|#11 Ohio State 8-2, 5-1 Big Ten Roster | Schedule||November 15, 2008 12:00 PM ET - ESPN —— Memorial Stadium Champaign, IL||Illinois 3-3, 5-5 Big Ten Roster | Schedule|
It's time. It's time to play the one Big Ten team that shouldn't scare you, but does, nonetheless.
They've dropped games to Minnesota, Wicsonsin and just last week, the pride of the MAC, Western Michigan. Last year it was Iowa and Michigan. But damn if they don't give you pause.
SEC fans will be quick to point out the Zooker's success in the Big Ten, which truthfully isn't all that, but one thing you can't argue is the fact that he's been good against the Buckeyes. His 10-loss team gave top ranked Ohio State a scare two years ago and we're all keenly aware of what transpired last November.
On any given Saturday, they're powered by the conference's best player. But, the consistency isn't there as they've alternated wins with losses since beginning Big Ten play. So why so much fear? Why does this one team scare Buckeye fans like no other? We may never know the answer to those questions, but unless Ohio State figures out their own Illinois riddle, they'll be scooping up bowl scraps instead of getting the BCS berth they need to help validate the 2008 season.
Illinois may bring five losses into the matchup, but their offense currently leads the Big Ten in output, averaging a pretty fresh 459.9 yards per game. The scoring offense is good enough for 31.4 per outing, and the engine driving the show is quarterback Juice Williams. At times capable of being one of the premier players in the country, the junior can be a pocket terror. Size like Beanie, touch better than Pryor. And handling the ball on every play.
Williams doesn't have the luxury of a solid running attack and that's the primary reason for the under-performing season. He's carried the offense, accounting for 99% of the passing yards while also checking in as the team's leading rusher. His 577 rushing yards is two greater than tailback Daniel Dufrene has recorded and he's as much as an option on the ground as he is through the air, where he'll look to the Big Ten's leading receiver, Arrelious Benn.
Williams already has two games of at least 400 yards passing and his ability to run the read into first downs is oh so painfully fresh in our memories. Juice operates behind a decent offensive line and the Buckeyes will need to play an aggressive style -- unlike the react defense that was displayed last year -- in order to bottle him up and prevent him from eating large chunks of the clock.
On the defensive side of the ball, a lot of the preseason noise went to linebacker Martez Wilson and defensive back Vontae Davis, but the star of the unit has been senior Brit Miller. The linebacker leads the Big Ten in tackles and is 9th in the nation in TFLs. He's everywhere, like Leman, but without the gorgeous flowing locks. And infomercial aspirations.
Illinois has a middle-of-the-pack special teams unit. Benn is a threat on returns and the kicking game is dependable, but the Illini are actually quite drawn to the penalties. They have recorded more penalties and accompanying yards than the Buckeyes, who have consistently ranked amongst the conference's top (bottom?) teams in that category.
As touched on above, the number one goal for Ohio State should be containing Juice. Memorial Stadium is an incredibly uninspiring place to play and the Buckeyes will have to look to the embarrassing fourth quarter last season for inspiration. They were humbled on their own field by not being able to force a 4th down when it mattered and we expect the team to come out wanting blood.
The approach last season was more react instead of attack and was probably the beginning of the WTF-Is-Heacock-Doing school of thought. The players universally pointed to the fact that they didn't attack enough and some openly questioned the defensive gameplan following the 28-21 loss. We're encouraged by the fact that the Buckeye defense has really come on since the USC game and is finally playing to the level that was expected of them before the season started.
A huge part of neutralizing Juice and the Illini offense is keeping them off the field. Pryor really came into his own as a passer in the stiff winds of Evanston last weekend and all of a sudden is leading the Big Ten in passer rating. When you step back and think about where Troy Smith was at the same point in his career, that is nothing short of remarkable.
Illinois has to fantastic corners, but when forced into the nickel or dime packages, they can be exposed. Just ask Chase Daniel.
After being held to a miserly 3.2 yards per carry in last season's game, expect Beanie to improve on that significantly. Leman is gone and though the Illini have top-notch defenders that will likely be playing the games of their lives, the stiff arm will feast on the orange and blue.
His running combined with Pryor's emergence as a thrower should be enough to keep the Illini defense on its heels a little and the Buckeye defense had to have learned their lesson from last year and will come out and spy Juice while moving Jenkins into range to take away his primary weapon.
We don't take anything in Champaign for granted, but these two programs are heading in very different directions and the revenge factor will mitigate any sort of upset notions.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 31, Illinois 20