As a lover of football I was curious to watch the Buckeyes' 60-35 win at Illinois again to see what was going on with a bunch of big plays that went one way or another, but I haven't been able to convince myself there was a lot to take away from this one when it comes to long-term projections or impressions – at least provided the defense gets healthy and the offense doesn't have to play in that wind again.
I still believe both the offensive and defensive staffs for OSU got a little too cute as they ran a pretty fair variety of things considering the weather, the state of the defensive depth chart and the decided talent advantage for the Buckeyes.
That Illinois would do have some success when it had the ball was not a surprise, but the totality of the damage was larger than I would imagine anyone expected.
And why is that? A combination of missed tackles and dropped coverages mostly, but there was some lackadaisical play mixed in as well. Now, the Buckeyes could have gotten away with that against a few teams, but Nathan Scheelhaase, Donovonn Young, Steve Hull and Matt LaCosse also won some individual battles because they are talented players, each in his own right.
Scheelhaase hurt the Buckeyes as a scrambler, and he had some success on designed runs that happened to attack Adolphus Washington and Camren Williams, two reserves in the game for injured starters. Those guys were both highly rated recruits, of course, so it's not to say they lack the ability to play at this level, but there is a reason they are not starters.
I also felt there were times – that drive especially that Scheelhaase capped with a 5-yard run to make it a two-score game again with more than 14 minutes left to play – the Buckeyes weren't completely dialed in defensively, but the offense made sure that didn't matter when all was said and done.
After fighting the wind for a while, Ohio State put the ball in the hands of its talented ball-carriers and that was all she wrote. The Buckeyes also had some success with the designed quarterback power play on the field goal drive that answered that aforementioned fourth-quarter touchdown by Scheelhaase, then Hyde knocked the door in the rest of the way with his long runs in the final five minutes.
The quarterback power plays (with Miller stepping one way then cutting back back the other behind a pulling guard and lead blocker) helped punish Illinois for gumming up the inside zone with linebacker blitzes, something that worked for much of the second and third quarters for the hosts. I think there were a few times Hyde cut back on the "power" play when he might have been better off following his blocks, too, but there were definitely a lot of people in the box so his options might have been limited either way.
Andrew Norwell said Illinois' blitzing inside caught them by surprise, and he agreed with the idea that was a pre-adjustment by the Illini in acknowledgment they wouldn't be able to hold up against the Buckeyes inside. On top of running Miller a few times, the staff also answered this by going to more two-tight end sets than they generally do late in the game.
Illinois might have had more success in the passing game if not for the abuse OSU defensive ends Noah Spence and Joey Bosa were able to inflict. Those are two guys who have left no doubt about why they were five-star recruits, and Michael Bennett played another strong game inside. Like other teams this season, Illinois was able to have more success when Spence was going backwards than forward.
Other general observations and notable plays:
- Miller's 70-yard touchdown run was just one of many in which Ohio State just had superior athletics. Miller should have been stopped by the linebacker crashing inside but couldn't get a hand on him, and the linebacker had no help because the safeties were helping on the outside against bubble screens.
- Ryan Shazier had to make Illinois think twice about utilizing some of the screens the Illini have loved all season when he read an early one and ran through blocking to smack Young for a loss. It was a great instinctive play.
- Williams had his ups and downs, but he held up nicely on a third-and-1 early while playing the Sam ‘backer, stopping the blocking back and turning the play inside. Bosa made the tackle after defeating the tight end's block.
- Scheelhaase seemed unsure of what he was seeing on Roby's interception. Shazier blitzed, but only four four total rushed. Spence beat the right tackle, Barnett sat in an underneath zone and knocked the ball up in the air and Roby caught it. Brian Griese did a nice job of breaking it down. He has gotten a lot better since being put on games with virtually no experience a few years ago.
- Miller struggled to account for the wind much of the afternoon, but he made a very nice throw to Philly Brown to make it 28-0. He took advantage of one-on-one coverage with Illinois worried about the inside run.
- On the punt return touchdown by V'Angelo Bentley, Armani Reeves had a clear shot at him but missed, Craig Fada got blocked then someone (I believe Bryce Haynes) missed him and Warren Ball came up empty on what was not a very good tackle attempt. Definitely looked like a running back trying to make an open-field tackle. Of course, Bentley made some nifty moves and showed some stop-start ability.
- Of all of the Illinois scoring drives, I thought the first of the third quarter was the one in which the Illini really executed and had a plan more so than Ohio State made mistakes or lost focus.
- Spence really displayed what a good athlete he is all day. Showed inside and outside pass rush moves and then adjusted on a screen pass to bat it down and nearly catch it. At one point dropping him into coverage resulted in a positive play as Scheelhaase appeared to look his way then pull the ball down only to be sacked by Bosa, but there were a few other times they successfully attacked him in the passing game.
- OSU kind of looked like it had never seen the quarterback power play before.... which they might not have from an opponent this year but should get the look from the base offense.
- I thought the state of Illinois decal was a nice addition to the Illini's helmets.