Know Your Foe: Ohio State

Catch a glimpse from the other side as we catch up Buckeye Sport's Jeff Svoboda to get the scoop on everything Ohio State-related...

To get ready for Illinois' matchup with Ohio State, we check in with Buckeye Sport's Jeff Svoboda...

1) Braxton Miller is one of the best in the country -- what have defenses in the past done to try and slow him down? What has worked to keep the dual-threat in check?

JS: "The past few games, really nothing has worked when it comes to slowing down Miller, who is completing nearly 80 percent of his passes in the last three games. In the past, teams sold out to stop the quarterback from running the football before he even got started, something Wisconsin did with great effect last year as it used eight- and nine-man fronts to keep Miller from making things happen on the edge.

This year, though, that is much harder to do because of the weapons the Buckeyes have. OSU is much improved at the skill positions this year, giving Miller better options in the passing game, and that has opened up the whole offense. He ran the ball only one time in the last game at Purdue, saving his body from hits, while completing 19 of 23 passes for four touchdowns. I wouldn't be surprised if Ohio State takes a similar approach vs. Illinois, provided the wind isn't whipping across the Memorial Stadium field like it usually is."

2) We know about Miller and running back Carlos Hyde -- give us a few other names on offense that Illinois needs to be aware of Saturday.

JS: "The leader of the wideout group is senior Philly Brown, who has become a vocal player on and off the field while also breaking into the top 10 all-time at OSU in receptions on it. He's a consistent player who lines up both in the slot and outside. Devin Smith is more than just a deep target this season but he certainly adds that to the offense still, and even tight end Jeff Heuerman must be watched. In the last game, Heuerman caught five passes for 116 yards, the most for an OSU tight end in 30 years. Weapons such as those -- as well as hybrid player Dontre Wilson, who stretches defenses horizontally -- have helped make the offense really hit its stride the past three games."

3) What is the strength of the defense? What does it do well and where could it be exploited? Who are the leaders on that side of the ball?

JS: "So far, the strength of the defense has been the run defense, as Ohio State is the only team in the nation that has not allowed a run of 20 yards or more. You can get a few yards at a time on OSU on the ground, but the Buckeyes are fundamentally sound enough that they simply do not give up the big ones. The biggest problem all season, on the other hand, has been the pass defense, though even that has been much better the past few games as Ohio State has opted to blitz more often in an effort to make opposing quarterbacks make mistakes. Earlier this year, the Buckeyes weren't comfortable in some coverages, leading to breakdowns in communication and big plays. Leaders on the defense include linebacker Ryan Shazier, who is very athletic and makes plays all over the field, and safety C.J. Barnett, who is having a very solid campaign for a back end that has been maligned at times."

4) Do you have any reason to believe this team isn't focused right now? in other words, undefeated and playing to keep a shot at the national title, is there any reason to believe Ohio State will come out with anything less than it's A-game Saturday?

JS: "I think the Buckeyes are pretty focused right now. Urban Meyer is a good motivator, but this team plays pretty selflessly and has a very good ability to focus on the task at hand. "This team gets it," is one way Meyer put it earlier this season, and there haven't been many signs of overlooking a team this season. The Buckeyes are also well aware they're in a dogfight when it comes to trying to make the national championship game and thus need to be on their game each week from here on out. You truly never know how this is gonna go, but I haven't seen any signs that this team is overlooking the Illini."

5) Should Alabama or FSU slip up, how do you think Ohio State would fare in the championship game? Your thoughts on either potential matchup with Alabama or FSU.

JS: "That's an interesting question. Earlier this season, when OSU was struggling to stop some opposing passing games, I can see why the national pollsters downgraded the Buckeyes a bit, but I think the team has really improved and hit its stride the past three games. I'd say the team is as close to elite as it has been since Meyer took over, and so they could certainly compete on the national stage. Florida State might be a tough matchup given its explosive offense and Ohio State's earlier problems against the pass, but I think the Buckeyes would have a chance to go toe-to-toe with Alabama. One thing I will say is that both of Meyer's Ohio State teams have gotten noticeably better throughout the season, which should be a good sign come bowl season."

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