KNOW YOUR ENEMY: Ohio State

Before every Illinois football game, Illini Inquirer publisher Jeremy Werner asks the beat writer of the opposing team five questions. This week, BuckeyeSports.com Ryan Ginn helps preview the Illini's home game against defending national champion and undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes

1. Ohio State is the defending national champions and returned most of its roster. How do the 2015 Buckeyes compare to the 2014 Buckeyes?

Ginn: I think that for the most part, Ohio State is actually ahead of where it was last year at this point – but obviously the team is being compared to the far superior final product from last season, which is why people keep wondering what’s wrong with the Buckeyes. I’d say the areas of concern compared to last year would be the wide receiver depth (they’ve had so many injuries at that position and never successfully replaced deep threat Devin Smith) and the inconsistent quarterback play, although I think J.T. Barrett’s return might solve that problem for good.

2. The quarterback situation is a great "problem" to have. In retrospect, how do you think Urban Meyer has handled juggling Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett and why is Barrett the right guy for the starting job?

Ginn: I think Meyer made the right choice in starting Jones at the beginning of the year simply because of the higher ceiling the offense has when he’s running the show – which showed in the Virginia Tech win and last year's playoff run. But obviously there came a time when his inconsistency became too much to bear and the change had to be made. I do think people have a little bit of revisionist history with Barrett, who was flat-out not good enough earlier this season when he did get a chance (scoring one touchdown in three quarters against Northern Illinois, for example) and didn’t improve until he was used as the red-zone quarterback. But presently, he’s the best choice because he’s more efficient now, he makes the right decision almost every time and he presents problems with his feet that Jones doesn’t.

3. Ezekiel Elliott is a Heisman candidate and the best running back in the Big Ten. Two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller is excelling as a multi-positional weapon, WR Michael Thomas will be a high draft choice, Jalin Marshall is a phenomenal athlete ... I could go on. But what has been the impact of the offensive coordinator transition from Tom Herman -- who some Illini fans wanted as a head coach last year -- to Ed Warinner, a former Illinois assistant?

Ginn: At the end of the day, it’s still Urban Meyer’s offense, and that’s the most important thing to remember. However, I do think some of the early season struggles could be attributed to the transition that took place when Warinner stepped into the OC role and Tim Beck was hired to coach the quarterbacks. Warinner is down on the field instead of the press box because of his work with the offensive line, and after a few weeks the staff decided to have Beck call plays from upstairs because that’s the only way the “tempo” offense can be run effectively. Warinner’s primary job is to make sure every part of the offense executes properly and together, and that’s right up his alley.

4. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash is a name some mention as a head coaching candidate. He has a bevy future NFL players on defense, including DE Joey Bosa, DT Adolphus Washington, LB Darron Lee, LB Joshua Perry and S Vonn Bell. Is there anything that bothers this defense in particular?

Ginn: Running quarterbacks have killed them, at least to some extent. Indiana backup Zander Diamont came in for an injured Nate Sudfeld and rushed seven times for 98 yards and a touchdown, and one week later Maryland’s Perry Hills had 25 carries for 170 yards (a number that would have been above 200 without sacks) and two touchdowns.

5. Illinois is a 16-point underdog, Urban Meyer is 29-0 in Big Ten games and Ohio State has superior talent and depth. So I won't ask you a prediction, as I normally do. But what potential cracks in the armor -- if there are any -- would cause Ohio State to lose a Big Ten game this season?

Ginn: As with any team, there are certainly some cracks in the armor. The most noticeable one is Ohio State’s awful first quarters. The Buckeyes are averaging 5.0 points per first quarter, which is significantly worse than they’ve done in any other quarter. They’ve been shut out three times and were a few seconds away from being shut out a fourth time. Warinner attributed that phenomenon to the fact that opposing teams always start out against Ohio State with looks they’ve never put on film before, forcing the offensive coaches to spend the first half drawing up adjustments. It’s absolutely conceivable that a slow start costs them one day.


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