A Monday morning grade card on a 20-13 Ohio State win over Northern Illinois that was closer and a lot more competitive than most people expected:
Ohio State was held below 300 yards total offense for the first time since the Penn State game last season. The Buckeyes gained only 298 yards against a team which had allowed 433 yards per game in its first two games against UNLV and Murray State.
After Cardale Jones (4 of 9 for 36 yards) threw two early interceptions, J.T. Barrett (11 of 19 for 97 yards) played the rest of the game. Neither quarterback was impressive but the offensive struggles definitely were a team effort.
No receiver appeared ready to step up and become the go-to guy. Michael Thomas’ three catches led the wideouts.
Maybe the biggest mystery of the season is how the offensive line can have four returning starters and be having as much trouble as it has had in the last two games.
The Buckeyes converted only 2 of 13 third-down chances against Northern Illinois’ defense and were 0 of 2 on fourth-down plays. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 108 yards, the eighth consecutive game he has gone over 100 yards, but had to carry 23 times to do it.
Braxton Miller was a non-factor with seven rushing yards, no catches and one shovel pass for short yardage.
The only thing that prevented the offense from getting a grade of F was that Ohio State won.
Quite simply, the defense won the game for Ohio State. Other than a first-quarter touchdown that was set up by Jones’ first interception, Ohio State’s defense dominated Northern Illinois’ offense.
The Huskies had only 190 yards total offense. Their quarterback Drew Hare, who came into the game averaging 359 yards passing per game, was a harmless 14 of 31 for 80 yards.
Ohio State put pressure on Hare at every level, sacking him four times, intercepting him twice and scoring a touchdown on one of the interceptions when linebacker Darron Lee returned it 41 yards to the end zone.
Defensive linemen Joey Bosa (2.5 tackles for losses), Sam Hubbard (1.5 sacks), Tyquan Lewis and Adolphus Washington also had big games.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Jack Willoughby, who hit two short field goals, appears to be settling in as the No. 1 kicker. He is 3 for 4 but his longest kick is only 31 yards.
Jalin Marshall looks more steady as a punt returner this year and had a nice 26-yard return. Punter Cameron Johnston got more of a workout than usual on Saturday and averaged 52.5 yards per punt.
It’s all right to be a work in progress early in the season. But after a sluggish effort in a 38-0 win over Hawaii, OSU went backward instead of making progress against Northern Illinois.
The Huskies are possibly the No. 1 football program in the Mid-American Conference. If their offense had been able to do much of anything against Ohio State’s defense, they might have gone home with an upset for the ages. Give them credit. But Ohio State’s offense was awful throughout the game and will have to improve soon or there will be more unexpectedly close games — or worse — in the future.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.