5 Questions: Ohio State at Illinois

The Buckeyes head to Illinois this week, and we are watching how the Illini secondary is deployed, who runs the ball better and if Illinois can limit mistakes. Ohio State has a defense looking for redemption and a potential question at tight end.

1. How will Illinois try to defend Ohio State?

With new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning in place in Champaign, there is some mystery how the Fighting Illini will try to defend the Buckeyes.

Traditionally under head coach Ron Zook, Illinois has used a unique pass defense that can wreak havoc with teams, but how much that will continue remains to be seen.

"They like to play their corners inside to get extra hats in the box and their safeties outside to try to wall with defenders inside, so it's different than what we see all year," Ohio State assistant head coach Darrell Hazell said. "You've got to make some adjustments and attack them a little differently."

Under Koenning, however, Hazell has seen the the Illini try some different ways of balancing coverage and using defensive backs in run support.

Safety Trulon Hendry showed a fondness for sticking his nose into the action against the run during the Illini's 28-22 defeat of Northern Illinois.

2. Will the Ohio State defense redeem itself?

Allowing 20 points to an Eastern Michigan squad that had struggled offensively prior to visiting Ohio Stadium left a bad taste in the mouths of some of the players who make up the Buckeye defense, and that is just fine with Luke Fickell.

"We think we play a little bit better when we're angry and we're on them and not sleeping as well," the co-defensive coordinator said. "We have an expectation and we have a desire to be really, really good, and we have conveyed that to them and they feel the same way. We asked them before the season started what they wanted, and that's what they told us, so we stick to it. It makes us all feel that way, and when they feel the way you do, you feel a little bit better."

3. Which team will run the ball better?

This should come as no surprise, but Ohio State is 85-4 when outrushing its opponent under Jim Tressel, a figure that includes all four games this season.

In Illinois, the Buckeyes will face one of the best running backs in the league, junior Mikel Leshoure. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase supplements the running game as well with zone read and option plays out of a variety of formations.

"The thing about college is you can be playing a spread team one week and an option the next," Fickell said. "You could be playing a two-back team the next. They bring a multitude of things, and I'm sure they're going to do what they do best."

The Buckeyes are 14th in the nation in rushing yardage (240.2 yards per game) and fifth in stopping the run (71.0).

4. Will the Buckeyes miss Jacob Stoneburner?

Ohio State's sophomore tight end has been a threat in the passing game early in the season, but a high-ankle sprain has his availability in doubt for Saturday.

After Stoneburner missed practice Wednesday, Hazell said not to expect a much different look even if they have to rely on sophomore Reid Fragel instead.

"It won't change us too much," he said. "We'll do a couple other formation things, but we'll still do the same things.

"Reid's a good player. Obviously he's not Jake in the passing game, but he's a good player in the run game and will have to do some things to help us in the passing game, but he's very capable of doing things in the passing game, he's just not Jake."

Fragel, listed three inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than the 6-5, 245-pound Stoneburner, could help put a charge in the running game but he does not have Stoneburner's speed to burn teams down the middle.

5. Can the Fighting Illini avoid self-inflicted wounds?

Though often talented, the Illinois teams of Zook have often had troubles staying out of their own way.

Last season, no team averaged more penalty yardage marked off against it in the Big Ten, and the Illini are again near the bottom in that category early this season.

Giving the No. 2 team in the country free yards is no way to come out on top.

By contrast, Illinois was flagged only once in its 28-21 upset of then-No. 1 Ohio State in 2007.

Buckeye Sports Top Stories