Into each life, some rain must fall (Illinois Recap)

OSU FootballIt could turn out to be a little difficult to recap Saturday’s game because my brain is soggy. I’ve been to games when it’s rained. I’ve played games in the rain. Child’s play. Saturday’s rain was from an angry rain god. But watching the defense pitch another shut out makes it all worth it.

Slinging in the rain

So let’s start there: The Defense. It will be capitalized from now on, as it is now a proper noun. We can get into specifics as we move forward, but a few generalities: This defense is scary good. What’s interesting is how low our expectations were for this unit going in to the season. After losing Jenkins, Freeman and Little Animal, most of us thought we’d see a drop-off in effectiveness. But the opposite happened. I think the difference now is that this defense has an identity, and it’s not tied to one or two players. It’s a complete unit, all eleven warriors flying to the ball. Sure, Thaddeus Maximus and Hurt Coleman have been stand-outs, but this defense is complete with someone doing something special on every down. Shutting down Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn is no small feat, and this unit mashed some heads.

Some numbers: We asked what kind of yardage the Buckeye D would give up. The weather certainly had an impact, but the second half was mostly clear allowing both teams opportunities to air it out. Reader DaveM was closest with his prediction of 250 yards, but that wasn’t in the ball park. The Buckeyes only gave up 170 yards: 88 passing and 82 rushing. That is out-and-out domination. 2.4 yards a carry is impressive.

Thaddues

We also talked about turnovers. With three interceptions, this was an impressive effort. If there was some sort of “hitting for the cycle” for interceptions the Buckeyes certainly accomplished it with a INT from the DBs, LBs and linemen. (We’ll get back to Lawrence Wilson’s INT.) Illinois also fumbled three times but the Buckeyes never got their paws on any of them.

Individually, it’s hard to single out a single top performer but I think Thaddues single-handedly deflated any hope the Illini might have had with his play during their first drive in the third quarter. Chasing Juice down twice and getting him twice (forcing a fumble as well) was an impressive feat. To him, we award him one million Buckeye Leaves. But that doesn’t take anything away from the rest of the unit. It was an excellent outing.

For a second, let’s relish Lawrence Wilson’s interception. It was almost as if that one single play, that singular personal effort atoned for two years of frustrating injuries and painful comebacks. It was surreal when the ball was tipped and the crowd instantly erupted as the ball fell into Wilson’s mitts. I’m honored to have been part of it. But now we have to call out that celebration. Its awkwardness was rivaled only by that memorable fist pumping from Tyler Hansbrough. Embarrassing.

Offensively speaking, this was my kind of game. A grind-em out, smashmouth game of running running running. We wondered out loud who would produce more, Boom Herron or Brandon Saine. While Saine outgained Boom with one less carry, both guys carried the ball effectively. This was the kind of performance we’ve been waiting on from both of them. Kudos to the line, as well, that was opening holes on both sides of the ball. I was a little frustrated that the only creativeness seemed to be “should we run to the right twice, or three times?” But for the most part, if Illinois couldn’t stop the run, why mix things up?

Brandon Saine

The passing game really didn’t have any reason to show up in the downpour, so it’s no surprise there were no yards gained in the first half. When the elements finally cooperated, Pryor’s passing looked sharp. It’s clear that Sanzenbacher is clearly going to be a huge part of Pryor’s game and it’s nice to see him looking elsewhere from Posey. As far as Pryor’s contribution to the running game, there were a couple times he took things out too wide, allowing the Illini take away his cutbacks and was bottled up a little too much for my liking. But he still looked comfortable and did gain over five yards a carry.

I don’t normally comment on Special Teams, because Ohio State is usually solid in that aspect, but I have to call attention to Donnie Evege’s peformance on the coverage teams. It seems like he was in on every tackle. Buckeye Leaves galore for Donnie and his willingness to sacrifice his body for the greater good.

All things considered, it’s tough to gauge just how good the Illini was on both sides of the ball. Juice Williams is always a wild card, and the Joker showed up in the ‘Shoe on Saturday. So that has to be taken into consideration but he is athletic and the Illini do have some excellent players. They just weren’t on their A-game while the Buckeyes Defense had their way with them. This was a great Big Ten opener and I think we have some really good games ahead of us.

(Also, congrats go to reader DaveM, winner of a copy of Busted: The Rise and Fall of Art Schlichter with his prediction of 27-7 which was the closest to the final score (sportsMonkey had 31-6 but he’s ineligible for the prize). )

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