Recon: Ohio State

We talk with Buckeye Sports Bulletin's Jeff Svoboda leading up to Saturday's matchup with Ohio State.

Here are five questions for Buckeye Sports Bulletin's Jeff Svoboda regarding the Ohio State Buckeyes heading into Saturday's matchup in The Shoe.

1. J.T. Barrett was obviously nursing his knee at the end of the game. Do you think the injury is more severe than Urban is letting on and if so how much will it effect Barrett in Saturday's game?

This is sort of the million dollar question this weekend. Meyer has said Barrett will be good to go come Saturday but he also said that an MCL sprain is a serious injury, so it's hard to reconcile those two facts. In fact, sprained MCLs have caused Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde to miss games in past years at Ohio State. Now, it seems likely that Barrett's injury is not quite as severe as those, but at the same time, it's not gonna get better the more he plays, either, so it needs to be watched. I wouldn't be surprised to see OSU not use him quite as much in the running game on Saturday, content to let him distribute the ball, especially with the huge showdown at Michigan State coming up next.

2. With Barrett likely limited as a rusher due to his injury, how much more will the rushing gameplan shift to Ezekiel Elliott and how will he handle the added workload?

Yeah, in a related vein, I bet the Buckeyes use backs Ezekiel Elliott and Curtis Samuel to carry the load on the ground vs. Illinois. Elliott isn't quite Hyde as far as his ability to take over a game, but he's had a fine season and is capable of toting the rock 20 to 25 times if need be. He's a physical runner and good between the tackles, so he can handle a lot of the inside stuff, while Samuel is explosive and might be more a part of the offense this week with Roderick Smith's departure. I also wouldn't be surprised to see OSU go into the Wildcat a couple of times as well, as hybrid backs/recievers Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson have both been used in that role this year. Both have been closing to breaking a long run this year and will be looking to do so vs. the Illini.

3. Ohio State's defense has been relatively stout this year, especially in regards to the front seven. Do you think Illinois might be best served to pass a little more down field even though they've had some success running the ball out of the option lately?

The downfield passing game killed OSU a year ago and the team has still given up big plays occasionally this year, though those have started to disappear the past few weeks as the defense gains more confidence in its quarters scheme. Hitting big passes against single coverage has been a solid way to make plays vs. OSU this year, while the Buckeyes have also been victimized at times by misdirection. Running against OSU is pretty tough as well, and the Buckeyes are pretty used to seeing option teams like the way Illinois has been trying to move the ball in past weeks. So all in all, I think you might be onto something.

4. With an overtime win over a struggling Penn State team and a huge matchup against Michigan State in the week after, does this have the feel of a trap game at all for the Buckeyes?

It could be a trap game but I think there's two reasons it won't be. First of all, it's a home night game, and so I don't think getting up for this one will be a problem with that in mind. Secondly, I think the Penn State game might have refocused this team. Things were starting to feel easy in the four games before the close shave in Happy Valley, and even though the Buckeyes likely knew deep down they were still a work in progress, such a close loss was a good reminder that this young team can't take anything for granted. Thus I expect OSU to be pretty focused for the Illini.

5. Joey Bosa is a star for the Ohio State defense and rightfully gets a lot of attention, but who is someone else on the defensive side that Illinois really needs to gameplan for?

One player worth keeping an eye on is senior defensive tackle Michael Bennett. Bosa is by far OSU's best pass rusher but Bennett is good, athletic tackle who is quick enough to make plays in the backfield but strong enough to hold the point of attack. He tends to make a handful of plays per game that are very impressive, so you can't forget about him while focusing energies on Bosa. In the back seven, I'd say Darron Lee is someone opposing offenses have to be aware of as well. He's just a redshirt freshman, but Lee has been a playmaker this year with 8.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown and an interception. Lee is strong enough to set edge on screen plays but athletic enough to be the team's top blitzer as well, so teams need to know where he is in the passing game.

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