Preview: Ohio State at #13 Illinois

By Johnny Ginter on October 14, 2011 at 12:30p
Ohio State Buckeyes Ohio State 3-3, 0-2 Big Ten Roster | Schedule 3:30 PM ET - ABC/ESPN —— Memorial Stadium Champaign, IL Illinois Fighting Illini #13 Illinois 6-0, 2-0 Big Ten Roster | Schedule

50 years into the future, America will be run by a cadre of half-man half-elk hybrids who lord over the land, as the surviving band of humans struggles to eke out an existence in a barren radioactive wasteland, a wasteland we once called home. Cars will be made from human bones, it will rain blood, gas will be like 7 bucks a gallon.

And Ron Zook will still be the coach of the Illinois Fighting Illini.

The guy is a survivor. Alternately a running joke and a legitimate Big Ten Coach of the Year threat, perpetual hot seat sitter Ron Zook has seemingly managed to finally cobble together an Illini team that is built to last. Sure, Illinois' 6-0 start has come at the expense of a handful of tiny white porcelain mice masquerading as college football teams, but pretty much no one expected this team to be undefeated at the halfway mark of the season.

A deadly QB/WR tandem of Nathan Scheelhaase and A.J. Jenkins helps, but more than that, Ron Zook's very prescient hires of offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and defensive coordinator Vic Koenning are paying off in a big way for his team. If the pattern of losing big time stars like Mikel Leshoure and Martez Wilson had held true, Illinois could've expected to see another 7-6 season at best this year. Instead, they find themselves undefeated and inching their way up the Top 25, looking for a high profile win that might put them in the BCS picture.

Point is, this seems like a different Illinois team. The Illini have always played Ohio State close, even stealing a couple of games, but that always felt more like chance than any real proficiency on their part. And sure, consistency, turnovers, and defensive lapses are still hurt them on a semi regular basis. But for once, the Zooker has finally figured out the Anti-Life Equation and is inserting it into as many aspects of his team that he can.


It's kind of hard to believe that Nathan "Built Like A Brick" Scheelhaase is only a sophomore, but he is rapidly rising up the ranks of B1G quarterbacks. As Petrino has (wisely) shifted away from zone reads and read options and zone read option read zones to a more pro-style attack, Scheelhaase has developed into a legitimate passing threat. So far in 2011, Nathan is hitting on 2/3rds of his passes, with a TD/INT ratio of 10:3. He's still a significant threat to run the ball, but now it's more on scrambles and busted plays than designed runs.

Saying Scheelhaase's primary target is A.J. Jenkins is a little bit like saying pizza's primary target is my mouth. This year Scheelhaase has completed 80 passes. 46 of them have gone to Jenkins, and probably another twenty were intended for Jenkins but instead another TE or WR jumped in the way at the last second, the big dumb idiots. Jenkins is as legit of a WR as you will find in the Big Ten, and maybe even the country. The guy is blistering fast, runs terrific routes, and frankly scares the crap out of me. More on that later.

The thing is, as prolific as Illinois' passing game has the potential to be, this is still a run first team. Losing Leshoure hurt, and in his place senior Jason Ford was expected to step in and take over, but Ford has been inconsistent at best. Enter Troy Pollard. Pollard is also a senior who is finally able to strut his stuff, and in limited action this year he has been brilliant. The guy is averaging over 10 yards per carry, and one stat in particular that is telling is that Pollard is the team's leading rusher despite having 48 fewer carries than Jason Ford. Ford is still the nominal starter, but don't be surprised if Pollard supplants him this week.

Defensively, the obvious strength of Illinois is their d-line. Whitney Mercilus makes up for having the given name of a horrible, horrible sitcom by having a completely amazing 1500s mass murderer family name. Mercilus leads the country in sacks, with 8.5, and also in big fat opportunities for lazy sportscasters to make puns, with a bajillion. The rest of the defense is solid, if not spectacular. Despite a deep d-line, they are vulnerable to the short passing game, and have given up a decent amount of points to some not so decent teams. Still, the LB corps is still very good, and the 17.8 points per game that they've surrendered is exactly equal to the number of points per game OSU is giving up.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the sometimes horrible special teams play that Illinios has shown this season. Both coverage and returns have been weak, and could  lead to some short fields for the Buckeyes. Still, placekicker Derek Dimke is a perfect 7/7 on the year in field goals, and could end up being a big factor in the game.

Buckeye Breakdown

I honestly have no idea what to expect out of the Ohio State offense tomorrow. The first half of the Nebraska game featured, bar none, some of the best playcalling I have ever seen in an Ohio State game. But in retrospect, that first 30 minutes or so now seem like some kind of cruel prank given the offensive production that came about in the second half. Situations change.

And really, that's the theme for the Buckeye offense on Saturday afternoon. Lots of factors are at play here; the health of Braxton Miller, the return of Boom Herron, the emergence of Philly Brown, where Jordan Hall will play (especially given his poor rushing in the games since Miami), etc. The pessimist in me wants to call that first half playcalling an aberration, especially since the return of Boom will no doubt encourage Bollman to pound it on the ground early and often. What kind of sucks is that I think the failure of the Dave play this year is what finally led to a more diverse approach, and now with Boom returning Ol Fuss and Feathers might be inclined to go back to the well.

With a name like Whitney, you gotta be Mercilus

Still, positives. Philly Brown looked great against Nebraska, maybe even better than he had before the injury. Carlos Hyde has gotten better with each game, and is now averaging over 5 yards per carry, giving the Buckeyes a solid, known quantity at RB. Mike Adams also didn't seem to miss a beat and the offensive line looked vastly improved from their performance against Michigan State.

Essentially, Braxton is going to have to keep the LBs and the defensive line honest by completing some passes, but truthfully this game will likely be decided upon whether or not the OSU offensive line has the capability to neutralize possibly the best defensive lineman in the country and get consistent rushing yards.

Right now I'm actually more worried about the defense. The loss of Nate Williams for the year is huge, because it takes away OSU's best pass rusher and eliminates a lot of blitz packages. Hankins, Simon, and Bennett have been terrific, but they're primarily interior players and a lack of a pass rush has hurt the team at times. Another area of worry is the LBs, who have underwhelmed at times this year. Sabino in particular seems lost, and he's a poster child for a unit that's often out of position or taking poor angles of attack. Another huge loss is that of Dominic Clarke; since Howard Island has become more of a Howard Johnson's, Clarke had been pushing for more and more playing time and was becoming a force. Let me put it this way: one less talented guy available to double A.J. Jenkins increases the likelihood of Travis Howard having to cover an opposing team's #1 WR one on one, and I don't think that's something my brain can abide anymore.


Sharks are winners, and they don't look back because they have no necks. Necks are for sheep.

Ron Zook is a shark, and he smells blood in the water. I don't know what it is about Illinois, but they always seem to play Ohio State incredibly tough, especially at home. Add to that Zook's obvious glee in beating the Buckeyes and you can imagine how hyped up his players will be for this game. Expect the Illinois coaching braintrust to try and throw everything in the book at both Fickell and Miller to confuse the hell out of them, while also doing their best to pound the ball down some OSU throats. The key here is whether or not OSU will be able to stop the Illinois rushing attack without committing 8 or 9 guys to do so. If A.J. Jenkins finds himself lost in zone coverage for most of the day, good. If he's going one on one with a safety (or anybody, really), it could end up being a very long afternoon.

Last week Alex and Luke tied for King Sad Guys; Luke is now fast approaching some kind of ennui singularity, so hopefully for both his sake and ours, the 11W Computronomatic is accurate when it calls for the upset with a score of...

Ohio State 24, Illinois 20


Comments Show All Comments

Irricoir's picture

Howard Johnson. Sounds about right.

I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

BoFuquel's picture

Bucks take no prisoners, win 31-7 . It's our time!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

slippy's picture

"...they are vulnerable to the short passing game..."


LOL.  Is this relevant?


Lots of Sabino hate lately (from everyone).  I will agree that sometimes he's lost but I do have to say - when he knows where to be he's there harder and faster than anyone else.  If it ever clicks for him he's going to be a hell of a player.  But I guess we've been waiting for it to click for years now...

Buckeyejason's picture

I have a feeling this could be like the Nebraska game. Build the lead only to choke it away as the game wears on.

27-20 Champaine Zookie Monsters


zosima's picture

Thank you for giving this post the sleek, dazzling veneer of the 1980s

Brutus's picture

I said it last week and were it not for a fluke injury (or a frail QB if you prefer), I would have been right. We will win. This prediction is completely void if Bauserman takes a single snap. This team is coming around and improving every week, perhaps even faster than a very young team normally would. I haven't seen them quit yet, and as long as that attitude remains, they will keep us in every game this year (though not feeling great about Whisky just yet).

Go Bucks.

GoBucks713's picture

Thank you for foregoing about the normal doom and gloom Brutus.

-The Aristocrats!

Poe McKnoe's picture

FOOLS.  Predicting the Zooker is like predicting when the world will end. lol

Buckeye Chuck's picture

Maybe it's just the Browns fan in me (disappointing Browns seasons, as opposed to the kind of bad Browns seasons we're used to, have a way of gathering negative momentum as the season goes along), but I suspect last week was the last stand for any sort of fight in this year's team. I expect tomorrow to get out of hand in a hurry. Illinois, 34-10.

The most "loud mouth, disrespect" poster on 11W.

Maestro's picture

Can understand that sentiment, but hopefully this team is too young and dumb to realize that quitting is an option.

vacuuming sucks

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

I predict an 8 overtime game tomorrow.  The two teams go into it tied at 13. 

OT#1 - matching FGs, 16 all
OT#2 - matching TDs, 23 all
OT#3 - matching TDs, no 2-pt conversions, 29 all
OT#4 - matching FGs, 32 all
OT#5 - matching TDs, 2-pt conversions, 40 all
OT#6 - matching TDs, no 2-pt conversions, 46 all
OT#7 - matching FGs, 49 all
OT#8 - OSU TD with 2-pt conversion (57-49), Illinois gets a TD but OSU stuffs their 2-pt conversion attempt

OSU 57, Illinois 55

Class of 2010.

Menexenus's picture

Now THAT is a bold prediction!

Real fans stay for Carmen.

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

Haha, that would be bonkers.

Class of 2010.

toledobuckeyefanjim's picture

I'm rooting for the Buckeyes to win, of course, but with Bollman calling the plays.....

blazers34's picture

some guy from rivals was at Rod Smith's little bros game, and tweeted that word up there was that he had been moved to LB. anyone have any insight here?

M tots's picture

They were talking about this on 97.1 the fan yesterday.  They seemed to think it was only a temporary thing.  Something about a lack of depth at LB for the road trip.  But with the log jam at RB it's hard telling...

gravey's picture

Went to grad school at Illinois.  I got a pretty decent education I suppose, but came to really hate students there.  The hubris was never ending.  I root against Illinois harder than any place other than M*chigan.  Go Bucks!  Ruin the Illini season.....but have some Custard Cup if it isn't cold, rainy and disgusting there like it normally is.

Hoody Wayes's picture

"The Illinois Prairie Football Spectacular!"

JakeBuckeye's picture

Hmmm... I was thinking a little optimistically today. If we can beat Illinois tomorrow, that could possibly be great momentum and just what this team needs before a bye week. We all know what comes after the bye week too... The Wisconsin game. It could be perfect timing for this team if we are to pull off the HUGE upset (at home, mind you.)

baddogmaine's picture

Last week I predicted 24 points for Nebraska - they got 28 in the second half. IL is MUCH better offensively. and we have not defended well against decent offenses all year except for MSU who did some shooting into their own feet. Last week I predicted 7 points for us and we got 20 in the first half. Though IL is supposedluy weak against the run if they don't have to defend the pass they will just crowd the box, cutting off running lanes. Add in that Zook always seems more ready for what Heacock and Bollman do than the other way around. IL 28-10.

chitown buckeye's picture

Long time reader, first time poster. I was real optimistic about this game earlier in the week. I thought we showed some great signs of life both offensively and defensively for 2.5 quarters against Nebraska. However, as the week progressed I began to think about how this game will probably be a tight one (as it always is) and the fact our coaching staff couldn't put the team in position to hold on to a 3 score lead with 1.5 quarters left, there is very little chance they can make the right calls and decisions to win a close game in Champaign. I'm fearful Braxton will get hurt or his injury shows itself at some point during the game. The die-hard in me wants to say we will win this game (and we surely can) but the realist in me tells me the coaching staff (Bollman, Fickell) will make a decision or two that will have us all scratching our heads. (and by scratching our heads I mean throwing a TV through a window). But here is to magic happening in Champaign!! OSU 24- IL 17  Go Bucks!

"I'm having a heart attack!"

Bucks's picture

Welcome! Agreed there isn't much to like about this game but we'll see!

osubucks10's picture

live blog for the game?

RBuck's picture

I'd feel a lot better about today's game if Brax isn't throwing a flutter ball. Which makes me  wonder what happened; remembering the videos from spring practice (seen right here on 11W, thank you) he was throwing pretty nice spirals.

Long live the southend.

sfgoody's picture

Here's what we know: we're young, we're prone to mistakes, we're coming off an emotional loss and playing a tricky opponent thats always a tough out at home. oh, and brax is less than 100%.  But here's what we also know: we WILL be able to run the ball on these guys.  They haven't played a legit running team yet, and clearly not one with the backs and line we have. Scheelhasse is a beast, but he's it.  They don't have a RB that scares us, which means if we can contain him and force him to pass we know what's coming.  True, Jenkins is good, maybe great, but do we think he's enough to beat us....?  Maybe.  If we lose this game, it's all over for this year and Fick may not survive the season.  But win....and head into the bye with some belief and momentum and most importantly, TIME....I think Neb is better than Ill and we were embarrassing them.  Boom and Adams show their importance, Bucks find a way, 24-17.


22buckeyebrown's picture

I predicted wins in every game so far except the Nebraska game, which they at least played very well for over half the game. I felt a lot better about this game all week until this morning, getting nervous now. Maybe it's Brutus telling me to quit jinxing the games we can/should win... TOSU-17 ILL-30. That was difficult...

BuckeyeSki's picture

I wanna see a healthy dose of this:

Followed closely by a shot of this:

And finally, at around 7pm:

Banned from BlackShoeDiaries since 2008. Crime: Slander/Defamation of Character Judgement: Guilty

Baroclinicity's picture

Wonder if there are issues getting things up on this site?  Strange that we haven't seen anything for a few hours today.

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.