Ill At Ease When Playing At Illinois

Ohio State travels to Champaign, Illinois, for a 12pm EST kickoff against the University of Illinois. While Ohio State is a considerable favorite to win this game easily, it may be worthwhile for Ohio State fans to remember that trips to Champaign have not always been the easiest or enjoyable of contests.

Perhaps someone can ask Craig Krenzel, the quarterback of Ohio State’s 2002 national championship team, what it was like to rally Ohio State to victory over an Illinois team that had a losing record. Krenzel escaped from what appeared to be a certain sack by Illinois to pick up a key first down on a broken quarterback scramble late in the game.

How about the 2006 game? Ohio State, ranked # 1, defeated Illinois 17-10 in a game that was anything but easy.

2008 was a classic Tresselball contest, as Ohio State defeated Illinois 30-20, behind the running game of Chris Wells and Terrelle Pryor. Even in victory, this was not easy, even as Ohio State had revenge on their collective minds, after the crushing 2007 upset at the hands of Illinois in Ohio Stadium.

Remember how the 2010 unfolded, with Terrelle Pryor returning to the game after sustaining a leg injury? 24-13 did not seem that comfortable at the time. (Yes, I know, this game has been vacated. Please do not remind me.)

And in 2011, somewhere Coach Woody Hayes was smiling, as Ohio State defeated Illinois 17-7, throwing four passes, completing one to Jake Stoneburner. It was this game that ushered in the end of the Ron Zook era (or error?) at Illinois, as Illinois has lost every B1G contest since that game.

The average score of these games at Illinois? Ohio State 22, Illinois 13.

Do I believe Ohio State will win this game on Saturday in Champaign, IL? Yes, I do. I will also be happy when the game is over, and Ohio State has left Champaign, IL, with a victory well in hand. On to what I expect to see when Ohio State takes the field against Illinois…

Ohio State enters this game leading the B1G in scoring offense (48.2 pts/game), total offense (530.9 yards/game), and rushing offense (301.1 yards/game). Illinois ranks eleventh in the B1G in total defense, giving up 482.7 yards per game. Illinois ranks last in the B1G in rushing defense, giving up 239.6 yards per game on the ground. In other words, Ohio State should be able to do what they want, when they want to, offensively.

Illinois is led by senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. Scheelhaase commands a pass-heavy offense that ranks second in the B1G, averaging 288.9 yards per game. Look for Ohio State’s pass rush, led by Noah Spence, to apply pressure early and often on Scheelhaase.

As mentioned above, Ohio State should be able to control this game from the onset. Senior running back Carlos Hyde, with 701 yards rushing for the year, should get ample opportunity, in the first half at least, to pad his statistics to become Coach Urban Meyer’s first 1000 yard rusher. Illinois’ Memorial Stadium is notorious for wreaking havoc on opposing teams’ passing games; look for Coach Meyer to emphasize Ohio State’s strong running game throughout this game.

A small statistic that may bear watching – Illinois leads the B1G in onside kick attempts at two, having been successful with one recovery. Considering how heavy a favorite Ohio State is in this game, it would not be surprising if Illinois pulled out all the stops to try and make a game of it with the Buckeyes.

Prediction: Ohio State comes out revved up, knowing that style points do matter in their quest for the BCS Championship. Carlos Hyde should go for at least 150 yards before earning a well-deserved rest for the majority of the second half. The same for quarterback Braxton Miller, who has shown tremendous development in the passing game this season. Too much offense by the Buckeyes against an overmatched Illinois defense adds to the chorus of Illinois fans who are displeased with the direction Tim Beckman is taking this program. I will call it Ohio State 56, Illinois 14.

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