Senior Nathan Scheelhaase has looked much better in new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit's attack than he did the last couple of years while dealing with a revolving door of OCs.
The Fighting Illini will throw a lot of formations at a defense, so the extra week to prepare I'm sure did not hurt as Ohio State of course cannot afford to have a letdown at any point this season regardless of what happens elsewhere in college football. Scheelhaase is in the shotgun a lot, but they will also get under center and show an I-formation from time to time (not particularly effectively though).
Scheelhaase has always been a good athlete who runs well. He can be very dangerous as a scramble and is a threat in the zone read. He will keep plays alive, can pick up a first down with his feet when scrambling or find guys downfield. He is not extremely accurate, but he spreads the ball around.
His primary weapon both on the ground and through the air is running back Josh Ferguson, a little guy who can be hard to bring down in the open field and has good burst. He's also good at using his blockers, and they will get him the ball in just about anyway you can think of. Donovonn Young is a bigger back who spells Ferguson and has a good combination of size and speed. I like both of those guys.
Illinois is a big screen team, using Ferguson, the tight ends and the receivers in a variety of different looks. Cubit likes to give Scheelhaase the opportunity to make a quick read and get the ball out of his hand, and they want to play with a fast tempo if they can.
The top receiver is Steve Hull, who has gone from a pretty bad defensive back to a very solid wideout as a senior. The Cincinnati Sycamore product is a big guy who can run and will attack the ball in the air. I'd say he is possession guy with good athleticism, similar to Evan Spencer or Brian Hartline (but not as talented overall as Hartline), although he is averaging 20.1 yards per catch and can win against man coverage down the field.
The offensive line is solid but figures to have its hands full with the Ohio State front. Scheelhaase helps them out with his mobility, though he has been sacked 20 times this season. The left side had some struggles at Indiana, but (believe it or not) I think the Hoosiers line has actually made big strides this season.
It's worth noting the only offense that has been better on third down this season in the Big Ten is Ohio State. That is a credit to Scheelhaase's improvement.
Defensively, Illinois has the weakest line I have seen in the Big Ten this season, and I can't think of who would be second-worst. The group gets pushed around all over the place and doesn't make plays to offset the ground it gives up. That probably explains why they're the worst run defense in the Big Ten, yielding 239.8 yards per game on the ground despite having the conference's leading tackler in linebacker Jonathan Brown. He is a stud. Defensive end Tim Kynard, a senior from Toledo St. John's, is the only other guy on the front seven who looks like a solid contributor.
A three-year starter, Brown is a legitimate star Big Ten player who could make a lot of teams better around the league and beyond. He is very physical and aggressive along with being a sure tackler, but the other linebackers are nothing to write home about. They are very young at the position.
They like to play man coverage in the secondary, which might not be a great idea since they have had the league's worst pass rush and have intercepted only two passes all season.
Overall I would say they have a young defense that doesn't look very talented and doesn't fit the scheme, which is how you end up allowing 34.7 points and 482.7 yards per game.
It will be interesting to see how Ohio State chooses to attack. They should be able to run all day, so I would not be surprised to see them come out and try to work on the passing game early. That is to keep Braxton Miller and the receivers sharp if for no other reason.
With the way Miller has been picking apart defenses lately, I would expect Illinois to stick with the man approach. That might bring down his completion percentage, but it should open up the potential to make big plays through the air and with his feet.
Unlike Purdue, Illinois has enough offensive firepower to do some damage. That just figures to assure the Buckeyes keep the pedal to the floor offensively and this could be another day for huge numbers.
The weather (Memorial Stadium is built so that it acts like a wind tunnel most of the time) could be a factor here, but I would expect that to hurt Illinois much more than Ohio State,