The words of caution and concern have been raised by me in the past, in case you forgot. Northern Illinois, the team that has defeated other B1G programs such as Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Purdue, will be entering Ohio Stadium to face the top-ranked Buckeyes in week three of the 2015 season. This game will mark the first time Ohio State and Northern Illinois have played since the 2006 season opener, when Ohio State won 35-12 over Northern Illinois.
Almost lost in the focus of this game is that former Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel, as well as former Buckeye football players Joey Galloway and Tim Anderson, will be honored with inductions into the Ohio State Hall Of Fame. Congratulations to these individuals, as well as all of the former Buckeye athletes who are immortalized with this tremendous honor.
Courtesy of buckeyegrove.com, below is a video clip of Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer describing what lies ahead for Ohio State with a talented Northern Illinois team…
Below are three areas I will be keeping a close eye on during the game…
1. Will Ohio State “Feed The Zeke” Against The Huskies? ~ Ohio State is 2-0 to start the 2015 season, but the offensive attack has been somewhat inconsistent and lacking the identity of the traditional power running game associated with Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes. With four of five offensive linemen returning, are the challenges simply a reflection of early season chemistry issues? If Ohio State can establish its traditional running game by running the ball well up the middle with Ezekiel Elliott, look for the rest of the offense to fall into place.
2. Can Ohio State Shut Down Northern Illinois’ Running Game? ~ If Ohio State can shut down Northern Illinois’ running game, with RB Joel Bouagnon as the key player, it will allow Ohio State to unleash its pass rush against Huskies QB Drew Hare. Hare is a steady quarterback who rarely makes mistakes; Hare has not thrown an interception yet this season. If Ohio State can keep the Huskies in third and long situations, the opportunity to wear the Huskies down with the Ohio State running game (see item # 1 in my preview) is that much more likely.
3. Has Ohio State Figured Out Its Quarterback Issues? ~ Nobody wants a quarterback controversy. All a quarterback controversy will do is divide, and possibly fracture, the locker room. Cardale Jones, off to a slow start, needs to play a smart game – instead of trying to force a big play, making a smart play is the way to approach this game. While J.T. Barrett should get playing time, introducing Barrett into the game too early can only fan the flames of a possible quarterback controversy.
Earlier this week, on The Men of the Scarlet and Gray Podcast, Shannon Sommers and I discussed this game in greater detail. While I respect Northern Illinois, I believe Ohio State will benefit from a full week of preparation, coming out with more energy and better focus. The Huskies will keep it interesting for the first half, but I see Ohio State slowly but surely pulling away in the second half to make it Ohio State 42, Northern Illinois 17.