Top-ranked Ohio State Tough Foe For Illini

The Ohio State Buckeyes football team will display an embarrassment of riches when they host the Fighting Illini Saturday in Columbus. The unbeaten and number one ranked team in America appears invincible despite losing a number of big-name performers to the pros after their near-National Championship team of 2006. A study of their lineup should frighten even the most optimistic Illini fan.

Gone are household names like Troy Smith, Ted Ginn and A. J. Hawk. Present are numerous future NFL draft choices just now becoming known on a national basis. Winner of two straight Big Ten Championships and well on its way to a third, Ohio State doesn't fall far when it loses a big senior class, it just reloads.

Any study of the Buckeyes must start with their stout defense. They presently rank #1 in the nation in scoring defense (9.7 points per game) and total defense (221 yards per game). In addition, they are second nationally in pass defense, third in pass efficiency defense, and third in rushing defense (65 yards per game). That is total domination.

Junior All-American middle linebacker Jim Laurinaitis (6'-3", 240) leads the Buckeyes in tackles and is a likely post-season award winner. But he is far from their only weapon. Junior WILL linebacker Marcus Freeman (6'-2", 236) is equally dangerous, and senior SAM linebacker Larry Grant (6'-3, 226) is also talented. These men move to the football as quickly as any linebacker corps in the country.

The Buckeye defensive line is anchored by sensational junior defensive end Vernon Gholston (6'-4", 264). All Gholston did last week was force four sacks against Wisconsin, tieing a school record. He may be a candidate for early entry into the NFL. The other end is shared between sophomore Rob Rose (6'-5", 294) and freshman sensation Cameron Heyward, the 6'-6", 282 pound son of the late Craig "Ironhead" Heyward.

The defensive tackle positions are manned by huge sophomore Doug Worthington (6'-7", 271) and sophomore Todd Denlinger (6'-3", 286). These men may not yet be household names, but they likely will be before they graduate.

The defensive backfield is fast, strong and aggressive, a typical Buckeye secondary. Lockdown cover corners Malcolm Jenkins (6'-1", 208), a junior, and sophomore Donald Washington (6'-1", 188) are able to cover the best receivers one-on-one. And sophomore safeties Kurt Coleman (5'-11", 187) and Anderson Russell (6'-"0", 201) are as fast as any safeties in captivity. They close fast on ball carriers and pass receivers alike.

Even before discussing the offense, it is obvious that tOSU is mostly an underclassman team, so barring NFL defections, they may be even tougher next year. Their junior class must be one of the best in the country, if not the best.

Junior Todd Boeckman (6'-5", 243) is in his first year leading the offense, but he acts like a seasoned veteran. He has thrown for 1965 yards on a 65.8% completion percentage, with 23 touchdown passes and only 8 interceptions. His pass efficiency rating is 160.75, which is 6th best in country.

Of course, he has some great receiving targets. Junior Brian Robiskie (6'-3", 196) leads the way, having caught passes in 22 straight games. He is athletic and acrobatic, and he has great hands. Sophomore Brian Hartline (6'-3", 180) is equally adept as a receiver and boasts a 90 yard punt return. Robiskie and Hartline, plus all the talented youngsters waiting in the wings for playing time, help make Boeckman's job easy.

Chris "Beanie" Wells (6'-1", 235), a sophomore running back, is built like a typical Buckeye runner but may be one of their fastest ever for his size. His backups are 5'-10", 195 pound junior Maurice Wells (no relation) and true freshman Brandon Saine (6'-1", 220). Should Beanie go down with injury, the Buckeyes can keep pouring in quality replacements. Leading interference for the running backs is senior co-captain fullback Dionte Johnson (6'-0", 240), the son of legendary Buckeye and NFL linebacker Pepper Johnson.

The typical Buckeye juggernaut has massive and athletic offensive linemen, and this year is no exception. The tackles are both NFL prospects. Junior left tackle Alex Boone (6'-8", 313) gets tons of publicity, and for good reason. Boeckman rarely worries about sacks from his backside with Boone protecting him.

Senior Kirk Barton provides the same function at the other tackle spot. He is a 6'-6", 300 pounder. Boone and Barton flank three powerhouse interior linemen in center Jim Cordle (6'-4", 302 sophomore), left guard Steve Rehring (6'-8", 345 junior) and right guard Ben Person, a 6'-4", 321 pound junior. This is one of the largest offensive lines in college ball, but it is also one of the most athletic.

Junior men's activities honoraries at Illinois and Ohio State have a long-standing tradition where the winning team takes home the "Illibuck" trophy, a large wooden turtle with scores of previous games painted on it. Needless to say, the trophy has remained firmly in the hands of the Buckeyes for a majority of their previous encounters.

The Buckeyes have won 20 straight Big Ten games, a conference record. And they have tied their own record with 28 straight regular season victories. Their only recent loss was in the National Championship game against Florida last January. To say they are accustomed to winning is an understatement.

Ohio State's renovated stadium now holds over 100,000 screaming fans, which makes hearing signals difficult if not impossible for visitors. Illinois might have fought them closely last fall in Champaign, but it is something entirely different to face them in Columbus. Barring an upset by Illinois or Michigan in their two remaining games, it appears the Buckeyes are on their way to another National Championship game.

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