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Illinois Football Week Ten Preview: Ohio State Buckeyes

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The duel to the death for the highly valued Illibuck returns once more as the Illini take on Ohio State in the 'Shoe.

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

THE WHEN AND WHERE

Game: Illinois Fighting Illini vs Ohio State Buckeyes (-28.5)

Time: 7:00 PM Central Time - Saturday, November 1st

Place: Ohio Stadium - Columbus, Ohio

TV: ABC | ESPN3

THE UNIFORMS

The Game Poster

Conceptualized by yours truly, this week's game poster is my favorite of all time.* Props to Aaron Rench for drawing this one up.

*NOTE: this is the Champaign Room's second-ever game poster.

Tim Beckman and Raiders of the Lost Illibuck

THE INJURY REPORT

#10 B.J. Bello - Out

#12 Wes Lunt - Out

#28 Jaylen Dunlap - Out

#34 Mike Svetina - Out

#46 Jason Goldsmith - Out

#64 Steve Dumezich - Out

#6 Carroll Phillips - Out for Season

#35 Sean White - Out for Season

#58 Kenny Nelson - Out for Season

#66 Scott McDowell - Out for Season

#93 Teko Powell - Out for Season

THE THEM

THE OFFENSE

Taken verbatim from the Minnesota preview last week:

Stop me if you've heard any part of this story before: this week, Illinois will take on a fellow Big Ten team with an absurdly talented running back (and an excellent running game in general), a questionable passing game, and a strong defense. Yeah, it feels like I write that almost every week.

Yeah, I do write that almost every week. Ohio State's passing game is much, much less questionable than Minnesota's, but their general philosophy on offense is similar. Ohio State is going to run the ball up the middle until the opposing team starts to slow it down. They'll mix in some throws to the sideline and jet sweeps/fake sweeps, but the general offense is a power running game from spread formations. Once the opponent is lulled to sleep a bit, the Buckeyes will open up the passing game with play action and deep throws.

As for the characters of the game, the first man to know is quarterback JT Barrett. In the Buckeyes' 31-24 overtime win at Penn State last weekend, Barrett carried the ball 20 times for 75 yards. His number of carries was similar to lead running back Ezekiel Elliott's (26-for-109), a product of Ohio State's frequent usage of the zone read.

In that same game, Barrett sustained a sprained MCL, so it's likely that he'll be a much smaller part of the run game against Illinois. Elliott will take on a larger workload in Barrett's place, which isn't exactly great news for the Illini. Elliott is firmly in the second tier of Big Ten running backs (behind Coleman, Cobb, Gordon, and Abdullah), but is quite talented himself. Relative to Carlos Hyde, who terrorized the Illini in 2013, Elliott is probably a bit faster and a bit less powerful. He's still gonna run for at least 100 yards on the Illini.

The offensive line for the Buckeyes is pretty new this year, but is still doing a great job of allowing the team to run the ball and have time to pass. This unit struggled against Penn State, but Penn State has a top 20 defense in the country. Illinois does not. (Close, though.) As for other dangerous Buckeyes, look for stud freshman Curtis Samuel to get a few touches on Saturday. Michael Thomas and Devin Smith lead Ohio State in receiving yards, but both of them have tailed off as of late. Smith is the big play threat; he'll probably catch a long touchdown pass against the Illini.

THE DEFENSE

Remember Washington? That is Ohio State. Uh oh.

The comparison isn't all that great, but the general idea works. The Buckeye defense is led by a dominant front seven, specifically on the defensive line. Joey Bosa is hands down the most terrifying lineman in the country. He will sack the Illinois quarterback at least once this Saturday. Against Penn State, he did this:

What.

Not only do they have Bosa to make Christian DiLauro's life a living Hell, the Buckeyes also have DT Michael Bennett starting on the inside. Bennett is an excellent lineman in his own right and will be playing on Sundays. These two are going to terrorize Illinois' tackles and guards. Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey will be under relentless pressure on Saturday, which may actually mean Bailey is the better choice for this game given his escapability. If Bailey plays, I'm just hoping Cubit never tries to throw the ball more than 10 yards downfield. Bailey can absolutely sling it, but that's no use when the ball is likely to land in the hands of a Buckeye. One major key to the Illini winning this game will be avoiding turnovers. Obvious, yes, but two or more turnovers eliminates any chance the Illini have of emerging victorious.

Regardless of Illinois' quarterback choice, it's possible the Illini could have some success throwing against a young Ohio State secondary (this is where the Washington comparison comes back into picture). Three of the four starting defensive backs are sophomores or younger. Though talented, these guys are still prone to lapses in coverage and over-aggressiveness in pursuit of big plays. If the Illini can get a solid run game going (unlikely, but possible with option plays), they might have a shot to throw down the field a bit in this one.

Overall, this defense is really troublesome for Illinois. Washington was able to force big turnovers with their defensive athleticism and Ohio State is even more talented than UW. If the Illini can avoid the awful plays that plagued them against other fantastic defensive fronts, it should be easier to move the ball down the field than against Minnesota last week.

THE NAME OF THE WEEK

Under the Large Dude Who has a Traditionally Feminine First Name and an Ice Cream Topping Last Name Act of 1989, I must award defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle with our Name of the Week award. Congrats, Tracy.

THE #FATGUYTOUCHDOWN UPDATE OF THE WEEK

Aw what point do I give up on this segment? :( from over one month ago:

Jake Howe still has yet to make an appearance at fullback. This makes me sad. The saddest, in fact. The #FATGUYTOUCHDOWN Alert System is at #FATCON5 this week. Maybe a defensive tackle will have a pick six or something. Sadness.

THE FIVE KEY POINTS

1. Limit turnovers. I always say that you could say this about any game, but without a play-making talent at quarterback the Illini will have to be efficient. That means short, quick passes that neither put too much strain on O'Toole's noodley arm nor rely too much on Bailey's unguided rocket arm.

2. Second verse, same as...the Minnesota game. With a hobbled JT Barrett, the Illini would be wise to load the box and force OSU to beat them deep. That worked a bit for Minnesota, but limiting Ohio State's success in the running game is much more important than stopping the pass. Illinois will have the best shot of winning if they force an injured Barrett to beat them, not unlike the Leidner game-plan last week. It may only work for a quarter or a half, but that might be enough for the Illini to hang around a bit.

3. First and second down defense. Related to the previous key point, Ohio State's offensive success will come down to their ability to stay on schedule. They'll probably break a big play or two against the Illini, and that's truly fine, but getting OSU into consistent third-and-long situations is the best way to stifle their offense. That's easier said than done, however.

4. Be aggressive. Illinois is a 28.5-point underdog this Saturday. Beckman can sometimes get too conservative in those situations-- the Illini should be going for it on any fourth-and-short situation past their own 35-yard line. Yes, it may result in a blowout, but Beckman has bought himself more time with the win over Minnesota. That said, don't conflate being aggressive with airing the ball out. The team's strategy this week should absolutely be to run the clock, keep the ball in Illini hands, and hopefully avoid backbreaking turnovers. However, when push comes to shove, the Illini need to aim higher than a punt from midfield. Additionally, Illinois should not attempt a single field goal this week-- the kickers are simply too unreliable and we know the Buckeyes will be scoring touchdowns on nearly every trip inside the 40.

5. Be quick on the trigger. This key point is for you, Illini fans. This game could get ugly really fast, so don't be afraid to switch over to the wide variety of excellent games Saturday night. Repplinger has you covered on the games to watch in case of an Illini blowout-- something that can almost be expected given the series' recent history.

THE PREDICTION

The Illini aren't going to win this game. It's sad but true. Truthfully, the Illini probably should've lost to Minnesota (more on this in next week's look back at that game) if not for some lucky breaks. It's hard to duplicate that kind of fortunate success, especially against a clearly superior team like the Buckeyes. Regardless of last week's results on both sides of this game, Ohio State has strengths to exploit every Illini weakness. While I think the Illini cover largely due to an enforced slower tempo, this one shouldn't be remotely close. Buckeyes win going away.

Ohio State Buckeyes 41, Illinois 21

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