The Ohio State Buckeyes, fresh off a 48-3 rout of Michigan State, look to continue their winning ways as the team will conclude its home slate of games on Saturday against struggling Illinois. Senior Day in Ohio Stadium is always an emotional affair, as players such as quarterback J.T. Barrett, center Billy Price, tight end Marcus Baugh, linebacker Chris Worley, safety Damon Webb, and several others will play their final game in front of the home crowd.
At his Nov. 13 press conference Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer stated, "We're very close to this group of seniors. There will be, once again I haven't thought about it much and there will be the right time to have those conversations, but it's very well documented the respect and love we have for these guys because it's the first time we've had a couple of fifth-year seniors who have decided to stay throughout their journey, and we're going to treat them right. And best way to treat them right is go win this game."
While it will be an emotionally challenging day for the Buckeyes, it could be a challenge of a completely different sort for the Fighting Illini — probably a physical challenge. Illinois comes into this game with an eight-game losing streak, last tasting victory back on Sept. 9 against Western Kentucky. While there have been a few close games in Big Ten play, the Fighting Illini have struggled to consistently put points on the board this season, ranking last in the conference (16.4 ppg).
Illinois at Ohio State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 18 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Ohio State -40.5
Three Things To Watch
1. Ohio State's running game vs. Illinois' defensive line
At his Nov. 13 press conference Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer was quick to praise the Fighting Illini's first line of defense stating, "Their defensive line is really good... they're penetrators and they're big dudes." Meyer's praise aside, the reality is Illinois is 13th in the Big Ten in rushing defense, giving up 199.1 yards per game on the ground. The Illini are just a hair better than Nebraska (200.1 ypg) in this respect. Ohio State is tops in the conference and 17th nationally at 245.3 rushing yards per game and just gashed Michigan State for 335 last week. Illinois may have "big dudes" up front, but expect to see plenty of J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber as the Buckeyes will look to establish the run game early.
2. Illinois' poor pass protection vs. Ohio State's stout defensive line
Not surprisingly, the Fighting Illini’s struggles extend to their pass protection. Illinois has given up has given up the most sacks in the Big Ten with 36 as only three FBS teams have surrendered more per game (3.6). Conversely, Ohio State averages nearly three a game (27 total) with Nick Bosa (5.0 sacks) and Tyquan Lewis (4.5) leading the way. The Illini just gave up eight sacks to Indiana last week and now faces one of the more talented and deeper defensive lines in the nation. It could get ugly for whomever is at quarterback for Illinois. Jeff George Jr. (above, right) will get the start unless Cam Thomas, who is more of a running threat, is cleared after missing last week’s game with a reported concussion. Illini quarterbacks have combined to throw twice as many interceptions (17) as touchdowns (eight) this season.
3. Ohio State's focus
If the Buckeyes beat Illinois and Wisconsin takes care of Michigan, then Ohio State clinches the Big Ten East Division and a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis on Dec. 2. Meyer has already said winning this game is of paramount importance, especially for the seniors who are playing their final game in Ohio Stadium.
Ten years ago, Illinois came into Ohio Stadium and ruined Senior Day for Ohio State, upsetting the Buckeyes 28-21. While it is not beyond the realm of possibility, this Fighting Illini team does not a have quarterback like Juice Williams at the helm. Ohio State seems to have recaptured its positive momentum from earlier this season, and it would be surprising if this game is close at the half, as the Las Vegas oddsmakers have the Buckeyes as huge favorites.