Ohio State Football: 10 Things We Learned from the Buckeyes' Win vs. Illinois
In 2007, an underdog Illinois team came into Columbus and handed an unbeaten Ohio State team its first loss of the year.
History, in this case, did not repeat itself.
The No. 6 Ohio State Buckeyes (10-0) defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini (2-7) 52-22 in Columbus Saturday afternoon. Braxton Miller piled up 298 yards of total offense and three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) and Carlos Hyde added 137 yards and three more scores on the ground.
While many expected Ohio State to beat Illinois easily, there were a few surprises on the field this Saturday.
Here are 10 things we learned from the Buckeyes' 33-point victory over Illinois.
1. Illinois is a terrible football team.
Most Ohio State fans were aware of this fact, but few have witnessed just how bad the Illini are under first-year head coach Tim Beckman.
Their season began to fall apart in Week 4 after getting housed by Louisiana Tech, 52-24. That game sparked a running six-game losing streak, and during conference play, they've been outscored by an average of nearly 27 points.
To their credit, Illinois has been hit hard with some pretty untimely injuries this year, but that alone doesn't excuse this level of play.
2. The success and failure of these new coaching staffs is extreme.
A new head coach isn't supposed to take over a team and win his first 10 games like Urban Meyer has with Ohio State this year.
A new head coach doesn't usually struggle as badly as Tim Beckman has with Illinois this year.
Meyer and Beckman are exemplifying the two extremes when it comes to success (or a lack of success) with a new team. What you usually see is something in the middle of these two situations, where a team might struggle adjusting to the new system while showing gradual growth over the year.
Seeing Ohio State and Illinois on the same field gave us visual proof of the separation between these two teams.
3. This is one of the best offenses in Ohio State history.
Urban Meyer is doing unprecedented things in his first year at Ohio State:
Congratulations, Buckeye fans. You witnessed the first Ohio State team to ever put up 50+ four times in a season today. #urbtopia
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) November 3, 2012
Considering all the factors—first-year head coach, personnel that doesn't fit his system and an offense that was absolutely uninspired last year—what Meyer is doing in Columbus is unbelievable.
The Buckeyes have scored more than 28 points in nine of their 10 games so far. Last year, Ohio State failed to reach 28 points in eight of its 13 games.
Thinking about that is incredible, but realizing that alongside the fact that the team isn't even executing the offense to perfection yet should make folks very excited for 2013.
4. Carlos Hyde deserves more attention than he's getting.
The junior running back from Naples, Florida is having a breakout year for the Buckeyes, and after the Illinois game, shares the lead with Braxton Miller for touchdowns on the ground with 13.
But it wasn't until the Week 6 game against Nebraska that things really started clicking for Hyde. Over the last five games, Hyde has rushed for 579 yards and 11 touchdowns.
His emergence has been a big reason for Ohio State's success on offense. The bruising back is proving to be a consistent runner for the Buckeyes, but his greatest strength is getting the ball in the end zone near the goal line.
5. Working on the passing game in practice paid off for Braxton Miller.
Miller had struggled throwing the ball the last two weeks, completing just 41 percent of his passes for 256 yards with one touchdown against two interceptions against Purdue and Penn State.
Against Illinois, Miller completed 60 percent of his passes (12-of-20) for 226 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Beyond the stats, Miller looked much more comfortable in the pocket, calmly waiting for his routes to develop and throwing the ball on point. Despite completing just 12 passes, Miller hit eight different receivers during the game.
Combining an accurate passing attack with this deadly running game would make this offense even more dangerous.
6. Rod Smith is becoming a weapon in this offense.
With Jordan Hall out for the year with a knee injury, Rod Smith has stepped up behind Carlos Hyde and played very well in recent weeks.
Against Nebraska, Indiana, Penn State and Illinois, Smith has averaged over nine yards per carry. Against Illinois, the sophomore back gained 32 yards on five carries, but it was his big play in the passing game that stood out.
Smith battled a fumbling issue early in his career, and he did cough the ball up once against the Illini, but the sophomore back is really starting to come on strong as the season progresses.
7. The offensive line might be the strength of the team.
The playmakers like Miller and Hyde get a lot of the attention, but the O-line is just as responsible for the success of this offense.
What's even more bizarre to think about is the fact that this position group absolutely terrified Urban Meyer in the spring. But when the season kicked off, something changed. This group has come together over the course of the year, helping Ohio State become a top-10 rushing attack.
Against Illinois, the big guys up front continued to dominate. The Buckeyes rushed for 330 yards against the Illini, more than 80 yards better than their season average.
8. Ryan Shazier is playing his way to first-team All-Big Ten honors.
Sophomore Ryan Shazier has been Ohio State's only consistent linebacker this year, but over the last couple weeks, he has completely dominated the competition.
Over the last two weeks, Shazier has racked up 21 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble and an interception returned for a touchdown.
The Big Ten has a lot of talented linebackers, but not many are performing at the level Shazier has this year. Through 10 games, Shazier has 98 tackles (11 for loss) and four sacks. He's on pace to finish the year with about 120 tackles, and if that doesn't earn first-team All-Big Ten honors, what will?
9. Those wanting Luke Fickell to be fired should probably apologize.
After giving up 38 points and 49 points in consecutive weeks to Nebraska and Indiana, a lot of people were calling for co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell's head.
With the way the defense has played the last three weeks, those people haven't had much to talk about.
Against Purdue, Penn State and Illinois, the Buckeyes have done a good job keeping opposing offenses out of the end zone. Those teams have averaged scoring a hair over 22 points per game, but each opponent got a touchdown via special teams or its defense. When you factor that in, Ohio State's defense has only given up 14 points per game the last three weeks.
It will take some time for the team to adjust to the new schemes Kerry Combs and Everett Withers installed, but over the last three weeks, it seems like things are starting to click for the defense.
10. Ohio State's bye week is just as important as its last two games.
Late in the fourth quarter, Buckeyes fans watched as right tackle Reid Fragel writhed in pain on the turf of Ohio Stadium.
It was a subtle reminder of how badly this team needs a week off. Miller, Hyde, Bradley Roby, Nathan Williams and many others have missed time this year because of injuries. The Buckeyes' bye week came uncharacteristically late this year, but at this point, it couldn't have come at a better time.
Ohio State has survived all its injuries and remained unbeaten. Now the team gets a week off to heal before closing out the season against Wisconsin and Michigan.
Follow David on Twitter @davidreg412.
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