Ohio State Formidable Challenge For Illini

What can you say about the Ohio State Buckeyes football team that hasn't been said many times before? It is a team loaded with experience from two straight National Championship games. While its two losses this year prevent it from a threepeat, these Buckeyes are playing great ball and pose a difficult challenge for the Illini Saturday.

Ohio State doesn't recruit, it selects. Their roster is filled with high school All-Americans, so any graduation losses are quickly and efficiently replaced. 27 fourth and fifth year seniors returned for a third try at a National Championship, so they are as experienced and mature as they are talented.

On top of that, the Buckeyes are still smarting from the Illinois upset victory in Columbus last year. They have marked November 15, 2008, on their calendar as revenge day. They resented the Illini postgame celebration in their stadium, and they are focused on returning the favor this year.

Ohio State is presently ranked 10th in the country. It's two losses have come to a powerhouse University of Southern California juggernaut in Los Angeles and a Homecoming loss to an outstanding Penn State team in a defensive struggle that was anyone's game until the end. They have won 14 straight Big Ten road games and hope to make Illinois #15 on their way to another possible BCS bowl appearance.

The Buckeye defense is formidable. They rank 6th in the nation in scoring defense and turnover margin; 7th in total defense; 8th in pass defense; 10th in pass efficiency defense; and 17th in run defense. They are yielding a paltry average of 269.8 total yards per game, including just 164.4 passing yards.

They are led by their senior All-Everything middle linebacker James Laurinaitis (6'-3", 240) and senior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins (6'-1", 201). They were both named to the Sporting News' Midseason All-American Team. Laurinaitis leads the Big Ten with 11 tackles per game, and Jenkins has 11 career interceptions.

The defensive line has been upgraded since last year with the move of end Cameron Heywood (6'-6", 287) to tackle. Other line starters are defensive ends Rob Rose (6'-5", 285) and Thaddeus Gibson (6'-2", 240), and tackle Doug Worthington (6'-6", 276). And there is quality depth waiting in the wings.

The Buckeyes are always loaded at linebacker, and this year is no exception. Starters besides Laurinaitis are WILL Ross Homan (6'-0", 229) and SAM Marcus Freeman (6'-1", 239).

Chimdi Chekwa (6'-0", 188) and Donald Washington (6'-0", 194) split time at the cornerback slot opposite Jenkins. Safety starters are Kurt Coleman (5'-11", 188) and Anderson Russell (6'-0", 205). Punter A. J. Trapasso is a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award as a fifth year senior.

Offensively, the big talk in Columbus centers around true freshman Terrelle Pryor (6'-6", 235). The nation's premier recruit out of Jennette, Pennsylvania, Pryor didn't take long to supplant last year's starter Todd Boeckman. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel has brought him along slowly and has limited the offense to what he does well, which is considerable.

Pryor is a fast, elusive and powerful runner. He has already gained 450 yards rushing. But he has also been extremely efficient passing the ball with a 65.1% completion percentage. Overall, he has amassed 1076 passing yards on 84 completions in 129 attempts. He has thrown for 9 touchdowns, rushed for 5 more and averages 152.6 yards total offense per game. This is amazing for a true freshman.

Joining Pryor in a potent backfield is senior running back Chris "Beanie" Wells (6'-1", 237), who has the speed to run past defenders and the power to run over them. He is one yard away from 3000 for his illustrious career, and he has 856 yards this season despite missing a couple games with injury. He is averaging an impressive 116.3 yards rushing per game. Maurice Wells, Dan Herron and Brandon Saine also see time in the backfield. Brandon Smith (6'-2", 251) is the fullback.

Ohio State's massive offensive line consists of Alex Boone (6'-8", 312) at left tackle; Jim Cordle (6'-4", 297) at left guard; true freshman Mike Brewster (6'-5", 296) at center; Steve Rehring (6'-7", 335) at right guard; and Bryant Browning (6'-4", 312) at right tackle.

Jake Ballard (6'-6", 256) and Rory Nicol (6'-5", 252) share time at tight end. Wide receiver Brian Robiskie (6'-3", 199) is 9th in career receiving yards with 1687. He is backed up by true freshmen and future supers DeVier Posey and Lamaar Thomas. Brian Hartline (6'-2", 186) is the experienced flanker. Dane Sanzenbacher also sees time there.

Ryan Pretorius and Aaron Pettrey split time as the kicker. Both have had significant success this year.

Despite all the upperclassmen, the Buckeyes have also employed 16 rookies including 11 true freshmen. As the saying goes, the beat goes on.

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