Buckeye Breakdown: Ohio State Thumps Illini

Ohio State had no trouble bouncing back from the close win vs. Penn State to drub Illinois on Saturday night in Ohio Stadium. We tell you what we learned and break down the matchups in this week's Buckeye Breakdown.

Ohio State run offense: The rushing game delivered perhaps the only surprise in a game completely devoid of them, as true freshman Curtis Samuel earned his first career start in the place of normal starter and sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native did the most with it, scoring a 23-yard touchdown on the first possession of the game and then tacking on another score early in the second quarter when he fought his way into the end zone from the 1-yard line. The rest of the team was just as impressive. Once Elliott finally got in, he showed that he was still the same dominant runner that has punished inferior defenders this season. While he didn’t find the end zone, he still rushed for a team-best 70 yards on just nine carries. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer hinted earlier in the week that Jalin Marshall could get some carries as well, and the redshirt freshman “H” made the most of his five carries, the best of which was a 30-yard scoring scamper. Even Warren Ball got in on the act, toting the rock seven times for 37 yards. In short, there was nothing Illinois could do to stop OSU on the ground. -- Ryan Ginn

Ohio State pass offense: J.T. Barrett looked a little shaky early but played very well after getting his legs under him. He spread the ball around and still managed to be effective running the ball when needed. Devin Smith still proved he can go deep, and he even pulled a new tool out of the toolbox by taking a ball away from a defender on the sideline. Cardale Jones' performance was also encouraging. He threw and completed more passes against Illinois than he had in his entire career leading up to this point, including a pair of touchdowns that showed his arm talent. -- Marcus Hartman

Ohio State run defense: The Buckeyes stat sheet was impressive across the board, so it’s no surprise that their numbers in this category were strong. They held the Illini to just 106 yards on the ground and they didn’t crack 100 until midway through the fourth quarter. Illinois entered the game with the 114th-ranked rushing attack with just 106.5 yards per game, so again, unsurprising. There were signs of life on the ground in the first half from Illinois, including a 15-yard run to the edge from Aaron Bailey, but the Buckeyes mostly bottled up the Illini attack. Donovonn Young did find the end zone with a 6-yard carry in the third quarter, so I’m sure the backup defensive linemen will get dinged for that one. -- Blake Williams

Ohio State pass defense: Ohio State basically did it all here. After three quarters, Illinois had 91 yards passing, and 56 of that was on one screen pass. Neither Reilly O'Toole nor Aaron Bailey could get much going all night while being harrassed by Ohio State's relentless pass rush. Two interceptions in the early going that went off the hands of Illini players, resulting in picks for Curtis Grant and Darron Lee, helped Ohio State assert itself in the early going. By the end, Illinois QBs were 13 for 27 for just 137 yards, one touchdown and the two picks. Ohio State's pass defense has rounded into form nicely. -- Jeff Svoboda

What We Learned…

Ryan Ginn: I learned Ohio State knows it has work to do before its matchup against Michigan State. This extends much deeper then the simple truth that a noisy road environment helped make a difference in OSU’s two-overtime escape from Happy Valley last weekend. Meyer has repeatedly pushed the envelope in the red zone against inferior teams when a field goal would have sufficed, and that’s because he knows the current state of OSU’s red zone execution just isn’t going to cut it against the Spartans. I’m sure he would have also liked to have given redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett more snaps to tune up his passing game, but the health of one of OSU’s best players clearly took precedence.

Marcus Hartman: Not to sound too much like Bill Greene, but we learned next to nothing. Ohio State spanked another bad team to improve to 7-1 overall and 4-0 in the Big Ten. OK, OK, that might not tell the whole story. The Buckeyes did show some counters to things they have done, putting a few extra plays on film for Michigan State to prepare for next week. The explosive plays from Jalin Marshall and Curtis Samuel were perhaps peeks at things this offense has been missing, but they also came against a really overmatched opponent that has given up a lot of such plays. The rubber was always going to meet the road next week.

Jeff Svoboda: The preseason prognostications were right. Ohio State at Michigan State was the Big Ten game of the year before the campaign started, and it's exactly as important as people expected it would be. Outside of OSU's scare in Happy Valley, neither team has been particularly tested in Big Ten play, and both are among the best in the nation according to the polls and the stats. I, for one, can't wait for the showdown in East Lansing, which will easily be the most fascinating game in the Urban Meyer era.

Blake Williams: Apparently, you can play things safe and still blow a team out. Urban Meyer went to the backups early Saturday night, inserting Cardale Jones for J.T. Barrett to start the second half. Jones tossed his first (and second) touchdown passes of his career against the Illini, so I guess I learned that the Glenville product can throw the ball too. Whether it was concern over his sprained MCL or just extra rest before Michigan State, Barrett got an early curtain call and the Buckeyes kept putting up the points.

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