What Will Happen: Illinois vs. Ohio State

Posted Nov 16, 2012 Rob Kunz | 0 comments
You would think I would have learned my lesson by now.
The last time Ohio State played at Penn State (2009), I picked the Nittany Lions to win. I was wrong. Last week I picked Penn State to win again. Once again…I was wrong.
The next lesson learned comes in picking the Buckeyes this season in games which they are supposed to win easily in.
Theoretically, the three easiest games on the schedule so far should have been UAB, Indiana and Purdue. My predictions for those games included OSU beating UAB 56-13 (actual score 29-15), OSU beating Indiana 52-24 (actual score 52-49) and OSU beating Purdue 56-20 (actual score 29-22 in OT).
The real question here is have I learned my lesson? The answer is…it doesn’t matter. It only matters that the Buckeyes got the message about letting lesser teams hang around.
The Lead Up
I can list tons of reasons why the Illini have no chance. The program has a ten-game losing streak in the Big Ten (dating back to OSU’s win in Champaign last season), and has dropped its last five games overall. Illinois’ last 15 games have produced just three wins.
It’s a program in transition from one former Buckeye assistant coach (Ron Zook) to another (Tim Beckman). Beckman also happens to be Urban Meyer’s first defensive coordinator at Bowling Green.
The fighting Illini haven’t much of one on offense, with the 109th ranked unit in FBS. Worse yet, Illinois is 115th in scoring offense, averaging just 18 points per game.
Ohio State has more on the line than wanting to avoid a land-mine this week. With a victory, the Buckeyes can become just the 10th team in school history (123 years) to start a season 10-0. The last time was 2007, when ironically, OSU didn’t get to 11-0, thanks to a 28-21 upset when the Buckeyes were ranked #1 in the polls.
All-time, OSU leads the series 63-30-4, but amazingly enjoys just a 27-18-4 advantage here in Columbus. Since 1988, Illinois has won 7 of the past 11 games in Ohio Stadium. Maybe Dana Howard knew what he was talking about.
When Ohio State Has the Ball
Earlier this season, we heard how tough Michigan State was up front, and how good Penn State’s front 7 was as well. Well, the same things are being said this week, and that there are future NFL players on the Illinois defense. Not to take anything away from the Spartans, Lions or these Illini, but we’ve seen the Buckeyes eventually wear the others down.
Despite its 2-6 record, this is a pretty good defense team. The Orange and Blue are 45th in total defense (365.88 YPG), but also inexplicably 86th in scoring defense (30.75 PPG). In four Big Ten games, the Illini are allowing over 35 points per game.
As for the OSU offense, the only thing that is consistent is the inconsistency. It’s been explosive at times (third quarter against Penn State, second quarter against Nebraska), and stagnant (nearly every first quarter) at others.
Braxton Miller continues to amaze, and is clearly the only major weapon the Buckeyes possess. He didn’t have good footwork and mechanics (passing) for most of the Penn State game, and that’s something that has been worked on this week. I also think he’s been working on reading his progressions and not taking off and running so quickly. Those two things combined could mean we might see (at least at times) a concentrated effort on the passing game.
When Illinois Has the Ball
While Illinois has some definition of offense, it appears to be a plain mess on offense. Junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has not progressed like everyone anticipated and the offensive line has not been able to run or pass block effectively.  
The OSU defense, meanwhile, has been picking up confidence and momentum with solid performances against Purdue and Penn State. I look for the defensive front to spend a lot of time in the back-field, and I also think Luke Fickell & Everett Withers will dial up an array of blitzes.
There is no question that Illinois has talent on offense, but things are just not clicking. That doesn’t bode well for an OSU defense that will no doubt be smelling blood in the water. If the Buckeyes can contain the athletic Scheelhaase, and keep him from scrambling, it will be a long day for Illinois’ offense.
Ohio State needs to almost approach this game like it is play on the road. That means a quick start, getting the home crowd involved, and putting more doubt into what should be an over-matched opponent. With a sluggish beginning, the Illini could gain confidence and hang around, like we saw with UAB, Indiana and Purdue.  
If the Buckeyes come out with focus, don’t turn the ball over, and avoid the mistakes on special teams they’ve gotten away with, they should win easily. I just don’t think we’ll see that type of performance yet.
While we’ll find out Saturday evening if the Buckeyes learned their lesson, I have not. I’ll go with a 49-20 Ohio State victory.
10TV Coverage
The coverage on 10TV and www.10tv.com/BuckeyeBlitz will continue all weekend long. Saturday, we’ll post game pictures and analysis on our Buckeye Blitz web page, and wrap-up the game with our new “Gameday” coverage at 7pm and 11pm, as well as Wall to Wall Sports at 11:35pm. Former Buckeyes Roy Hall and Tim Anderson will join Dom Tiberi to break things down.