In Saturday's relatively easy 30-0 win over Illinois it was deja vu all over again for the Buckeyes, as they used the same formula that worked last year against the Illini.
There were several great individual performers in the Buckeye victory.
QUARTERBACK: As has been pointed out several times in the past, Terrelle Pryor isn't Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. He will never be looked at as a highly efficient passer.. What Pryor does best is change games for the better, by running, throwing, or having the defense concentrate so heavily on stopping him that it opens up lanes for the running backs. Although his statistics won't show it, Pryor was the difference offensively for the Buckeyes. He controlled the game early with his legs and the threat of running outside, and by throwing selectively in the second half to put Illinois out of its misery. The best part of Pryor's game is the ability to make plays and keep drives alive. He was very good Saturday. A special mention goes to Kenny Guiton, who was mentioned by a few players as having done a great job imitating Juice Williams on the scout team. GRADE: B+.
RUNNING BACKS: The Buckeyes used three and all of them played well. Brandon Saine continues to make a case that he's not only the best back on the team, but the most improved Buckeye. Saine ran with great vision and made people miss, two traits Buckeye fans have been wishing for. Boom Herron had his best game of the year and showed that while his role might be scaled back, he is still an important part of this team. Jordan Hall played well for the second week in a row in fourth quarter mop-up duty. It remains to be seen if Hall is a true threat, or just looking good against tired defenses, but he's earning his opportunities. GRADE: B+.
RECEIVERS: Not many opportunities to make plays catching the football, so the Buckeye wideouts took out their aggression blocking the Illinois defensive backs all over the field. Dane Sanzenbacher and Devier Posey had five catches between them as Pryor only threw 13 passes in poor weather conditions. Duron Carter was another key cog in Ohio State's ability to make yardage downfield by blocking well. Jake Ballard had a fine day leading Pryor around the corner several times and had one catch. GRADE: B+.
OFFENSIVE LINE: This group had their best performance of the year, maybe the best in the past three years. On the infrequent occasions when Pryor dropped to pass, there was more than enough time to deliver the football. The running game was simply a Buckeye tractor pull down the field, as they averaged over five yards per attempt. This group seemed to enjoy running out of the shotgun-spread, rather than the traditional I-formation. Mike Brewster owned the middle of the Illinois defensive front and might have played the best game of his young career. J.B. Shugarts was once again solid in his second straight start. Mike Adams alternated with Andy Miller, and although hampered by a sore ankle, Adams might have had his best game. Bryant Browning and Justin Boren combined with Brewster to give Ohio State total dominance in the middle of the line. GRADE A+.
DEFENSIVE LINE: This group pitched a shutout and simply could not be blocked. They could have played until midnight and Illinois would still not have scored. Hard to single anyone out, because all were special. Lawrence Wilson and Todd Denlinger are seniors that have had careers hampered by various injuries, but both were very good. Wilson's interception was a play only a great athlete can make, and that one play showed why Wilson has been so highly thought of. Denlinger had two stops on third down in short yardage that stoned the Illini early. Thad Gibson lived in the Illinois backfield and had his strongest game to date. It's a joy to see a defensive tackle rush the passer, then get in on a tackle of a pass receiver ten yards down the field, and Johnny Simon did that more than once against Illinois. Simon is making the most of his limited opportunities and the future is bright for this freshman tackle. GRADE: A++.
LINEBACKERS: The linebackers were faced with having to keep contain on Illinois quarterback Juice Williams. Williams beat the Buckeyes in 2007 with his arm and his legs. Things didn't go nearly as well for him in 2009. Brian Rolle might be the defensive MVP after four games, and was great once again against Illinois. His interception ended an early drive and he was a force in the middle of the Buckeye defense. It's hard to replace a great middle linebacker like James Laurinaitis, but Rolle has done as well as anyone could have expected. Andrew Sweat replaced an injured Ross Homan and made the most of his first-ever shot at extended playing time. The Buckeyes were in the "nickel" defense a lot of the time and Rolle and Sweat both excelled in their roles. GRADE: A.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: The cornerbacks were considered to be question marks heading into 2009. After four games they should be considered a team strength. Chimdi Chekwa is quietly putting together an NFL resume, and teams are not throwing his way like they have in the past. Opponents are not finding success going at first-year starter Devon Torrence either, as Torrence has been more than solid since taking over for Andre Amos against USC. The safety play of Kurt Coleman and Jermale Hines was nearly perfect, both in coverage and in run support. Hines supplanted Anderson Russell at safety, but Russell has played better as the "nickel" back, not letting the disappointment in losing his starting job hurt his play. GRADE: A.
SPECIAL TEAMS: For the second week in a row Donnie Evege stood out on the kickoff return unit. Evege is starting to emerge as a special teams leader, much like Shaun Lane did the past few years. Evege could eventually earn defensive playing time by continuing to shine on special teams, following the lead of Brian Rolle, Jermale Hines and Devon Torrence. GRADE: A.
COACHING: The defensive wizardry of coordinator Jim Heacock continues as the Buckeyes record their second straight shutout, almost unheard of in this era of high-scoring football. Keep in mind that Heacock is replacing several players now playing in the NFL, and his job performance is amazing. Offensively, the transition from power to spread continues to march on successfully. There was more spread-option, more shotgun, more motion, more diversity, and much more success moving the football. This offense is just in the early stages of what could prove to be very difficult to stop over the coming weeks. GRADE: A.