Five Answers: Ohio State-Illinois

This week we wondered how well the Buckeyes would protect Todd Boeckman, how they would do running the ball, if the Illini could play mistake-free, just how challenging stopping the option would prove to be and how well Illinois could disguise its defense.

1. Can Ohio State shore up the pass protection?

Not really. Todd Boeckman was sacked just twice but he was under pressure all day.

The quarterback was flushed from the pocket a half dozen other times and showed some good wheels when he was on the run, but the times he was able to set up and survey the field were few and far between.

He seemed to be afflicted with happy feet for much of the contest, and one of the instances when he looked to have felt rush that was not quite there resulted in his second interception, a crucial play in the red zone in the third quarter.

"We obviously didn't execute," OSU tackle Kirk Barton said. "When you don't protect Todd the way we needed to, he's going to throw a few more picks than if he had a clean pocket all day, which is something that all the O-line has to look in the mirror and fix for next week."

2. Can the Buckeyes run the ball?

Ohio State ran for 180 yards, nothing to sneeze at to be sure, and the Buckeyes flexed some muscle on their lone touchdown drive of the second half.

Having fallen behind 28-14, Ohio State faced a fourth-and-1 on the Illinois 32.

Jim Tressel called Chris "Beanie" Wells' number and he responded with a run over left guard for 3 yards.

Tressel liked that so much he let the burly sophomore carry the rest of the way. Wells surged for 5 over right tackle, then shot up the middle for 7, a run that ended with him delivering a powerful blow to star Illini linebacker J. Leman.

Wells finished the job one play later by bursting through a hole on the right side for a 17-yard touchdown in which he outran a defensive back to the goal line.

It was an impressive show and perhaps an indication that with a full quarter to play the Buckeye ground game was about to take control for a second week in a row.

However, Ohio State had just three more offensive plays before the final gun sounded.

3. Will the read option and its variations hurt Ohio State?

The Buckeyes had a decent hold on the speed option. OSU ends Vernon Gholston and Cameron Heyward contained Illinois quarterback Juice Williams, forcing him to pitch out to where defenders were ready to swarm the pitch man, generally running back Rashard Mendenhall.

The read option was a different story, though.

When Williams would stick the ball into the belly of one of his running backs and survey the field, the Buckeyes seemed lost.

With the help of great blocking all across the line of scrimmage, Williams was able to dance and dart to gains that cut the heart out of the Buckeyes as the game wore on.

Mendenhall had his share of success when Williams entrusted him with the ball as well.

Afterward, OSU linebacker Larry Grant simply tipped his cap to his opponent.

"It was just they've got some great players on their team," Grant said. "Juice was really handling their offense to the ‘T'. He did a great job coordinating his offensive line and his running backs, letting them know where to be."

OSU linebacker James Laurinaitis said the Buckeyes wanted to attack the Illinois option with a mixture of pressure and containment, but the no-huddle offense helped to keep the Buckeyes off balance and made disguising defenses more difficult.

"We planned to do a little bit of both," he said. "You have to attack an option team like this and sometimes you've got to change it up a little, but when you've got a hurry-up (offense) like that it's hard. We try to show around and stun a little bit and that kind of takes that away when they're doing their hurry up stuff."

4. Can Illinois stay away from making big mistakes?

The Fighting Illini played nearly flawless football, and the same cannot be said for Ohio State.

While Illinois was able to grind the final 8:09 off the clock, many mistakes by the Buckeyes put them in position to do so.

Boeckman threw three interceptions, and it could be argued all came on passes that should not have been thrown.

The most damning was the final one, a deep toss intended for Brian Robiskie that Boeckman under threw and had intercepted by Marcus Thomas.

The Illini, on the other hand, played their first turnover-free game of the season and were flagged for just one penalty.

5. Will the Buckeyes be able to decipher what the Illini are doing defensively?

Whether because of the pass rush or different looks from the Illinois defensive backfield, Boeckman never had the look of a quarterback in command like he had in previous weeks.

His postgame explanation of that fateful third interception would seem to indicate he was not quite reading what the Illini were doing. Boeckman said he saw Robiskie in one-on-one coverage with Thomas, but a bird's-eye-view made it clear safety Kevin Mitchell was providing deep help.

"I knew Robo was one-on-one out there, but right as I threw it I knew it was underthrown," Boeckman said. "I thought hopefully he could get up there and have a chance to break it up and the DB wouldn't see it because his back was turned, but he made a good play on the ball."

While Thomas made a good leaping catch, had the pass been thrown on target or too deep, Mitchell would have likely been the one to come up with the turnover.

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