Coming off a huge victory over Minnesota, the Illinois Fighting Illini are preparing to hit the road as they're set to take on the #16 Ohio State Buckeyes. Let's give a warm welcome to Matt Brown of Land-Grant Holy Land as he joins us to answer our questions.
1. Ohio State comes into Saturday's matchup at 6-1 (3-0) after a thrilling 2OT game at Penn State (they were obviously looking ahead to Illinois). They're currently ranked #16 in the CFP poll; do you think they can overcome their Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech and make the Playoff?
That's the big question, no? If their offensive line plays like it did against Penn State, or if Barrett's injury is more serious than we thought, it's probably moot, since Ohio State will lose again. Even if the Bucks win out, I think they have a tougher road than some of the other one loss teams, but it is still possible. The SEC and Big12 guys are more likely to beat each other up, after all. If the Big Ten Champ has only one loss, even if it's an ugly one like Virginia Tech, that team has a shot at the playoffs.
2. Star QB Braxton Miller is out for the entire season with a right shoulder injury, but freshman J.T. Barrett has played spectacular in his place. Has his Heisman-worthy performance come as a surprise?
Yeah, it's been a little bit of a surprise. Barrett was a very highly rated QB recruit in his own right (higher than Kenny Hill, Jared Goff and some other big name QBs), and his maturity and leadership have always been praised, but coming out and being in the Top 3 in QB rating is still a little nuts, specially when you consider just how young Ohio State is all over their offense. 4 of their offensive linemen are new. Their two RBs are a sophomore and a true freshman. Their two H-backs are a sophomore and a RS Freshman. Their best WR is probably a RS Sophomore. Barrett's ability to make the right read and distribute the ball, in the face of all that uncertainty, has been very impressive.
3. Who are Ohio State's other weapons on offense?
The biggest right now is running back Ezekiel Elliot, who is doing his best impression right now of Carlos Hyde. Elliot can't fall forward for nine yards quite like Hyde could, but he's an impressive combination of speed and power, and an excellent half of the zone-read power rushing attack with Barrett. Ohio State will want to establish the run (it's really a power running team), and Zeke is the thunder in that offense.
Outside of him, H-Backs Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall provide a lot of speed all over the field, catching passes, on jet sweeps or out of the backfield. Devin Smith is the home run threat on the deep ball, and is going to find himself open downfield a few times a game.
4. Do the Buckeyes have any players on the defensive side that Illini fans should worry about?
Sure. Joey Bosa is one of the most terrifying pass rushers in all of college football, and he's only a sophomore. Bosa leads the Big Ten in sacks, was the league defensive player of the week after picking up 2.5 against Penn State, and can single handedly wreck a QB's day. Ohio State's defensive line is excellent, (Michael Bennett is a surefire 1st round NFL draft pick), and will try to pressure the QB into making dumb mistakes. You can throw on Ohio State a little, since the secondary is young, but it's hyper athletic and hits HARD. Eli Apple and Vonn Bell can pick off passes or break jaws in the secondary.
5. What's your opinion of Illinois heading into this game? Which players on our side do you view as the biggest threat (if any).
We were a little surprised to see Illinois beat Minnesota, because we don't think the team is very good. I'd consider them to be in the territory of Cincinnati, and probably worse than Maryland and Rutgers, all teams that Ohio State scored 50 points on. I'd expect Illinois to move the ball a little, and I like their depth at QB, but if Ohio State plays their game and doesn't turn the ball over, I expect them to be fine.
6. What's your prediction for Saturday's matchup?
Ohio State will be coming into this game mad, and there is a reason the spread is as high as it is. I like the Buckeyes, 47-20.
Thanks again to Matt for taking the time to answer our questions! Make sure to check out Land-Grant Holy Land for more coverage as we approach Saturday's game.