After a poor offensive performance in Ohio Stadium against Hawaii in the second game of the 2015 season, Ohio State fans reassured themselves that the results would be much better in the third game against Northern Illinois. After all, Ohio State's coaches and players would have the benefit of a full week of preparation, and the offensive issues that plagued the Buckeyes against Hawaii would have been corrected.
If not for a pick-six interception by Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee, Ohio State would have been deadlocked with Northern Illinois, playing for the win in overtime. Ohio State escaped against Northern Illinois with a 20-13 victory, based on the strength of strong defensive play and special teams coverage. Ohio State welcomes in the Western Michigan Broncos into Ohio Stadium for the final non-conference contest before B1G conference play begins. This game will mark the first time that Western Michigan and Ohio State have ever played.
Western Michigan enters into Ohio Stadium with a 1-2 record, having lost to Michigan State (37-24) and at Georgia Southern (43-17), before getting a victory over Murray State (52-20). Western Michigan is led by quarterback Zach Terrell, running back Jarvion Franklin, and wide receivers Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis. Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck returns to Ohio Stadium for the first time since the 2006 season. Fleck served as an Ohio State graduate assistant under former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, before moving onto other assistant coaching opportunities with Northern Illinois, Rutgers, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers until finally being named Western Michigan's head coach in 2013. Fleck is considered a rising star in the coaching profession, and nothing would make him a hotter candidate than pulling off the historic upset over the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Western Michigan at Ohio State
Kickoff: 3:30pm ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC/ESPN mirror
Spread: Ohio State -31.5
Three Things To Watch
1. A Definitive Starting Quarterback
After starting quarterback Cardale Jones for the first three games of the 2015 season, speculation is swirling that Jones may be the backup, with J.T. Barrett back into the starting role. Barrett has replaced Jones the last two games, with Barrett taking the majority of the snaps versus Northern Illinois. On the B1G teleconference on Sept. 22, Meyer implied that a starter may be named, but not necessarily revealed to the media or fans before kickoff against Western Michigan. Well, he changed his tune and announce the following day that Jones will remain the starter under center. Regardless of who starts, whichever quarterback can provide a much-needed offensive spark wil likely be the one that sees the most snaps.
2. A More Cohesive Offense From Ohio State
The departure of Tom Herman as offensive coordinator to the head coaching job at Houston has led to considerable angst from the Buckeye faithful, as Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer named Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warriner to the offensive coordinator position. With Warriner down on the sideline, fans are questioning if this is contributing to the lackluster offensive performances plaguing the Buckeye offense. New quarterbacks coach Tim Beck, who arrived this offseason from Nebraska, may be called upon to act as the "eye in the sky" to assist Warriner and Meyer with play calling against Western Michigan. Look for Ezekiel Elliott to get more carries that will challenge the interior of the Western Michigan defense, as the Ohio State offensive linemen have been asking for these base plays that served Ohio State well last season.
3. Western Michigan to Use Some Form of a 3-4 Defense
So far this season, Ohio State has struggled offensively against Hawaii and Northern Illinois. Both teams unexpectedly ran a 3-4 defense against the Buckeyes, and Ohio State has not been able to block effectively against it. Why would Western Michigan not try to use something that has worked for the previous Ohio State opponents in 2015? On the B1G teleconference from September 22, Meyer anticipates Western Michigan running a 3-4 defensive front, saying, “Until we hurt it, yeah. That’s typical. Last year it was that Bear 0 so we put a good scheme together and this seems to be some 3-4 stuff that is just affecting our team so we’re working hard at it.”
This game is important for the overall psychological health of everyone associated with Ohio State football — coaches, players, and the fans. Urban Meyer has an opportunity to stomp out a possible quarterback controversy by naming a starter and sticking with him, and a decisive win over a feisty Western Michigan team will give a much-needed boost to the Buckeyes before conference play begins.
Prediction: Ohio State 42, Western Michigan 14
— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a diehard Ohio State fan. Minnich also writes and podcasts for menofthescarletandgray.com, a site dedicated to Ohio sports with a special emphasis on the Buckeyes. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.