Ohio State’s Season Begins Now With Michigan State Looming And Buckeyes Know They Will Need to Play Better Than They Did Against Illinois on Saturday

By Tim Shoemaker on November 14, 2015 at 5:57 pm
Ezekiel Elliott pregame against Illinois.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — J.T. Barrett stood in front of a tiny room filled wall-to-wall with reporters for his postgame press conference with a stoic expression on his face. Ohio State’s quarterback then glanced down briefly at the podium in front of him before answering the question.

Are the Buckeyes capable of beating Michigan State with the way they played Saturday against Illinois?

“No, we have to be better,” Barrett quickly responded. “We know Michigan State, they’re one of the top teams in our conference, as well, so we definitely have to be better.”

Ohio State played a decent game in its 28-3 victory over the Illini. The defense was swarming — limiting the Illini to just 20 yards rushing — and running back Ezekiel Elliott gained 181 yards on the ground himself. But the Buckeyes also had issues in pass protection, they turned the ball over twice and were just 4 of 13 on third-down conversions.

A performance similar to that one next weekend against the 13th-ranked Spartans won’t get it done. Ohio State knows that.

“We know what’s coming down the road next week and we have to be a little bit more balanced than we were and that starts with pass protection,” head coach Urban Meyer said following the game.

The Buckeyes were far from perfect Saturday against the Illini and have been far from flawless all season, really. They are, however, still unbeaten. Following last weekend's brutal loss at Nebraska, Michigan State is not. But the Spartans will by far be Ohio State’s biggest test of the year to date.

“We’re going to need to play better, I think, and I think we will play better,” left tackle Taylor Decker said. “I think we’ll rise to the occasion in a big-time atmosphere.”

The inability to protect the quarterback and throw the ball is a concern for Ohio State. Meyer also strives to be a balanced offense — he wants 250 yards rushing and 250 yards passing in each game — and the Buckeyes were far from that against the Illini as they ran for 283 yards, but threw for just 157.

That happens. Each game is not going to be perfect. But a mediocre performance against a mediocre team isn’t exactly what Ohio State fans were hoping to see the week before the biggest game of the year.

“We’ll get it corrected,” junior wide receiver Michael Thomas said. “We have to play as a whole; it’s a team sport. We have to protect, we have to catch the ball and we have to make plays. That’s what we’ll get corrected and we have great coaches that will get us ready.”

Ohio State’s preseason is over. For the third-ranked Buckeyes, it was always about next weekend’s matchup with Michigan State and the game against Michigan the following weekend.

That time has finally arrived.

“This is why you come to a place like Ohio State, to play in big games and it’s just crazy that we have these two back-to-back,” Elliott said. “The first one is kind of a rivalry, the second one is obviously a rivalry.

“Things are really starting to buckle down and we’re anxious for these two coming up.”

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