Editor's note: Ohio State announced on Friday night that Saturday's game with Illinois was canceled as the Buckeyes are pausing all team activities following a number of positive cases with the program, including head coach Ryan Day.
Following a 42-35 win over a tough Indiana squad, Ohio State fans are wondering what ultimate direction this season will take for the Buckeyes. With all due credit to Indiana, which is well-coached and having a fine season, the Buckeyes had a third straight game of nearly blowing a big first-half lead.
Ohio State cannot sit back and wallow in too much self-reflection, as the Buckeyes travel west to Champaign, Illinois, to take on long-time Big Ten rival Illinois. The Fighting Illini are at 2-3 and coming off an impressive 41-23 win at Nebraska. The victory in Lincoln was the first for the Fighting Illini since 1924.
This game will mark the first time Ohio State has traveled to Illinois since the 2015 season, when Ohio State defeated Illinois 28-3. Ohio State has been dominant in the series with Illinois, having won the last nine times the teams have played (2008-2017). Of course, Ohio State fans will forever be haunted by the 2007 game, when Illinois came into Ohio Stadium and defeated the Buckeyes, 28-21. No matter the circumstances, look for two determined and confident teams to take the field on Saturday afternoon in Memorial Stadium.
No. 4 Ohio State at Illinois
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Ohio State -28.5
When Ohio State Has the Ball
Junior quarterback Justin Fields was having a spectacular season — until his latest game, when he threw three interceptions versus Indiana. Even so, Fields is completing nearly 80 percent of his passes this season, with 13 touchdowns through the air and three more on the ground.
Fields relies on standout wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Both have big-play capabilities and are showcasing them this season, combining for 57 receptions and eight touchdowns (Wilson has 31 receptions for 513 yards and four touchdowns; Olave has 26 receptions for 389 yards and four touchdowns). The Illinois pass rush is led by Owen Carney Jr., who had 1.5 sacks at Nebraska.
The Ohio State running game emerged against the Hoosiers, with Master Teague carrying the ball 26 times for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Trey Sermon also had his best game yet as a Buckeye, adding nine carries for 60 yards. In an environment that is predictably unpredictable weather-wise, Ohio State may look to lean on Teague and Sermon against an Illinois defense that is susceptible to the run.
When Illinois Has the Ball
The return of Brandon Peters to the starting lineup at quarterback has proven to be beneficial for the Fighting Illini. Peters completed 18-of-25 passes for 205 yards and one touchdown, while also adding eight carries for 36 yards and a rushing touchdown at Nebraska.
Illinois was solidly committed to establishing the run at Nebraska, rushing 52 times for 285 yards, for a respectable 5.5 yards per carry. The committee approach employed by Illinois utilized Chase Brown (26 carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns) and Mike Epstein (13 carries for 113 yards and a touchdown). Ohio State will need to focus on limiting Illinois' running game, or it will be another distressing afternoon for the Ohio State coaches, players and fans.
Illinois wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe is a big-play threat on the outside, as Imatorbhebhe had four receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown versus Nebraska. He's complemented by wide receiver Donny Navarro (5 rec., 58 yds.) and tight end Daniel Baker (3, 42). The Ohio State secondary will need to fix whatever was ailing it versus Indiana, as Ohio State gave up nearly 500 passing yards to Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr.
Ohio State is on upset alert, after such a tough game at home versus Indiana. Illinois has always been a challenging place for the Buckeyes to play, most notably in 2002 (a 23-16 win) and 2006 (17-10), when they emerged as national title contenders. The win at Nebraska has given Illinois a boost of confidence, and head coach Lovie Smith will do everything possible to have the Fighting Illini scratching and clawing against the Buckeyes until the clock reads zero.
Prediction: Ohio State 56, Illinois 20
Podcast: Week 13 Preview and Predictions + Interview with Kirk Herbstreit