PREVIEW: Ohio State at Illinois

Illini clinch bowl eligibility with next win but are big underdogs vs. Ohio State

No. 3 Ohio State (9-0, 5-0 B1G)

at Illinois (5-4, 2-3)

Time: 11 a.m. CT

TV: ABC - Sean McDonough (play by play), Chris Spielman (analyst) and Todd McShay (sidelines)

Last week: Illinois won at Purdue 48-14; Ohio State defeated Minnesota 28-14

Series: Ohio State leads the all-time serires 67-30-4 and leads the "Illinibuck" Trophy series 63-23-2; OSU has won the last seven games in the series, 10 of the last 11 and has won 10 straight in Champaign. Illinois' last five wins in the series have come in Columbus (2007, 2001, 1999, 1994, 1992).

Vegas betting line: Ohio State (-16.5); Over/under: 55.5

This week's links

Know Your Enemy: BuckeyeSports.com's Ryan Ginn breaks down the Buckeyes

Young: Illini formulate a run game aginst Purdue

Recruiting visitors: Several prospects committed elsewhere visiting Illini

Ferguson: 'We have nothing to lose'

Lunt: 'It's us against the world'

VIDEO: Cubit on AD dismissal, Ohio State

Suspended: Freshman LB Julian Jones charged with 'fugitive of justice'

ALERT: Three Illini AD candidates

Werner's Whits (Thursday): Are Illinois, Rick George a fit?

Werner's Whits (Wednesday): Fejedelem for First Team All-Big Ten?

Werner's Whits (Tuesday): What's next for Illini athletics?

AD Change: Illinois dimisses athletics director Mike Thomas

The Fergy Effect: Ferguson changes dynamic of Illini offense, renews bowl hopes

Number-crunching

  • .360: Illini winning percentage against Ohio State since 1988 (9-16 record). Only Michigan (12-14-1) has more wins over Ohio State during that span.
  • 14: Consecutive games OSU running back Ezekiel Elliott has rushed for at least 100 yards, an FBS-leading streak. He ranks seventh in the NCAA in rushing (138.2 ypg). He leads the Big Ten in scoring with 9.3 ppg.
  • 16: Consecutive true road wins for Ohio State, the longest streak in the nation.
  • 16: Illinois players from the state of Ohio, including four of the Illini's five starting offensive linemen.
  • 22: Consecutive wins for Ohio State, the longest active streak in the Big Ten.
  • 24.5: Career sacks for Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa, which is tied for most among active FBS players with Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun.
  • 27.5: Yards per rushing touchdown for Elliott, who has 14 rushing touchdowns this season.
  • 29: Consecutive regular-season conference wins by Ohio State. Urban Meyer has not yet lost a regular season conference game in his four seasons in Columbus.
  • 37.3: Points per game averaged by Ohio State, which leads the Big Ten by more than three points.
  • 78.9: Redzone offense percentage for Ohio State, which ranks 12th in the Big Ten (two spots ahead of Illinois).
  • 160.9: Passer efficiency rating for Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, which leads the Big Ten.
  • 240.6: Rushing yards per game for Ohio State, which leads the Big Ten by more than 35 yards per game.
  • 40,874: Average attendance for Illinois home games this season, which ranks 12th in the Big Ten ahead of Purdue (37,568) and Northwestern (33,926).

Buckeyes to watch

1. J.T. Barrett, QB: The sophomore stole back the starting job from College Football Playoff hero Cardale Jones due to his running ability and red-zone success but sat out last week due to a suspension stemming from a charge of operating a vehicle under the influence, for which he plead guilty. Barrett, who has started just one game this season, has rushed for 265 yards (7.4 yards) per carry during his last three games. His completion percentage (66.1) and touchdown-to-interception ratio (7-to-2) are high. Despite the suspension, he remains a team captain.

2. Ezekiel Elliott, RB: While the quarterback situation gets most of the attention, Elliott is the engine of the Ohio State offense. His consistency -- 14 straight games of at least 100 rushing yards -- and big-play ability (five touchdown runs of 55 yards or more) make him the 6-foot-1, 225-pound junior a Heisman candidate and likely first-round draft pick.

3. Michael Thomas, WR: The 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior (39 receptions, 575 yards, 7 touchdowns) also is a potential first-round prospect thanks to great size and athleticism. While the Buckeyes are a run-first team, Thomas -- along with top athlete Jalin Marshall -- help stretch the field and Thomas is the main red-zone threat.

4. Braxton Miller, WR: The two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year has only helped his NFL future with a switch from quarterback to a dynamic offensive weapon. Miller has 543 total yards (325 receiving, 218 rushing) and is another big-play threat for whom defense must account.

5. Taylor Decker, OT: The 6-foot-7, 315-pound mountain of a man is another likely top-50 draft pick who has a strong upperbody and quick feet.

6. Joey Bosa, DE: The 6-foot-6, 275-pound junior and likely top-5 draft pick receives a ton of attention from opponents, opening up opportunities for his teammates. He is second in the Big Ten in tackles for loss (9.5) during Big Ten play.

7. Adolphus Washington, DT: The 6-foot-4, 290-pound senior has a first-round grade by some thanks to a combination of size, athleticism and burst off the line of scrimmage. He's a disruptor.

8. Darron Lee, LB:  The 6-foot-1, 235-pound redshirt sophomore could be NFL-bound after the season because few have his sideline-to-sideline speed, reminiscent of former Buckeyes linebacker and first-round selection Ryan Shazier.

9. Joshua Perry, LB: The 6-foot-4, 254-pound senior is a strong, uber-aggressive defendsive leader with a nonstop motor and likely will go in the top three rounds of the NFL Draft.

10. Vonn Bell, S: Because Ohio State has a top NFL prospect in every position group, the 5-foot-11, 205-pound junior has physicality in run support and range in coverage. He is the reigning Big Ten defensive player of the week after a pick-six against Minnesota.

11. Cameron Johnston, P: Because Ohio State is loaded on special teams too. Johnston leads the Big Ten with 44.9 yards per punt and 40.8 net yards per punt.

Keys to the game

1. Plus-2 in turnovers: Ohio State is bigger, stronger, faster, deeper. To pull off the massive upset, Illinois must even the playing field (at least slightly) by winning the turnover battle decisively. More drives for Illinois, fewer drives for Ohio State.

2. Read responsibilities: The Illini defense is what Illinois needed it to be this season: a middle-of-the pack defense (seventh in scoring defense and eighth in total defense). But it struggled mightily against an offense with a great rushing attack and dynamic quarterback, allowing 471 yards in a 48-14 loss at North Carolina. Ohio State's offense has even more weapons and a better running game. When there are so many weapons, defenders sometimes worry about stopping everyone instead of just playing their responsibility. Illinois will lose some one-on-one battles to Ohio State's superior talent. But it can't afford to make it easier on Ohio State by missed assignments or trying to do too much.

3. Trap game?: Illinois needs a lot to go its way to top the Buckeyes, including a lack of focus from the defending national champion. Ohio State has to think it will roll Illinois -- though Meyer could point to OSU's tougher-than-expected win against Minnesota last week as a warning -- and in the coming weeks, has two huge matchups with Big Ten title and College Football Playoff impliactions against Big Ten East rivals Michigan State and Michigan. Illinois hopes Ohio State will be unenthused and sleepy for the 11 a.m. kickoff.

Illini in the spotlight

Offense

Wes Lunt, QB: If Illinois is going to pull off one of the biggest upsets in program history, it will need a special performance from its strong-armed quarterback. Ohio State has had trouble against dual-threat quarterbacks, which of course, Lunt is not. So he'll have to make great decisions and great throws -- a lot of them.

Defense

Dawuane Smoot, LEO: Illinois: Big-time players must make big-time plays to win big-time games. Like Lunt, Smoot -- the Illini defense's most dangerous disruptor -- likely will need a special performance for Illinois to have a chance. 

Quotables

"I mean, we have nothing to lose...at all. There's no reason we shouldn't go out there and gie them everything we got. They're human beings who play football. They play football. They play the same game we do. They train the same amount of days we do. They have coaches like we do. Sure, they might be a tad bit fast, a tad bit bigger, but it's the same game we've been playing." - Illini running back Josh Ferguson

"I think it's kind of just us against the world, and I think that's the thing we like about it. I think for us to go to a bowl game would be something so special because with everything that's happened this year. We got three weeks left, and we're just going to keep fighting until we get it." - Illini quarterback Wes Lunt

Prediction

Illinois has no pressure entering this game. They'll still have two more chances to try to clinch ther second straight bowl bid and fourth in six years. But it takes more than a loose, motivated team to defeat a team that has eight of the top-51 NFL draft prospects, according to CBS Sports. Ohio State is loaded and has the chance to be one of those college teams we remember for a long time. While they have huge games coming up -- after Illinois, they'll need to beat five straight  top-20 teams to win the national title (vs. Michigan State, at Michigan, vs. Iowa in Big Ten title game, two CFP games) -- the Buckeyes still need to take care of business at Illinois to reach their goal of repeating. 

Ohio State 38, Illinois 17


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