Game Matchup: Ohio State Vs. Illinois

Stats, facts, figures and more as the Buckeyes try to start 10-0 for the third time in the Urban Meyer era with Saturday's game at Illinois.

No. 3 Ohio State at Illinois

Matchup Preview  |  Nov. 14, Memorial Stadium, 12 p.m., ABC.
vs.
Ohio State Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0)
Illinois Fighting Illini (5-4, 2-3)

Five Fast Facts About Illinois
1. The Fighting Illini defense has shown vast improvement since last season. The Illini have improved over 70 spots in the NCAA rankings in seven different categories, including third down defense (+82), rushing defense (+81), interceptions (+78), total defense (+78), scoring defense (+74), first downs allowed (+71) and passing efficiency defense (+70). In 2014, the Illini allowed 456.4 ypg and 34.0 ppg. In nine games this season, they are allowing 341.9 ypg and 21.7 ppg. The 114.5 ypg improvement is second best in FBS behind only UNC (-120.4 ypg).

2. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, this week’s Big Ten Freshman of the Week, rushed for 180 yards at Purdue, the most by an Illini true freshman since Rocky Harvey’s 215 yards vs. Middle Tennessee in 1998. Vaughn leads all FBS true freshmen in carries (139) and is fourth in rushing yards (665).

3. Senior FS Clayton Fejedelem leads the Big Ten in tackles per game during conference play (12.4) and is second in the B1G and seventh in the nation for all games (11.1 tpg). He is a former NAIA player at St. Xavier and walk-on.

4. Illinois has seven fourth-quarter comeback wins in the last two seasons (five in 2014 and two so far in 2015).

5. Illinois is tied with Temple for the FBS lead with five blocked kicks this season (2 punts, 2 PATs, 1 FG). Junior DT Rob Bain is tied for the individual NCAA lead with three of those blocks (2 PATs, 1 FG).

Game Breakdown
OHIO STATE RUSH OFFENSE vs. ILLINOIS RUSH DEFENSE
The Buckeyes are not easy to stop from running the ball, but the Fighting Illini could have a, well, fighting chance thanks to a stout front four of ends Jihad Ward and Dawuane Stout and tackles Chunky Clements and Rob Bain. Linebackers Mason Monheim and T.J. Neal are also rugged players who take advantage of all the havoc the front creates. J.T. Barrett’s ability to present a running threat makes Ohio State more formidable, but it should be a good battle either way. EDGE: EVEN

ILLINOIS RUSH OFFENSE vs. OHIO STATE RUSH DEFENSE
The Fighting Illini have struggled mightily to run the ball, thanks in no small part to injuries that have limited star tailback Josh Ferguson for much of the season. Freshman Ke’Shawn Vaughn has been a solid replacement but not demonstrated the elusiveness of Ferguson. The offensive line play has not been strong for Illinois, either, and that could be a problem against an active Ohio State front four getting ready to face power attacks in the last two weeks of the season after they are done with Illinois. EDGE: OHIO STATE

OHIO STATE PASS OFFENSE vs. ILLINOIS PASS DEFENSE
Overall the Illinois secondary has been pretty good so far this season. The Fighting Illini have been especially good at limiting the effectiveness of short throws while showing some susceptibility to big plays. They have not been able to generate much of a pass rush to help out the back end of the defense, but Ohio State’s ability to take advantage of this might depend on who is playing quarterback and who among the receivers are healthy. With frequent wind gusts, Memorial Stadium can be a tricky place to throw the ball. EDGE: OHIO STATE

ILLINOIS PASS OFFENSE vs. OHIO STATE PASS DEFENSE
This was expected to be a strength for the Illini with strong-armed quarterback Wes Lunt, but the unit has struggled because of a lack of playmakers on the outside. Lunt’s favorite target by far all season has been Geronimo Allison, a 6-4, 195-pound senior who is athletic, fast and physical. He is tough to match up with, but no other threat has emerged Ohio State has been among the best teams in the country all season against the pass. EDGE: OHIO STATE

SPECIAL TEAMS
Cornerback V’Angelo Bentley, a senior from Cleveland Glenville, is still a threat in the return game for Illinois, but not much else has gone right in this department this season. The Illini bring the worst punt team in the Big Ten into this contest, and they have not done much in any other area that is positive. Bentley has burned the Buckeyes before, but Ohio State’s coverage units have been strong this season. EDGE: OHIO STATE

INTANGIBLES
Playing their last home game of the season, will the Fighting Illini bring some extra fire into this one? Perhaps. They might also want to give their interim coach a chance to get a marquee win against the defending national champions. Meanwhile, Ohio State will got into the game knowing showdowns with Michigan State and Michigan are looming next, so this could be a prime opportunity for a letdown even though the Buckeyes will likely be warned Memorial Stadium is a place that has notoriously been tough to play for the Scarlet and Gray. EDGE: OHIO STATE

STAFF PREDICTION
This one might not be pretty — they rarely are in Champaign — but the Buckeyes should have far too much firepower for Illinois. The Illini have already surpassed their expected win total in the eyes of many, but that is also thanks in part to some very weak competition. Uncertainty about the quarterback situation and the weather (the latter is a prerequisite at Memorial Stadium, which is open on both ends and more susceptible to wind gusts than large bowls like Ohio Stadium) could prevent this one from being a complete laugher, but the Buckeyes should be comfortably ahead when all is said and done. OHIO STATE 45-16

The staff pick is an average of predictions by staffers Ryan Ginn, James Grega, Tim Moody, Jeff Svoboda and Blake Williams


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