, Willis McGahee and Darius Walker.

It will be interesting to see how OSU's young back seven responds to this first big challenge. NIU is a good offensive football team. They averaged 444.1 yards and 32.4 points per game a year ago.

* How It Will Go: These games against Mid-American Conference opponents usually follow a pattern. It is close for the first two or three quarters before OSU's decided edge in speed, size and depth kicks in for the final 20 minutes or so and the Buckeyes pull away.

Make no mistake, though, Northern Illinois is a good opponent. Some of these seniors would have been on the 2003 NIU team that defeated Alabama, Maryland and Iowa State in a span of four weeks. They were probably stars on last year's team that gave Michigan a run and nearly knocked off Northwestern in Evanston. They've played in big stadiums before hostile crowds. They've been there, done that and have the T-shirt to prove it.

So OSU won't be able to intimidate this team. The Buckeyes will need to stay with their game plans and play it out. I think eventually, though, OSU's edges in those categories we listed above will help the Buckeyes pull away. I think Troy Smith is a match-up nightmare for NIU – both running and throwing. And, as noted, I think OSU's advantage in the trenches should allow the Buckeyes to play ball control and move the sticks via the run as needed.

Michigan, last year, held the ball for over 35 minutes in its win over NIU. I'm not sure will need to hold it that long, but that is a blueprint for success, certainly.

This figures to be an entertaining game with a ton of new faces – Chris Wells, Ray Small, Robert Rose, Ross Homan, Tyler Moeller, Anderson Russell, Donald Washington, Larry Grant and Aaron Pettrey, just to name a few – all getting a chance to get their feet wet. Pettrey, in particular, would benefit from having to make a tough kick before going down to the Texas pressure cooker next week. I've got it: Ohio State 38-17

* For The Record: On the Bucknuts Radio Hour this week, Mr. Bucknuts predicted OSU 34-17. Kirk Larrabee said OSU 44-17. Dave Biddle picked OSU 34-13. Jerry Rudzinski pegged OSU 36-20.

Also, last year, I was 10-2 straight-up and 8-4 against-the-spread with Ohio State during the regular season. (As of Wednesday, OSU was listed as a 17-point favorite over NIU.)

-- Steve Helwagen


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