Defense Leads the Way in 20-13 Victory over Northern Illinois

Darron Lee's Pick-6 proved to be the difference - Photo: David Jablonski - Dayton Daily News

Buckeyes' Offense Continues to Struggle While Defense Reigns Supreme

Most of the time I enjoy being right. However, yesterday afternoon, while the Buckeyes were meandering their way to a 20-13 victory over Northern Illinois, was not one of those times. In fact, most of the afternoon was spent kicking myself for being right about this game in my preview while hate watching another sloppy, disjointed performance.

It was bad, man. Real bad.

Coming off of an underwhelming performance one week earlier against Hawaii, many fans, myself included, believed that this week would be different. A full week of preparation and recovery along with an ever so subtle wake-up call had to turn things around. Northern Illinois is a good team, better than the 34-point underdogs they had been pegged as, but one the Buckeyes could certainly handle.

Instead of a dominant offensive performance akin to what we saw last season against Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon, we got to watch fumbles, interceptions and play calling so questionable that it had everyone freaking out on the Twitter machine.

Of course, some people are just being delusional...
The Browns will never light anyone up. But moving on.

Things got off to a bad start from the get go. On the first drive of the game, following excellent field position on an out of bounds kickoff, Cardale Jones was picked off by Shawun Lurry on the third play of the game. The Huskies drove the ball into the end zone three plays later. Unknowingly, this would set the tone for the remainder of the game. It also began the questioning of offensive play calling.

With rain pouring down, the Buckeyes inexplicably decided it was in their best interest to throw on two of their first three plays rather than handing off to Ezekiel Elliot and allowing him to do his thing. This trend would continue throughout the first half.

On their second drive of the game, the Buckeyes opted to go run heavy with Curtis Samuel and Ezekiel Elliot. It didn't work much better. Elliot lost a rare fumble, giving the Huskies another excellent opportunity to score. They wouldn't, as the Eli Apple intercepted Drew Hare. The Bucks marched down the field for a field goal.

After a series of punts and a second interception by Cardale Jones later, the Buckeyes found themselves down 10-3 and fans growing ever more restless. Also growing restless with the stagnation of his offense was Urban Meyer. Looking for a spark, he inserted J.T. Barrett into the lineup. He remained the quarterback for the remainder of the game and bringing into question the status of Jones as the starting quarterback.

However, J.T. Barrett's performance did not make much of a case for his candidacy as the starting quarterback heading into week 4. While Jones was 4 of 9 for 36 yards and two interceptions, Barrett was only 11 of 19 for 97 yards. And while he did throw a touchdown pass during the second to Michael Thomas, Barrett also had an interception of his own.
Meanwhile, as the offense was struggling, the defense for the Buckeyes was shining bright yet again. For the majority of the game they physically dominated the highly touted offensive line for the Huskies. Yes, there were exceptions, brief moments here and there where the Huskies were able to get the upper hand, but for the most part, the Buckeyes were the aggressors.

On the day, the Buckeyes limited the Huskies to 190 yards of total offense. Of those 190 yards, only 80 of them came via the passing attack of Drew Hale and Tommylee Lewis. They just could not connect with any sort of regularity while the Buckeyes applied continuous pressure via their pass rush. Add in fantastic coverage from the defensive backfield, particularly Eli Apple and Vonn Bell, and the Huskies' offense didn't stand a chance.

The play of the game, and the one that ultimately won the game for the Buckeyes, came from weekly defensive hero Darron Lee. Following an interception of Barrett, Lee pounced on a bubble screen, jumping the route and taking it 40 yards to the house.
The touchdown put the Buckeyes up 20-10 and proved to be the game winner following a late Husky field goal to make it 20-13. Northern Illinois would get the ball back with 1:35 to play following a series of poor clock management decisions by the Buckeyes. Luckily, the defense once again pulled through, forcing a turnover on downs to seal the victory.

So where do the Buckeyes go from here? It's an interesting question that is sure to be over-analyzed during the coming week. Do the Buckeyes remain steadfast in their commitment to Cardale Jones as their starting quarterback, or do they make the permanent change back to J.T. Barrett? Has the clock finally struck midnight on the Cardale Jones era and we are finally seeing a regression back to the mean?

Ohio State's next opponent, Central Michigan, is another small conference school that will be looking to pull off the upset of the century. With a record of 1-2, it's easy to think that the Buckeyes should have the upper hand, and they will undoubtedly be heavy favorites, but keep in mind how the Broncos have gotten to 1-2 - a heartbreaking week 1 loss to Michigan State, a head scratching loss to Georgia State, and a blow out win over Murray State. In those three games they are averaging 31 points per game.

Simply put, the Buckeyes are going to have to put up some points in order to help the defensive side of the ball against a team fully capable of putting a big number up on the board. While the defense is certainly talented enough to do it, the Bucks cannot continually rely on them to win these games if they want to compete for a second straight championship. We thought this would be the most talented offensive team we've ever seen. Well, it's time to put up or shut up.
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