The trip to Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill., is never a fun one, as Ohio State can attest from years of losses or overly difficult wins. Even in 2013, an undefeated Ohio State squad still ran into some fourth-quarter trouble against a lowly Illini squad.
This weekend’s contest will offer the latest test for the Buckeyes in Memorial’s infamous wind tunnel, and it will come the week that quarterback J.T. Barrett returns from a one-game suspension. Though, the contest will probably be one in which a big rushing day for Ezekiel Elliott comes to fruition.
In addition to the problems that often come with passing in Memorial Stadium, Ohio State simply has a good chance to dominate the Illinois front seven. That’s been historically true, as well, with some of the Buckeyes’ best individual rushing days coming against the Illini. Elliott’s trademark lengthy scampers haven’t been coming with the frequency they did earlier this season, but I like him to bust a couple against the Illini.
Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt has a live arm, but he doesn’t have the rushing ability that has given Ohio State problems in the past. The OSU secondary has shown this season that it’s capable of dealing with talented quarterbacks, and I expect more of the same from them in Champaign.
At the end of the day, I expect the only real suspense of this game to come from which player hoists the Illibuck trophy afterward. My bet is Elliott.
SCORE: Ohio State 52, Illinois 23
With sophomore quarterback J.T. Barrett back in the fold, I expect the Ohio State offense to look much more explosive this week against Illinois. While the wind tunnel that is Memorial Stadium might hamper the Buckeyes’ throwing opportunities, let’s remember that the last two trips to Champaign have not required much of a passing attack. In 2013, Braxton Miller completed just 13 of 29 passes for 150 yards, and most will remember perhaps the ugliest win in Ohio State history in 2011 when the Buckeyes defeated Illinois 17-7 while completing just one pass, which happened to be for a score.
Expect the zone read game to be shown early and often from Barrett and Elliott, and I would be willing to bet the Buckeyes rush for at least 250 yards as a team.
Illinois has shown flashes of excellence on offense but has failed to remain consistent. Wes Lunt is a very talented passer, and running back Josh Ferguson has shown he can be a very effective every-down back when healthy. I would not be surprised if Illinois shows the Buckeyes many new wrinkles on offense with Ferguson finally healthy and Lunt still trying to find a rhythm. With the wind circulating, I expect someone from the Buckeye defense to come down with an interception. My guess is going to be junior safety Tyvis Powell, who dropped an easy one last week against Minnesota.
SCORE: Ohio State 42, Illinois 14
When thinking about possible outcomes this week, the 2007 loss to Illinois immediately came to mind.
Undefeated Ohio State? Check. Huge underdog Illini? Check. Potential for the Buckeyes to lose but still have a shot at the national title? Check.
There are a lot of parallels and a loss like in 2007 would be a near disaster for Ohio State, but luckily for Buckeye fans everywhere, that’s not going to happen. This time around Ohio State is due a big day, rather than waiting on a letdown.
No, the Buckeyes haven’t lost, but many probably consider the season as a whole a minor letdown so far.
But now that J.T. Barrett is being thrust back into the lineup and the Buckeyes are getting some injury help with Parris Campbell and Tommy Schutt both back this week, Ohio State is poised to roll on both sides of the ball. The Illini have some talent, but Ohio State should be able to shut down their passing game and then concentrate on taking Illinois’ running backs out of the equation.
Barrett likely won’t miss a beat and really should be fresh – he hasn’t played in three weeks, after all. Ezekiel Elliott – like Carlos Hyde in 2012 – is going to be the key on offense, though, especially if the Memorial Stadium wind tunnel amps up the elements to the levels it has in the past.
I see Elliott going for 180 yards or more while the defense forces three turnovers in a fourth straight blowout win over Illinois.
SCORE: Ohio State 52, Illinois 14
The spread for this game seems to be hovering around 17 points, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but in a decade of covering Ohio State football, I’ve never really seen the Buckeyes play well at Illinois.
Maybe it’s the fact that it’s usually a noon start. Maybe it’s the fact that Memorial Stadium isn’t exactly imposing considering decades of mediocrity have left it far from packed for most games. And maybe it’s the fact that it always seems to be cold and always seems to be windy in Champaign that keeps the Buckeyes from playing their best.
Whatever it is, Vegas seems to think it’s going to happen again, as the Buckeyes are strong favorites but not overwhelming ones for tomorrow’s game. Perhaps Vegas knows the recent history of the Buckeyes in Champaign. Perhaps the oddsmakers aren’t quite sure of how J.T. Barrett will perform. Or perhaps they’re giving Illinois, at 5-4 overall, more credit than I.
Illinois is having a better year than I projected – perhaps firing the overmatched and incompetent Tim Beckman is one reason why – but I still don’t see talent on the field for the Illini that can match up with the Buckeyes in most places. The Illini have 16 Ohioans on the roster, and very few of them drew anything more than cursory interest from the Buckeyes.
I think Barrett will be good, but not great, and the Buckeyes will use that talent advantage. And I think it will be windy. It always is.
SCORE: Ohio State 38, Illinois 14
I’ve heard a lot this week about the wind tunnel that is Memorial Stadium and the fact that crazy things tend to happen at Illinois. I’m not buying it.
In the last three meetings between Ohio State and Illinois, the Buckeyes have three wins by a combined score of 167-71, and the Scarlet and Gray hung 60 on the Illini the last time they were in Champaign. I imagine it will be more of the same this year. I’ve called for the Buckeyes to blow opponents out plenty this season and often been wrong, but as has been the case in virtually every game this year, Ohio State will have by far the more talented team on the field this weekend. Call me a sucker, but I am calling for yet another blowout this week as the Buckeyes prepare for their stretch run.
With J.T. Barrett back at quarterback, I expect the offense to move smoothly for the Buckeyes while the defense continues to round into form. The Illini might get something going on the ground with the combination of Josh Ferguson and Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who ran for 133 and 180 yards, respectively, last week against Purdue, but it won’t be enough to keep Illinois in the game. The Illini defense has been middle-of-the-pack in the Big Ten at defending the run, and that’s not enough to slow down Ezekiel Elliott. Expect the Buckeye back to push toward 200 yards while Barrett adds at least 80 on the ground. With their quarterback back, the Buckeyes will roll in Champaign.
SCORE: Ohio State 45, Illinois 17
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