Game Five: Illinois Fighting Illini
Location: Memorial Stadium (Champaign, IL) 12pm EST, Big Ten Network
Head Coach: Ron Zook
Illinois Players Recruited By Ohio State: DB Justin Green. LB Justin Staples and RB Bud Golden were on Ohio State's radar, but were not offered a scholarship. Green was originally an Ohio State verbal commitment, but changed his mind the night before signing day because Ohio State wanted to move Green from running back to defensive back - the same position that he is now playing for Illinois. Even Jim Tressel has said something to the effect that Green should be playing defensive back for Ohio State.
What To Look For When Illinois Has The Ball: Illinois will run the ball, then run the ball some more. Illinois is currently ranked 18th in the country in rushing offense, led by RB Mikel Leshoure. Conversely, Illinois is struggling passing the ball, so this will be interesting to see the strategy new offensive coordinator Paul Petrino employs against Ohio State.
Should Petrino try to run the ball against Illinois, only to have his offense shut down by Ohio State's strong defensive front, which has not allowed a 100 yard rusher in 27 games? Or should Petrino have Illini freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase try to attack Ohio State through the air, risking turnovers?
I am guessing Petrino will try to pound the ball, and look for a lot of play-action passing against Illinois. Nonetheless, I see Ohio State coming out ahead in this little chess match. This is a great test for Ohio State, as they will be facing a power running team in Wisconsin on October 16th.
What To Look For When Ohio State Has The Ball: Ohio State has been averaging 49 points per game so far this season, but that figure is tremendously inflated due to the 73-20 rout of Eastern Michigan last weekend. Even so, QB Terrelle Pryor has been Ohio State's offensive catalyst, leading the Buckeyes not only in passing but also in rushing.
That last sentence regarding Pryor's rushing leads me to again voice concern about Ohio State as it heads into Big Ten competition - Ohio State needs to establish its running game, outside of Terrelle Pryor. Running backs Brandon Saine and Boom Herron are struggling with getting any semblance of a running attack going.
Cases in point - against Eastern Michigan, Saine only ran for 11 yards on 3 carries, while Herron ran for 56 yards on 12 carries, and this was against Eastern Michigan. Meanwhile, backup running backs Jordan Hall (4 carries for 26 yards) and Jaamal Berry (4 carries for 74 yards) are not being given opportunities to see what they can do with the first-string offense.
If Ohio State can get its running game going against Illinois, regardless of who the back who gets the majority of the carries, I will be much happier.
Intangibles: Ohio State will not overlook Illinois, as Head Coach Jim Tressel can easily pull out the game film from 2007 when Illinois came into Ohio Stadium and defeated Ohio State 28-21. The seniors of this year's team were true freshmen when that happened, and I doubt Ohio State will be lacking the motivation department on that front. Ohio State has struggled at Illinois over the years (2002, 2006, 2008), so I do not believe the coaching staff is taking this game lightly.
Outlook: I said it before, and I will say it again - I think this is a good test for Ohio State. While I believe Illinois is improving, and could prove to be a spoiler in Big Ten play, I do not believe Illinois will be able to stay with Ohio State in this one. Unlike the last two games Ohio State has played, the starters will be in this one through at least the 4th quarter, but Ohio State comes out on top - Ohio State 35, Illinois 14.
Ron Zook, Head Football Coach, University Of Illinois