Three-Man Roundtable: Previewing Ohio State-Illinois

Buckeye CommentarySenior Analyst ISeptember 25, 2009

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 5: Juice Williams #7 of the University of Illinois Fighting Illini passes the ball against the University of Missouri Tigers during the State Farm Arch Rivalry on September 5, 2009 at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Tigers beat the Fighting Illini 37-9.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

We do this thing every once in a while. This time we’re talking about the Fighting Zookers' chances on Saturday in the ‘Shoe.

The juice is good? The juice is rancid? Which version of Juice Williams do you expect to see on Saturday: the one that surgically dissected OSU in 2007, or the guy that finished 2008 going 1-4 (54 percent completion rate, six TDs, eight INTs, and 11 sacks)?

Poe: Juice is as hot and cold as either side of the pillow. At any moment, he can explode over teams like Missouri and Michigan but then be ineffective against Western Michigan. The thing that Juice doesn’t like is good defense, and it showed last year against Ohio State.

OSU should be worried that the Juice could get loose (I had to do it), but he was injured against Illinois St. two weeks ago. His game against Ohio State in 2007 was a product of missed calls, picks made on defenders, and a soft Ohio State scheme made worse by soft tackling. So far, this OSU defense hasn’t had problem getting pressure or tackling.

Things could change, but coach Ron Zook hasn’t been able to coach in a decade and won’t start Saturday.

Cassius: I echo Poe’s comments about the inconsistency of Juice. But Ohio State has had a recent track record of having trouble with running quarterbacks. While Juice has toned down his straight-up runs, he is still a mobile quarterback who could provide problems for a still inexperienced secondary and linebacker corps.

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I expect Juice to have a rather poor outing this Saturday, mainly because of the explosiveness of the defensive line. Expect Thaddeus and the boys to pin their ears back and repay Juice for the 2007 debacle in the ‘Shoe.

Massey: Well, aside from the four touchdown passes, Juice had a rather mediocre game against OSU in 2007. In fact, it was hardly one of his statistical gems.

The thing is, whenever Juice had a big game last season, his team lost. I am not wishing for a big game by Isiah, but I think this game will be decided by a lot more than Juice and his production. Big plays on special teams and timely stops are more likely to make a difference than Williams bombing away for 350 yards.

So, no matter what version shows up on Saturday, Juice is going to need help. Perhaps lots of it.

What did you make of Jim Tressel’s approach against Toledo, specifically his decision to allow Pryor more freedom to run and the QB sneak on third and short? Was it a reaction to fan criticism, coincidence, or something in between?

C: Say whatever you want about Tressel, but one thing he has never done is give in to fan criticism. I think the decision to allow more QB sneaks on third and short was a matter of game plan.

Tressel probably knew that USC would be ready for the QB sneak on most third and shorts and so stayed away from it. Since Toledo watched the USC film and saw the reluctance to run Pryor on third down, they were probably more prepared for a handoff, which is why Tressel kept it in Pryor’s hands.

I think football is a game of trying to do what the other team doesn’t expect you to do, and I think that’s what Tressel was doing these past two weeks.

M: Something in between, probably. The sneak on third and short seemed like an obvious concession. I know it is ridiculous to think that a major D-I coach listens, and even succumbs, to criticism from his fanbase, but it certainly seems like he was paying some attention.

Tressel is conservative. We all accept that, although more begrudgingly than others. But he seems to get more conservative when the spotlight is on him.

Maybe that is the reason his teams perform so well in the games when they are favored and not as well in the games where OSU is not a clear-cut favorite. Tressel seems to take the wraps off in games where he knows it is unlikely to backfire, while he plays it close to the vest when there is serious opposition.

P: His approach against Toledo was the same approach used against most teams not ranked in the top 10. Toledo’s defense is bad bad bad, and the outcome was actually lower than I expected, but I figured Toledo would at least score a few points in the beginning. It’s a good approach that should be expanded to teams with good defense.

The sneak showed Jimmy T has a sense of humor, plus Boom Herron has proven to be as effective as Maurice Wells in short yardage situations.

Arrelious Benn has four catches for 72 yards against Ohio State in two games. Do you think he will eclipse those numbers on Saturday?

M: Actually, no. I have been wanting to call out Benn as overhyped for two years now, and I suppose now is as good a time as any. Of course, this may jinx the Buckeyes as Benn blows up in the Horseshoe, but he has had only one impressive game against a major defense, and that was last year at Penn State.

I know he has been banged up in ‘09, but I liked the way the Ohio State secondary played Damian Williams and then the entire Toledo passing attack. I do not expect a repeat performance from last weekend, but I do not think the Buckeyes will let Benn beat them. Unless he breaks a big one, I think he ends up with less than 75 yards.

P: It’s a fair pick if Juice is on and Benn isn’t knocked out. It really depends on the Ohio State defense and if they choose to sell out to stop the pass or stop the run.

The Illini shouldn’t be as bad on offense as they are. Juice was hurt two weeks ago and no one really exploded through the air, but they won 45-17.

Benn has one catch for nine yards this year and will have to explode at some point if he’s going to be a first round draft pick. Maybe Juice will realize his real position in the NFL and steal some catches from Benn.

C: No, I don’t think he will eclipse his career mark in this game. This isn’t because Benn isn’t a good target; he is in fact Juice’s go-to guy. But I think it's because of the pressure that will be put on Juice by the defensive line.

He may have more than four catches on Saturday, but I don’t think Juice will have enough time to get the ball to him downfield. Unless he somehow manages to make a catch and break a few tackles and get downfield on his own, as Massey says, I think he will end up with around 50 yards.

Finally, Ohio State has not passed for more than 150 yards against Illinois since 2005 (only 49 in 2008). Tell everyone why the Buckeyes will blow past that number on Saturday.

P: It was actually 156 in 2007 (coupled with three Todd Boeckman INTs in his Interceptapalooza), and I know that because I looked it up. Pryor’s been good for 200-plus yards per game on average this year and has no signs of slowing down unless he starts Boeckmaning them into the secondary.

The Illini have been blown up through the air this year, and OSU might have to pass if Boom continues to get the bulk of the carries at three yards per carry. Vontae Davis may really have been that good because no one else on the Illini knows how to play defense. If Pryor is clicking and the game is close, he could easily surpass Toledo numbers.

C: Psh, Pryor will easily pass 150 yards, probably in the first half. In fact, I expect Pryor to eclipse his career-high passing game (set last week at 262 yards) and have his first career 300-yard passing game.

Believe it or not, the kid is getting more and more confident in his passing abilities and is still developing as a passer. Couple that with the fact that Illinois simply does not play pass defense, and Pryor could go off...big time.

M: Terrelle and his receivers will blow past 150 yards in the first half. Illinois is 119th in pass defense. Yes, that is the penultimate position.

The Illini are giving up 340 yards/game (Yikes!), which leaves more than enough room for Pryor to get his first 300-yard passing game. They actually surrendered more passing yards to Illinois State than Missouri. Ouch.

We may see a lot of different routes this weekend—more screens, quick slants—but the result will still be copious yards for Pryor.

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