Despite leading or being tied for 37 minutes, NIU's offense never really got going (only managing 190 total yards and turning the ball over twice) but the Huskies' defense would keep NIU close all game long.
It began on the first drive of the game when, on third and 15, Huskie cornerback Shawun Lurry intercepted Cardale Jones' pass and returned it to the OSU 22-yard line. NIU would manage to punch it in just three plays later on a 5-yard jet sweep by Aregeros Turner to give the Huskies a 7-0 lead.
Lurry's intercetption was the first of five Ohio State turnovers, who only managed 298 total yards on offense. The Huskies held Ezekiel Elliott and the Buckeye quarterbacks in check most of the game, as they only managed 13 points on offense.
The turning point came late in third quarter. The Huskies trailed 13-10 but had just picked off Barrett to get the ball back. However, on first down Drew Hare tried to throw a screen pass to Tommylee Lewis but instead threw it right to Darron Lee, an Ohio State linebacker, who returned it 41 yards for a touchdown, giving the Buckeyes a 20-10 lead.
NIU would have a couple chances at the end but just couldn't find any offense. They punted 10 total times and were stopped on downs with less than a minute to go.
Drew Hare, who came into the game connecting on 78% of his passes, never really looked comfortable and completed just 14 of his 31 attempts for 80 yards and two interceptions. The ground game looked a little better, gaining 110 yards on 43 carries and pushing the Ohio State line back most of the game. Joel Bouagnon led the NIU rushing attack with 78 yards on 21 attempts. Kenny Golladay, who came into the game with the second most receiving yards, was quiet; catching three passes for just 19 yards.
Cardale Jones, who started the game for OSU at QB, didn't last too long. He went 4-9 passing for just 36 yards, threw two INTs and was pulled in the second quarter. His backup, J.T. Barrett, fared just a little better; going 11-19 for 97 yards while tossing a TD and a pick. The one offensive touchdown for the Buckeyes was a 23-yard strike to Michael Thomas midway through the second quarter. Elliot extended his streak of 100-yard rushing games to eight, gaining108 yards on 23 carries while fumbling the ball once.
Head Coach Rod Carey did a great job getting NIU ready for this game and keeping the Huskies competitive, however, at times he was way too conservative.
Twice the Huskies punted on fourth-and-one when they were in Ohio State territory, including in the final minute of the first half. On the road and being huge underdogs, I'd expect (and want) Carey to be really aggressive on offense. NIU could have gone into the half with a 13-10 lead, gained momentum, and gotten the ball back...instead they punted.
Carey has been really aggressive in the past (going for surprise onside kicks, fakes, ect.) but today he played it on the safe side. Hare barely had any long pass attempts and most of the game was runs between the tackles, short throws, rollouts, or read options. NIU has more weapons on offense this year than in a long time and missed a chance to take advantage of them.
After all is said and done though, NIU fan can not be upset with this outcome. The Huskies played incredibly well on defense and had Ohio State on their heels all game long. Lurry and Sean Folliard showed they are big time players as Lurry had two tackles, two huge interceptions, and broke up two passes while Folliard had four tackles, a fumble recovery, and a pick as well.
It may officially say NIU is 2-1 on the year...but this can only be marked as a win for the Huskies.
Well done Huskies, took 'em to the brink. An Ohio State University: 20 Northern Illinois: 13— Hustle Belt (@HustleBelt) September 19, 2015
NIU is back in action next Saturday when they head to Chestnut Hill to take on the Boston College Eagles.