5 Questions: Ohio State at Illinois

Ohio State gets no rest this week from a brutal October stretch. Illinois brings a quarterback who can run the option and throw it downfield. Those are two things we look at Ohio State trying to stop as well as the pass rush of both teams and the potential for wind to wreak havoc at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

1. Will Braxton Miller be available and effective?

Early indications are Ohio State's star freshman quarterback will be able to go for the Buckeyes when they travel to Illinois this Saturday.

He suffered an ankle sprain in the third quarter at Nebraska last week, and the Buckeye offense practically ground to a halt under the guidance of backup Joe Bauserman.

Even if Miller returns, it remains to be seen how effective he might be as his greatest strength at this point is his running ability. Will he be able to make the same kind of video game like cuts if he has a bad wheel?


2. Can the Buckeyes stop the Illinois option?

Ohio State fans hope take two goes better than the first. Last week, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez started the Cornhuskers' comeback with an 18-yard touchdown run on a zone read keeper, and the defense looked out of sorts for much of the rest of the night.

Illinois does not bring the same variety of options to the table, but Fighting Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is adept at running the zone read from the pistol set.


3. Will A.J. Jenkins go off?

The Illini offense is not one-dimensional. It enters the contest averaging a near perfectly balanced 226.2 yards per game on the ground and 221.5 yards passing, and Scheelhaase has a clear favorite target in Jenkins.

The 6-0, 190-pound senior leads the Big Ten in receptions (46) and receiving yards (815) by healthy margins, and no one else on his team has more than 13 grabs or 174 yards.

Ohio State has had trouble with No. 1 receivers earlier this season, including Eric Page of Toledo and B.J. Cunningham of Michigan State.


4. Which defensive line will have the bigger impact?

Ohio State's strength lies up front on defense, but the Buckeyes are coming off a sub-par performance in the second half against Nebraska when they had a hard time getting off blocks and getting in the backfield.

The Buckeyes have been so-so at rushing the quarterback this season, but Illinois is 104th in the nation in sacks allowed (2.8 per game).

On the other side, Illinois has had a surprisingly disruptive defensive front thanks in large part to the emergence of junior end Whitney Mercelus. The Akron (Ohio) Garfield product is No. 1 in the Big Ten and second in the nation with 8.5 sacks, and he has gotten help from "Bandit" end Michael Buchanan (4.5 sacks).

Ohio State has allowed 15 sacks this season, but nine of those came in one game.


5. Will weather be a factor?

Every year the elements seem to play a role in this game, regardless of when it is held. Memorial Stadium's open design lends to it acting like a wind tunnel, and that can play havoc with passes and kicks.

That could hurt the home team more than the visitors as Illinois has had a more successful passing game so far this season than Ohio State.

It might affect the OSU game plan, too, as the coaching staff has so far been reluctant to push the envelope with the youngster Miller at the controls.


Buckeye Sports Top Stories