COLUMBUS — When Ohio State coach Urban Meyer looks at Northern Illinois, he sees a lot of Big Ten in the Mid-American Conference champions.
Considering the Huskies have beaten the last three Big Ten teams they have faced, that is not such a stretch.
“Offensively, their quarterback is setting all kinds of records. They’re 305 pounds on the defensive tackles,” Meyer said. “Our players will respect them. I don’t anticipate a problem with that. Because they’re good.”
Good enough to beat Purdue, Iowa and Northwestern, though, is not necessarily good enough to beat the top-ranked Buckeyes (2-0) on Saturday. For all of the success Northern Illinois (2-0) has had in recent years, including five straight seasons of at least 11 victories, knocking off Ohio State in the Horseshoe would be the greatest achievement in the history of the program.
“They’re exactly what you expect an Ohio State team to be,” Huskies coach Rod Carey said. “They’re big. They’re physical. They’re strong. They’re well coached.”
He added: “I like to think we have a lot of those things on our program, too.”
The Huskies and quarterback Drew Hare have put up huge passing numbers, opening the season with victories against UNLV and Murray State. The junior has thrown for 718 yards and six touchdowns, with no interceptions. He also gets well-protected by an experienced offensive line.
“Honestly, they’re probably the best offensive line we’ve seen thus far,” Ohio State defensive tackle Tommy Schutt said. “They play hard. They play as a unit.”
The defense carried Ohio State last week in a 38-0 victory against Hawaii. Offensively, the Buckeyes simply never found their groove. Cardale Jones will again start at quarterback for the Buckeyes. Expect to see at least some of J.T. Barrett.
The Buckeyes tried to avoid using last week’s strangely short week — a night game at Virginia Tech followed by a day game at home — for the sluggish performance. But they made it very clear they were happy to be back to normal this week.
Meyer said on Wednesday the Buckeyes had two great days of practice.
Some more things to watch for as the Huskies try to pull off the stunner and the Buckeyes quarterback competition continues:
BACK TO BASICS: Ohio State’s offense struggled going from Virginia Tech’s 4-3 Bear defense to the odd fronts and unorthodox blitzes that Hawaii uses.
The Buckeyes did not break any big plays and failed to get to the outside against the Rainbows. To snap out of the malaise, they went back to basics and worked Ezekiel Elliott between the tackles.
Northern Illinois shows more base defense than Ohio State’s other opponents, but the Buckeyes have learned to expect new wrinkles and stuff they don’t see on film.
“It’s like studying for a math test and taking a science test,” Ohio State guard Pat Elflein said.
HUSKIES VS. NO. 1: This is the third time Northern Illinois will face the top-ranked team in the country. The last time was also at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes beat the Huskies 35-12 in 2006. The other time NIU faced No. 1 was in 1984, when the Huskies lost 34-0 at Miami.
DEFENDING THE QBs: The quarterback questions linger at Ohio State, but it doesn’t necessarily change what a defense does to try to stop the Buckeyes.
The biggest difference is just how big Jones is compared to Barrett.
“Well, their skill sets aren’t that far off,” Carey said. “So you certainly know physically it’s different trying to bring down No. 12 than it is Barrett, but I don’t think there’s anything special that you’re going to do that way because there again, the offense doesn’t change.”
BRAXTON BREAKDOWN: After a sensational debut at receiver against Virginia Tech, Braxton Miller had a more pedestrian game against Hawaii.
He is second on the team in yards from scrimmage with 213. He is averaging 9.1 yards per rush and 19.0 per catch.
Playing H-Back, Miller lines up all over the field, including behind center some times. Meyer said they will go into the game with a plan to get the ball to Miller at least 10 times and adjust as things go.
Miller has yet to throw a pass and Meyer has been somewhat coy about when he might unveil that part of the offense. Also, with Miller coming off two shoulder surgeries, the Buckeyes want to be cautious with his arm.