Leading the Illinois offense at Ohio Stadium on Saturday afternoon will be senior Juice Williams, whose finest moment as a college quarterback came on the same artificial turf about 22 months ago during a 28-21 Illinois victory. Then known more as a runner than a passer at quarterback, Williams played practically a perfect game. He completed only 12 passes, but one quarter of them went for touchdowns, and he did not turn the ball over while expertly running the option.
Since then, he has matured into a dangerous passer, but the Buckeyes know he remains a dual threat.
"He did a good job of keeping it when he needed to keep it (in 2007), and taking it up for 10 yards and big runs, so we have to make sure we contain Juice and not let him run up the middle," said Ohio State cornerback Chimdi Chekwa. "We've got to stop the run first and then force him to throw the ball. Then the DBs have to make plays."
Williams missed most of Fighting Illini's last game because of a muscle strain, but head coach Ron Zook told reporters this week he was not limited in practice.
2. Can Terrelle Pryor do it again?
We're thinking a little shorter term now, as in, will the Ohio State signal caller continue to progress as he did last week during a 38-0 win over Toledo? He seemed to improve in just about every facet of the game, from throwing crisper passes to running in a more decisive manner, but his head coach was sure not to praise him to too many great lengths after reviewing the film.
In Illinois, Pryor faces a pass defense that has been torched for 669 yards in its first two games, although the Fighting Illini play their safeties in a unique manner that has given the Buckeyes fits in the past. Over the last three games with Illinois, Ohio State has totaled only 313 yards through the air.
3. What have the Buckeyes learned about stopping the shotgun sweep?
Illinois gashed the Ohio State defense repeatedly last season with big runs on the edge, something Michigan was also able to do the following week from the same shotgun set the Illini used with such success.
None of Ohio State's first three opponents tried to run in such a manner, so what the Buckeyes have learned about stopping the shotgun sweep figures to be on display.
"We talk about (defending the edge) week in and week out," said Ohio State linebacker Austin Spitler. "We talked about it during USC week. If we dominate the edge, we should be able to stop the run, so we've got to put guys on the edge who can force the line of scrimmage and hold it there for the guys behind us to make plays."
Last season, Ohio State played almost exclusively nickel defense against Illinois, but a shift to a 50 base defense shown against USC could provide a different look and a different set of challenges for the Illini.
4. Can Ohio State's defensive backs prevent big plays in the passing game?
Before the season, some believed Illinois could boast of the deepest, most dangerous group of receivers in the Big Ten, but they have not been able to spread their wings just yet. That can at least partly be attributed to star Arrelious Benn's being limited early by an ankle injury, not to mention Williams' absence for most of the Illini's 45-17 victory over Illinois State on Sept. 12, but the Buckeyes remain wary.
"He's one of the best receivers in the conference," Chekwa said of Benn. "If he catches the ball in the open field, he breaks tackles, so we've got to make sure we get him down. He's going to make some plays, obviously."
Because of their respective injury woes, Benn and Williams have not spent a lot of time on the field together so far this season, leaving Zook hopeful they will be able to live up to their reputations without delay.
"Hopefully those guys will able to connect and do the things we all know they are capable of doing," Zook said.
5. What about the Ohio State running game?
The final numbers last week - 247 yards rushing on 46 attempts - was better than the actual performance of the Buckeye rushing attack last week against Toledo.
There were some highlights, but the power running game remained stuck in neutral most of the time, and how much Tressel and his staff are willing to try to exploit teams that load up inside with counters and outside runs remains to be seen.
The Illinois front seven figures to be more stout than that of the Rockets, too, even with starting middle linebacker Martez Wilson out of the year because of a neck injury.