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GAMEDAY PREVIEW: OHIO STATE AT ILLINOIS
October 1, 2010

SCS.com It may be hard to believe, but Ohio State and Illinois are old rivals that used to be a heated as Michigan and Ohio State. The action on the field has also been very close over the years, with Illinois always being a thorn in OSU's side over the past decade. The two times Illinois has won the Big Ten title and gone to the BCS in the past decade, they defeated Ohio State in Columbus to do it. This year's battle will be in Memorial Stadium though, where the winds generally wreak havoc on kickers. Perhaps the most memorable moment of this recent series is the 2002 meeting when Ohio State experienced and survived overtime at a windy and cold Memorial Stadium before heading to beat Miami in Glendale. Last year the Buckeyes rolled easily at home, although Illinois did give the Buckeye offense some fits over the course of the game. This year, another opportunity arises for both teams to take the first step and get a leg up in the Big Ten conference chase.

When Ohio State has the ball, look for the Buckeyes to establish the run first, something that they have not done in the first four games of the season. Dan Herron and Brandon Saine will lead the attack, but look for quarterback Terrelle Pryor to also get involved. The Illini defense has annually been a tough game for the Buckeye offensive line because Illinois runs a lot of shifts and stunts with the defensive line to confuse offensive linemen and get the offensive line into unfavorable positions. Ohio State will be sorely tested to pass protect better than they have in the past three meetings with Illinois, but the running game has been more than enough the past two seasons. The defensive line will have to step up big though as the defensive backfield is banged up and could be picked apart if Pryor can isolate backup CB Justin Green against his best receivers. This week the offense for the Buckeyes will take a step back, but there will still be enough plays to score major points.

When Illinois has the ball, freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase will try to continue improving on his 54% completion rate without making any big mistakes or turnovers that could let this game get out of hand. Scheelhaase has never seen a defense of this caliber before, and look for Ross Homan and Brian Rolle to chip away at his confidence with selective blitzes and solid coverage. Illinois will also likely then turn to the run to get the offense going, and their RB Mikel Leshoure has put up good numbers so far with nearly 7 yards per carry. Scheelhaase is also a threat in the running game, and it would not be surprising for Illinois to break out a bunch of different looks coming off a bye week, including some read option plays. Leshoure has been hard to bring down, but the Buckeye defensive line and linebackers will be up to the task. This battle will come down to whrther Scheelhaase can out-Pryor the Buckeyes by beating them with his feet and his arm, but primarily his arm. A.J. Jenkins will continue to get some looks at wideout as long as he is not shut down by CB Chimdi Chekwa.

In the special teams, Illinois will be looking for a breakout performance by their kick and punt returners, as this may be the one true weakness of the Buckeyes in 2010. As proven by Miami in the second game, you can stay close to the Buckeyes if you make plays in special teams. Illinois Kicker Derek Dimke has been perfect thus far on 8 PAT's and 4 field goals, but Devin Barclay has been far more impressive for the Buckeyes with 9/10 field goals (miss was a block in the Marshall game) and 24/24 extra points. Furthermore, punter Ben Buchanan has been solid for the Buckeyes in September, averaging over 40 yards per kick. When either of these teams passes the 30 yard line, you should expect points to go on the board unless a turnover happens.

When it comes down to intangibles, Illinois does have the bye week in their favor and the home field, but Ohio State clearly has the more experienced team and more overall talent to go around. Furthermore, Illinois has not won at home against the Buckeyes since 1991 despite winning 6 times in Columbus since 1990. Jim Tressel has never won by more than 10 points at Memorial Stadium, and this game has the signs of a trap on it as OSU goes on the road for the first time. Despite all the intangible advantages, Ron Zook has not been able to finish the job against Jim Tressel except for 2007 when a magical performance by Juice Williams shocked the national-championship bound Buckeyes. Scheelhaase is good, but he's not nearly as good as Williams was three years ago, at least not yet. The Illini keep it closer than people expect for a long time, but Ohio State pulls away late in this one.

The Pick - Ohio State 31, Illinois 13

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