Countdown To THE GAME 2014

Friday, October 31, 2014

Will Ohio State "Rush" Into November Against Illinois?

"November is for contenders, we always say that..." ~ former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel

The Illinois Fighting Illini will enter into Ohio Stadium on a forecasted chilly evening  to battle long-time rival Ohio State.  While Ohio State is listed by Las Vegas oddsmakers as a comfortable favorite (Ohio State has a -28.5 point spread), Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and his coaching staff will do their very best to focus their team upon defeating the Fighting Illini and securing the seventh victory for the 2014 season.

Ohio State fans recall how Illinois came into Ohio Stadium in 2007 and upset the then-top ranked Buckeyes.  As I stated this past week on the MotSandG podcast, it is quite vivid to me how Illinois tormented Ohio State coaches (most especially, former Ohio State head coach John Cooper), players, and fans throughout the 1980s and 1990s (1988-1992, 1994, 1999).  When Ohio State fans contemplate how the Buckeyes had to rally last weekend on the road at Penn State (31-24 2OT), as well as how Illinois defeated a favored Minnesota team last weekend, the coaching staff, players, and fans cannot overlook the capacity of Illinois upsetting the Buckeyes.

Illinois has seventeen players on its roster from Ohio.  The overwhelming majority of these players were not recruited by Ohio State; the lone exception to this is Caleb Day of Hilliard, who spurned Ohio State for Illinois in 2013.  The most notable Ohioan is V'Angelo Bentley of Glenville, who made the key fumble recovery against Minnesota that secured the Illinois victory last week.

The areas that I will be focusing upon throughout the game will be...

1.  Ohio State relying upon its running game - Quarterback J.T. Barrett sustained a sprained MCL injury against Penn State.  Although Barrett has been cleared to play against Illinois, it would be surprising to see Barrett being asked to contribute much in the running game against the Fighting Illini.  Ezekiel Elliott may be a workhorse, and other running backs such as Curtis Samuel and Warren Ball may also have opportunities to pad their respective statistics.  Bri'onte Dunn will not play against Illinois, due to injury.

2.  How Well Will Ohio State's Defense Contain Illinois' Reilly O'Toole? - O'Toole has ascended into the role of Illinois' starting quarterback, after starter Wes Lunt was lost to injury.  O'Toole is more of a dual-threat quarterback, capable of making plays with his legs as well as his arm.  Will Ohio State's quick and aggressive defense be able to contain O'Toole Saturday night?

3.  Will Ohio State Play Cardale Jones Against Illinois? - Anyone who has listened to me throughout this season's MotSandG podcasts will hear me questioning why backup quarterback Cardale Jones has not received more playing time this season.  Considering Barrett's sprained MCL injury, it is in Ohio State's best interests to rest Barrett as much as possible, with the remainder of the 2014 season left to play.  While Jones is not the passer Barrett is, Jones has the physical skills capable to play the quarterback position as a game manager for the Buckeyes.  On this week's podcast, I even made the suggestion that true freshman quarterback Stephen Collier, who has been targeted for a redshirt season, may be worthy of playing time, depending upon the type of potential lead Ohio State may be able to build upon against Illinois.  Think of it this way - suppose Barrett reinjures his leg, and is out for the season, so now Cardale Jones is the starter.  Anyone else comfortable knowing Stephen Collier is next up, with no playing experience?  Thought so.

Perhaps Ohio State will be able to shut down Illinois all across the board, and get off to a fast start.  While that would be very pleasing to Coach Meyer, as well as all Ohio State fans, I believe Illinois will be able to keep it close until the end of the first half.  Look for Ohio State to pull away in the second half, behind a strong rushing performance, and an opportunistic defense.  I have it Ohio State 35, Illinois 17.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Random Thoughts as Ralph D. Russo Looks At UM/MSU, Winsipedia, & Old School Prediction On OSU/PSU

Happy Saturday October 25th, 2014!  Below are some random thoughts for what should be another glorious Saturday for college football...

  • How bad did UM play last season versus Michigan State?  @ralphDrussoAP provided a stark idea.

  • is a solid tool that allows fans to compare and contrast historically how teams have historically performed against each other.  Below is a link that shows how Ohio State compares against Penn State through the years...

I offered up my prediction for how I believe Ohio State will play at Penn State.  Considering how porous Penn State's offensive line is, this may be the experience Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg may have at the hands of Ohio State's defensive line tonight...

Friday, October 24, 2014

2014 OSU Football ~ Buckeyes @ Nittany Lions Will Be "Happening" Valley

Ever since the loss to Virginia Tech on September 6th, Ohio State has been rolling offensively.  Proof?  Ohio State has averaged 56 points a game over its last four opponents (Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland, and Rutgers).  Granted, none of those opponents are considered to be college football juggernauts, but it would be fair to state that Ohio State has exorcised the demons (I figured Halloween is right around the corner, so why not be a little colorful with the analogies?) that plagued them as the 2014 college football season began.

Conversely, Penn State seems to be going in the opposite direction.  Penn State began the season with a stirring last second victory over Central Florida (26-24) in the season opener, and the Nittany Lions concluded the first month of the season with a 4-0 record.  The positive momentum was surprisingly blunted by visiting Northwestern (27-6), then Penn State lost at Michigan (18-13).  Considering Penn State had a bye that preceded its visit to Ann Arbor, and still lost to a struggling Michigan team, had to be disconcerting to Penn State coaches, players, and fans.  For what it is worth, Penn State is coming into this game with Ohio State off another bye week.

Here are the three areas I will concentrate upon as the kickoff begins at 8pm EST on ABC:

1.  Can Penn State's Defense Slow Down Ohio State's Offense?  - Penn State's defense has been keeping the team in games, ranking 6th in the country at points allowed (average 15 points a game).  The strength of the Penn State defense is the run defense, while Ohio State prides itself on a powerful running game.  With those statistics in mind, keep in mind that these are the opponents Penn State has played up until this point - Central Florida, Akron, Rutgers, Massachusetts, Northwestern, and Michigan.  Penn State defeated Rutgers 13-10, largely behind five interceptions of Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova; Ohio State just thrashed Rutgers 56-17.

2.  Will Penn State's Offensive Line Be Able To Protect Christian Hackenberg?  - Even Penn State coaches and fans recognized going into the 2014 season that the Penn State offensive line was the decided weak link of the team.  It would be generous to say that Penn State has struggled to run the ball; Penn State ranks 121st in the country at rushing the ball.  Against Michigan, Christian Hackenberg was continually under siege.  Ohio State's defensive line, led by stalwart Joey Bosa, may be extremely difficult to slow down, let alone stop.  Will Penn State head coach James Franklin move Hackenberg out of the pocket in order to keep the Ohio State defensive line in check?

3.  Ohio State Gets A Sizable Lead; Send In The Backups? - As stated up above, Ohio State has averaged 56 points a game over its last four victories.  While it has been rewarding to witness the continuing maturation and development of Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, it has also been somewhat disappointing that the Ohio State coaching staff has not been giving backup players such as backup quarterback Cardale Jones more playing time.  Perhaps I am concerning myself too much on possible negative consequences, but Jones is literally only one play away from having to run the Ohio State offense, yet has had little to no playing time this season.  Will Ohio State play its backups and rest its starters if the Buckeyes get a commanding lead over Penn State?

Penn State Head Coach James Franklin will be using the night game atmosphere to his advantage, relying upon the 106,000 fans in Beaver Stadium to impact and disrupt Ohio State with as much noise as possible.  As stated up above, Penn State had a bye weekend, so perhaps Coach Franklin has figured out a few things that will keep Ohio State off balance defensively this game.  Then again, the oddsmakers in Las Vegas have installed the Buckeyes as 13.5 point favorites, and I always believe there is a reason why there are new buildings and casinos continually being built out there by these individuals.  I have it Ohio State 56, Penn State 17.

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