5 Answers: Ohio State at Illinois

Ohio State got its quarterback back, held Illinois' star receiver in check, won up front and dealt with the wind in a 17-7 victory at Illinois on Saturday. We look back at how the Buckeyes handled our five key areas of the game.

1. Will Braxton Miller be available and effective?

The freshman quarterback made the start and went the distance for Ohio State, but the coaching staff showed little confidence in his ability to do much more than hand the ball off to tailbacks Dan Herron, Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde.

Miller completed 1 of 4 passes, including a pretty 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jake Stoneburner that put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.

Miller rarely looked comfortable in the pocket against a strong Illinois pass rush, but he still had plenty of bounce in his step when asked to run the ball. Showing no ill effects from an ankle injury that knocked him out of the loss at Nebraska last week, he finished with only a net of 35 yards rushing, but that was a result of four sacks that cost him 33 yards. He looked particularly good on a 35-yard run in the third quarter.

"We had a good idea that we thought he was pretty good," Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell said. "I thought he was going to be fine. He was a little bit sore on Sunday and then was running around a little bit on Tuesday, but we knew what we were going to have. He's a competitor. We knew come game time he was going to be all right, but it's still about that work from Monday through Thursday that we have to make sure we do a good job of."

2. Can the Buckeyes stop the Illinois option?

One week after Nebraska gashed Ohio State with a variety of option plays, the Buckeyes mostly kept Illinois' zone-read game under control.

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase ran 16 times for 49 yards and picked up a couple of first downs on zone-read keepers, but Ohio State did a good job of balancing watching him and the running back on the fake.

"Everyone has to do their job," defensive lineman Johnny Simon said of stopping the zone read. "If everyone does their 1/11th we should be OK."

3. Will A.J. Jenkins go off?

The Big Ten's leading receiver had to work hard for his eight catches and 80 yards but never seemed close to taking over the game.

"He's a great receiver, as you can see," cornerback Travis Howard said. "He catches the ball a lot. He's one of their big-time playmakers on offense. Our whole thing on defense was to not let him get the ball and make their quarterback go to different option because that's one of his favorite targets."

The Fighting Illini moved him around in the formation as promised, but he had a hard time getting open against a variety of Ohio State defenders led by cornerback Bradley Roby.

Roby was blanketing Jenkins when he skied to make a spectacular catch on the sideline, but overall the Buckeye DB had the better day with an interception and a pass breakup.

"He's their biggest offensive weapon so when he doesn't get in the end zone that's a good job," Roby said.

4. Which defensive line will have the bigger impact?

Both front fours had standout performances, but Simon was the man of the match.

He was credited with eight tackles, including four for loss and a pair of sacks to help make sure Scheelhaase was rarely comfortable in the pocket.

"He just goes as hard as he can go. You're never going to find a play when he doesn't give it up. He's unbelievable. He's a warrior," said Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock, who used Simon at end, tackle and as a rush linebacker in the team's dime package. "We moved him around a little bit. He was playing that end spot out there a little bit. that gives him a chance to come off the edge, and then we put him down inside and he gives us a little bit of speed in there."

Simon had to work hard to be the best defensive lineman on the field, though, as teammate Johnathan Hankins registered a team-high nine tackles, including two for loss, and Illinois got nine stops from Whitney Mercilus and eight from Michael Buchanan.

The Fighting Illini defensive end duo combined for four tackles for loss and two sacks.

5. Will weather be a factor?

As is often the case when Ohio State visits Memorial Stadium, the wind played a role in various decisions the two coaches made.

That included Fickell's choice to eschew a field goal attempt from the 31-yard line late in the third quarter and perhaps Illinois head coach Ron Zook's choice to go for it on fourth down late in the fourth quarter with his team trailing by 10 points.

However, Fickell did allow kicker Drew Basil to boot a 43-yarder that gave the Buckeyes the lead a little less than six minutes into the game. Basil's kick would have been good from close to 50 and came after the wind seemed to change directions in his favor.

"I think they have a game plan when they're going into the wind, there's a certain distance that they'll shoot it at," Fickell said. "Going into the game we had a certain distance we would take a shot at, and it just happened that the wind was kind of swirling and changing up a little bit on that first field goal. That was a little bit beyond we said we wanted to take a shot at, but it was kind of twisting and we gave it a shot.

"The weather can limit you in doing some things so you have to have a game plan and play to that as well, but a team is much better when they can run the football and it makes it a little bit easier to take some time in throwing the ball as well."

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