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Scouting Northern Illinois: A look at the 2015 Huskies

Then-redshirt sophomore quarterback Drew Hare (12) plays during the Huskies’ 23-15 victory over the Northwestern Wildcats on Sept. 6, 2014 at Ryan Field in Evanston. Credit: Courtesy of Ryan Ocasio of The Northern Star

Then-redshirt sophomore quarterback Drew Hare (12) plays during the Huskies’ 23-15 victory over the Northwestern Wildcats on Sept. 6, 2014 at Ryan Field in Evanston. Credit: Courtesy of Ryan Ocasio of The Northern Star

The No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes can now turn their focus to the Northern Illinois Huskies after dismantling the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

The Huskies, coached by Rod Carey, are one of the Mid-American Conference’s flagship programs, having won at least 11 games in each of the past five seasons.

Here is a look at the Buckeyes’ next foe:

Slow starts, fast finishes

NIU has opened the 2015 season with back-to-back victories, but in both games, it has struggled in the first half.

On Saturday against the Murray State Racers, a Football Championship Subdivision school that finished just 3-9 in 2014, the Huskies stumbled out of the gates. After the first quarter, they trailed 7-6. The second quarter was an improvement, but at the half they only led 20-10.

A switch must have been flipped in the locker room because the second half was exponentially better for NIU, as it found the end zone six times — one of which was an interception returned for a score — en route to a 57-26 victory.

In their season opener against University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the Huskies were lethargic early on, trailing the Rebels after two quarters 17-10.

During halftime, NIU appeared to have flipped the same switch it did during Week 2.

The Huskies would go on to outscore the Rebels, 28-13, over the game’s final 30 minutes to eventually secure a 38-30 victory.

Although a strong second half has worked twice already for the Huskies, they cannot expect to upset a team of the Buckeyes’ caliber on Saturday unless they are in top form for all 60 minutes.

Hare apparent

Strong quarterback play has been a constant staple for the Huskies in recent history.

The hole vacated by Jordan Lynch, who placed third in Heisman Trophy voting in 2013, seemed to be too deep at one point. However, redshirt junior Drew Hare has done an excellent job.

Hare — who started the final 12 games in 2014, throwing for 2,322 yards, 18 touchdowns and only two interceptions, while adding 900 yards on the ground and eight scores — has opened the 2015 campaign in top form.

He’s thrown for 718 yards and 6 touchdowns, while completing 78 percent of his passes over the first two contests.

Maybe the best part of Hare’s game is that he takes care of the ball. Of his 399 career passing attempts, only two have been intercepted.

The Buckeye defense should mix it up and put pressure on Hare, but if the O’Fallon, Missouri, native starts by getting to get the ball out quick and continuing his trend of not turning it over, the Huskies will be in a decent spot to follow the likes of fellow MAC teams Bowling Green and Toledo in upsetting Power 5 schools.

Big plays

The Huskies offense has been electric to begin 2015, as it’s averaging 594 yards per contest.

A key part of their offensive output throughout the first two games has been big plays. So far, they have had five plays resulting in gains of over 40 yards.

To open the second half against Murray State, Hare found redshirt junior wide receiver Kenny Golladay — who is second in the nation in receiving yards — for a 55-yard touchdown.

The combination of Hare and Golladay is responsible for three of their other big plays, as the two have connected on passes of 41, 48 and 41 yards — all in the second half against UNLV.

The other big play came by way of the ground, on a 46-yard rushing touchdown from redshirt sophomore Jordan Huff in the final quarter against the Racers.

Big plays are an easy way to gain momentum, which is exactly what NIU did against Murray State — similarly, OSU did it against Virginia Tech to open the second half on redshirt senior H-back Braxton Miller’s 54-yard touchdown catch.

The Huskies will need a few of them — especially early on — in the ‘Shoe on Saturday to acquire the momentum against the Buckeyes if they want a shot at knocking off the nation’s top-ranked team.

Beyond the Buckeyes

NIU is set to have its final non-conference game against Boston College on Sept. 19 before opening up play in the MAC on Sept. 26 when they are scheduled to take on Central Michigan.

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