Ohio State travels to The Land Of Lincoln to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini in Champaign, Illinois. Please forgive me if I sound overly cautious as I reflect upon previous Ohio State games held in Memorial Stadium.
Sure, Ohio State has not lost to Illinois in Memorial Stadium since 1991 (Illinois 10, Ohio State 7), a few years before the current players were born. Yes, Ohio State has been dominant in the rivalry,not having lost since the infamous 2007 game in Ohio Stadium.
My concerns are rooted in the memories of games in Memorial Stadium over the years that have come down to the wire. Games where Ohio State was heavily favored, and Illinois was not expected to play well against the Buckeyes.
Remember 2002? Ohio State, coming off the “Holy Buckeye” touchdown pass over Purdue the previous week, struggled against an Illinois team that wound up 5-7 on the year. Ohio State prevailed 23-16 in overtime, behind this Maurice Hall touchdown run…
Remember 2006? Ohio State, undefeated and ranked #1, behind eventual Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, escaped Champaign with a 17-10 victory over Illinois. Keep in mind, Ohio State crushed Illinois 40-2 in 2005. Do you think those players truly thought Illinois was going to be able to give them a game heading into the 2006 contest?
I am willing to bet Braxton Miller can tell you all about his first experience in Memorial Stadium in 2011. Ohio State won 17-7. Miller should be able to tell you all about his passing statistics from the 2011 game also, as he only attempted four passes, completing one of them. Don’t blink below in the clip below, or you might miss it…
Shannon Sommers and I had the opportunity to discuss all things Illinois on this week’s Men of the Scarlet and Gray podcast. We were joined by Robert Rosenthal (@ALionEye) from illiniboard.com, and Robert was able to recall, as I can, all the quirky ways Illinois has played Ohio State through the years.
Below are three areas I will be focusing upon when Ohio State and Illinois kick off at 12pm EST/11am CST on ABC…
1. How Will The Ohio State Offense Perform Behind J.T. Barrett? ~ Yes, I know how Ohio State looked with Barrett at the helm at Rutgers two weeks ago. My curiosity is reflected primarily in the passing game, as the swirling winds of Memorial Stadium have been known to wreak havoc on the passing game. How will Barrett compensate, if this comes to pass on Saturday against the Fighting Illini?
2. Ohio State’s Run Defense vs. Illinois’ Rushing Offense ~ Illinois ran for 382 yards against Purdue, behind Josh Ferguson and one-time Ohio State recruit Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Ohio State limited Minnesota’s rushing attack to about 30 yards on the ground last week. Which of these units will win this battle?
3. Illinois’ Special Teams Play Against Ohio State ~ Considering Urban Meyer is the special teams coach, how much of an emphasis on punt protection took place this week in practice?
Your opponent trivia this week: Illinois is 7th nationally in blocked punts (2), and leads the nation in blocked kicks (5).— Lori Schmidt (@LoriSchmidt) November 8, 2015
As I have stated up above, strange things have been known to happen in Memorial Stadium. While it would be tremendous for Ohio State to come out and dominate from the onset, I look for Ohio State to get into a consistent rhythm by the second half, pulling away for good from a pesky Illinois team in the fourth quarter. I have it Ohio State 35, Illinois 21.