“Defense wins championships” is a traditional claim, yet, going into the week-three matchup against the Northern Illinois Huskies, the Buckeyes were poised to finally flaunt all of their offensive weapons.
They showed some razzle-dazzle during a quality opening win at Virginia Tech. Then, despite a short amount of time off, their week-two 38-10 victory versus Hawaii didn’t come with as much scoreboard-flash as fans or media might have wanted. However, week-three; the team was back on schedule, rested, and ready to get the offense performing at its full capabilities. That was until the literal and figurative storm clouds moved in.
Facing swirling winds, rain, and a Big Ten type of opponent, the offense did much more than sputter, as it had during the Hawaii win, it basically broke down.
Northern Illinois won the coin toss and then (it’s like they knew) elected to have the prolific Buckeye offense come out first. As expected, Cardale Jones got the start. Unexpectedly, the offense came out stagnant. First grouping of plays were; a Curtis Samuel run that was brought back because of a penalty, an incomplete pass, a Zeke Elliot run that was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, and a Cardale Jones interception. The Huskies would score three plays later on 5 yard TD run by Aregeros Turner.
With the rain coming down even harder, the Buckeye offense returned to the field. It is very possible the foul weather played a role in the earlier Jones INT, so, the play calling focused on running the ball during the second series. Curtis Samuel again had a nice run, this one without penalty, and Ezekiel Elliot had a few minimal carries. Cardale’s first completion came on third-down for two yards to TE Nick Vannett. With an early 4th and 1 near midfield, the coaching staff made the decision to go for it. Handing off to Zeke Elliot is usually a lucrative, if not safe, bet. However, the talented running back would fumble and give possession again to Northern Illinois.
Buckeyes would regain possession two plays later off an Eli Apple INT and eventually settle for a Jack Willoughby 31 yrd field goal. The teams traded punts until Cardale Jones threw his second interception of the day. The huskies would notch a field goal and Cardale’s day was done just as the second quarter was getting underway.
JT Barrett came into the game, but, didn’t immediately spark the team as some might have expected or hoped. Again, the teams traded punts. Finally the highlight reel came to life, with 8:27 left in the second quarter, JT Barrett found WR Mike Thomas for a 23-yard TD. Thomas’ sweet TD catch was Sugar Bowl-esque, as it showed off the receiver’s elite footwork and tied the game up at 10 each.
Despite the touchdown, the offense couldn’t gain momentum. After some time passed, the Buckeyes added another field goal at the 8:27 mark of the third-quarter. An ongoing theme, (fitting since Jim Tressel was honored at the game) the teams would again trade punts.
JT Barrett added an interception to the stat line and the vibe of the stadium became very insecure.
Luckily, on the very next play, Darron Lee would calm those worries and electrify the crowd with a much needed 41-yard INT return for a touchdown. Teammate, Eli Apple, would later state; “…he (Lee) even called it before the play”
Lee’s silver bullet TD would prove to be the game changing score the Buckeyes needed. Northern Illinois would add a late field goal, but, Ohio State would beat back the upset minded Huskies 20-13.
Going into the NIU game, all the focus was on the offense. However, during the game, the defense was the true headliner. The defense held Northern Illinois, who came in averaging 594 yards per game, to just under 200 total yards. So yes, the Buckeyes did flaunt some weapons, a new group of shiny silver bullets.
As for the starting quarterback, tune in next week versus Western Michigan to see if Ohio State is poised to finally flaunt all of their offensive weapons.