Lee, D bail out No. 1 Ohio St in 20-13 win over N Illinois

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Darron Lee returned an interception 41 yards for a touchdown and the Ohio State defense bailed out its struggling, two-quarterback offense as the top-ranked Buckeyes beat Northern Illinois 20-13 on Saturday.

Cardale Jones started for the Buckeyes (3-0) and J.T. Barrett finished, but for the second straight week neither was particularly effective against an opponent Ohio State was expected to blow out.

Jones threw two interceptions and went to the bench in the second quarter. Barrett threw a touchdown pass and a pick. Ohio State had five turnovers in all but still managed to extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 16 games.

Last week, the Buckeyes shook free of Hawaii in the second half, but they couldn’t do the same with Northern Illinois (2-1).

The Huskies cut the lead to 20-13 on a field goal with 7:46 left in the fourth quarter, and got the ball back when Marlon Moore forced a fumble by Curtis Samuel and NIU recovered at its own 25 with 4:05 left in the game.

The Buckeyes clamped down again with Joey Bosa and Sam Hubbard crunching Drew Hare for a sack on third-and-long. In need of one first down to wrap it up, Ohio State came up short.

NIU’s last drive started at its 20 with 1:34 left, but Hare threw four incomplete passes under duress and Ohio State could finally take a knee.

The big question heading into the season for Ohio State was who would start at quarterback: The Big Ten player of the year (Barrett) or the guy who led the Buckeyes to the national championship (Jones).

The answer turned out to be Jones, but coach Urban Meyer insisted both guys would play and they did in the first two games.

The next question was: What would happen if Jones struggled? How much patience would Meyer have with his starter?

The answer appears to be: Not all that much.

Jones misfired on his first pass of the game and appeared upset with receiver Jalin Marshall. Jones’ next throw was too high to an open Braxton Miller and picked off by Shawn Lurry, who returned it to the Buckeyes 22.

Three plays later Aregeros Turner swept around right end for a touchdown that made it 7-0.

Ezekiel Elliott fumbled the ball away on a fourth-and-short on Ohio State’s next possession, but Eli Apple intercepted right back for the Buckeyes and they turned it into a field goal.

Lurry snagged another pass from Jones, this time one he was trying to squeeze in between defenders when he had an open receiver underneath, in the second quarter. That led to a Huskies field goal and got Barrett warming up on the sideline.

Barrett’s first possession was a three-and-out, but on his second he connected with Michael Thomas on a 23-yeard touchdown pass to tie the game at 10 with 8:21 left in the second quarter.

Northern Illinois had beaten the last three Big Ten teams it has faced. The Buckeyes were a big step up from Iowa, Purdue and Northwestern – or at least it seemed that way.

The defending Mid-American Conference champions hung tough with the defending national champions, despite generating only 190 yards and 10 first downs.

Barrett started the second half and led a steady drive that stalled in the red zone, but Jack Willoughby booted a 23-yard field goal to give the Buckeyes their first lead of the day at 13-10.

The Ohio State defense finally took matters upon themselves. Lee jumped a quick pass to the sideline, picked it off, stiff-armed one Huskie and then ran away from another he outweighs by about 60 pounds. The linebacker’s touchdown made it 20-10 with 1:44 left in the third. The nervous tension at Ohio State was released – temporarily.

 

College football players left in limbo as seasons get pushed

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
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Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson is ready to play football next month.

Or in the winter. Or even the spring.

He just wants to pull on his shoulder pads one last time, run onto the field in front of thousands of adoring fans, and experience the thrill of college football. It doesn’t matter much to Thompson whether flurries are flying or birds are chirping, he just wants an opportunity that the spread of COVID-19 is threatening to take away from him.

“I just want to play football, whenever that time may be,” Thompson said. “I just want to get the ball in my hands and compete. That’s all that worries me is I just want to play football, whenever that time is. Whenever is right.”

Thompson was speaking Tuesday, just as the Big Ten was announcing the cancellation of fall sports and exploring the option of playing football in the spring. Word soon trickled out that the Pac-12 would be following suit, joining mid-majors such as the Mid-American Conference and Mountain West in punting on a traditional college football season.

The Big 12, where the Wildcats play, had not yet made a decision. But as the dominoes begin falling across college sports, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that any of the Power Five schools step on the field next month.

“I want people to be safe. I’m not oblivious to what’s going on,” Thompson said. “But the end of the day, speaking for everybody, it would be nice to have answers, and not just have things pushed around. There’s so much uncertainty every single day – how things can change in 24 hours – it’s very hard on a player. I think if we were just to get some answers, we would be able to process what that would look like, whether that’s what we want or not.”

Many high-profile college players, including Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, have made it clear they want to play this fall. Lawrence was joined by Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard and numerous players from Florida State, Oregon and other high-profile schools over the weekend in using their social media accounts in an attempt to save the fall season – and be part of the decision-making process.

“We all want to play sports this fall. Every athlete, I’m pretty sure, wants to play their sports,” Michigan defensive back Hunter Reynolds said. “They just want to do so safely.”

President Trump even weighed in on the controversy Tuesday, repeating his call for football to happen this fall.

But the decision rests not in the hands of players or politicians but those of university presidents, who must weigh the health and safety of their students against other considerations, among them the significant financial repercussions of not having a college football season.

“This was an extremely difficult and painful decision that we know will have important impacts on our student-athletes, coaches, administrators and our fans,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said. “We know nothing will ease that.”

Pac-12 players at least know they won’t be playing this fall. The spotlight now turns to leagues that have yet to make a decision, and then to all administrators again as they begin wrestling with the prospects of spring football.

“It’s been a hard road not knowing whether we’re going to play or not,” said Kansas State linebacker Justin Hughes, who was looking forward to his senior season after missing much of last year to a knee injury.

“We have one last go-around. Don’t take it away from us – a year away from us – because there’s a tragedy going on right now,” Hughes said. “We want to do the thing we love safely, and whatever it takes to do that we’ll do it.”

Simply pushing college football to the spring is hardly a cut-and-dried answer. Nobody knows whether there will better treatments or even a vaccine by then, and the state of the world could be much the same as it is right now. And for those players who have NFL aspirations – Lawrence, Hubbard and many others – the prospects of risking injury by playing up until the draft almost certainly means many high-profile stars will ultimately opt out.

No wonder the fear among many college football players is not just of a lost fall but a lost season entirely.

“I need this season. This is my last season,” said Syracuse tight end Chris Elmore, who was awaiting word from the Atlantic Coast Conference on whether it will play this fall. “This could be a make-or-break for me to see whether I go to the next level or not. I’m committed to playing until they pull the plug on me.”

SEC, ACC, Big 12 still hoping to play football this fall

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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And then there were three.

The Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference were still moving forward Tuesday with plans for a fall college football season even as two other Power Five leagues, the Big Ten and the Pac-12, called things off.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said he wanted to learn more about the factors that led the Big Ten and Pac-12 decisions. Sankey said he remained comfortable with the 14-member conference’s approach.

“We will continue to further refine our policies and protocols for a safe return to sports as we monitor developments around COVID-19 in a continued effort to support, educate and care for our student-athletes every day,” Sankey said in a statement.

The ACC said it would continue to make decisions based on advice from its medical advisers and state and local health officials.

“We will continue to follow our process that has been in place for months and has served us well. We understand the need to stay flexible and be prepared to adjust as medical information and the landscape evolves,” the league said in a statement.

The Big 12 Board of Directors was meeting Tuesday evening.

The Big Ten’s announcement that it was postponing all fall sports and hoping to make them up in the second semester came first. An hour later, the Pac-12 said all sports in its conference would be paused until Jan. 1, including basketball.