In a flip of the standard script, the Fighting Illini are 6-0 after last weekend’s victory over Indiana, while Ohio State is 3-3 and just completed a disheartening 2nd half collapse at Nebraska. The Buckeyes are reeling right now, with a new inexperienced coach, quarterback problems, and the still looming but unlikely possibility of more NCAA sanctions. But, as anyone in the Big 10 can tell you, athlete for athlete, they are still at the top of the conference for talent. I don’t follow the Vegas lines, but if I did I’d keep a close eye on this one. Illinois might be favored this game, but not in my book.
OSU will welcome the return of running back Dan Herron after the whole bling-for-tattoos scandal that cost Jim Tressel his job and sent Terrell Pryor to the NFL. They will also be desperate for a win having dropped two in a row. For them, it seems to come down to whether or not and how well freshman quarterback Braxton Miller can play. The Bucks looked pretty good before he sprained his ankle, and pretty awful after he went down. OSU will try to control the line of scrimmage and run as much as possible. They will sit around and wait for the Orange and Blue to make those trademark mistakes…
Which is where we get to the Illini approach to this game. It’s simple really: eliminate some of those stupid plays. Stop turning it over so much and in bad positions (three against Northwestern, three against Indiana). Stop with the dumb penalties and questionable play-calls (like weird two-point conversions). And for the love of the Chief, someone please address the bad, bad special teams. Oh, wait. The Zooker coaches the special teams? Ah-ha. Yes.
Ohio State is a team in need of momentum, and the stupid plays are a great way to get them going. They are also bigger and more talented than anyone else Illinois has faced this year, so Zook and Co. can’t expect to just roll them over. One assumes the Bucks have the kind of athletes in the secondary that won’t allow A.J. Jenkins to just run past them all day, and like other recent foes, they will certainly play run-stop first.
This could be one of those who-blinks-first games, with both teams coming out pretty conservative and determined to take advantage of the first mistake. Me – I hope we come out with energy and take some shots down field early – especially if OSU stacks the line. I hope the Illini can unzooker themselves, win the turnover battle, and quickly put the opponents on their back foot. If that happens, maybe we can roll on and keep this streak going. You don’t often catch the Buckeyes down, but when you do, you have to make it count.