For the second Saturday in a row, Ohio State has looked sluggish and sloppy in the first half. This weekend, though, they’re facing the kind of team with the talent to make them pay in the end.
On a rain-soaked afternoon in Columbus, the defending national champions bumbled and stumbled their way to a 10-10 tie with a Northern Illinois team that has won 11 or more games each of the last five season. The tone for OSU’s first half was set on its first two possessions — and then continued on into the initial possession of the second quarter.
On the third play of the Buckeyes’ first possession of the game, Cardale Jones tossed an interception that the Huskies turned into a touchdown three plays later. The next possession for OSU, an Ezekiel Elliott fumble that was recovered by NIU. On the first play of the second quarter, Jones tossed another pick that was turned into three points.
That was enough for an exasperated Urban Meyer, who yanked the 2014 postseason star (4-9, 36 yards) in favor of record-setting backup J.T. Barrett. Jones’ first-half performance continues a season-long malaise; in 10 quarters this season, the rifle-armed redshirt junior has completed 26-of-47 passes (55.3 percent) 334 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since early in the third quarter of the opener against Virginia Tech.
Barrett, though, failed to provide any type of spark.
Barrett’s performance lends credence to those who thought he should’ve been the starter opening the season instead of Jones [/pulls muscle patting self on back]. Well, for one possession anyway.
After a three-and-out on his first possession that included a near-miss pick-six for NIU, Barrett found Michael Thomas in the end zone on their ensuing possession from 23 yards to tie the game at 10-all halfway through the second quarter. In what was essentially a quarter’s worth of work, Barrett completed 3-of-6 passes for 31 yards.
Perhaps most disturbing for the Buckeyes is their play-calling. Arguably the best running back in college football, Ezekiel Elliott has just 10 carries for 39 yards. Conversely, 16 plays for a passing game that simply isn’t clicking — in fairness, NIU has a solid defense — have been called. For the second consecutive week, the loss of coordinator Tom Herman to Houston (head coach) is being felt by the offense.