Illinois-Ohio State matchup analysis


First Posted: 10/23/2014

QUARTERBACKS

J.T. Barrett came down to earth after four dazzling games in a row in a 31-24 double overtime win over Penn State. Ohio State hopes it was a one-game dip after he threw for a season-low 74 yards and had two interceptions. He is expected to play this week after suffering a sprained knee ligament late in the first half.

Illinois lost starter Wes Lunt to a broken leg four weeks ago, which has greatly reduced the role of the passing game in its offense. Reilly O’Toole (642 yards, 4 touchdowns, 4 interceptions) replaced Lunt.

Advantage: Ohio State

RUNNING BACKS

Ezekiel Elliott (640 yards, 5 touchdowns) is well on his way to becoming a complete back, who runs the ball, catches it and blocks. The dismissal of No. 2 running back Rod Smith means bigger roles for freshman Curtis Samuel and other ball carriers, like Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall and maybe Bri’onte Dunn.

For Illinois, Josh Ferguson (518 yards rushing, 31 catches) leads the running game.

Advantage: Ohio State

RECEIVERS

After four weeks of big receiving numbers by Ohio State’s pass catchers, Michael Thomas, Devin Smith and Evan Spencer combined for only 3 catches for 10 yards against Penn State. OSU had only one pass reception longer than 10 yards against Penn State.

Freshman Mike Dudek (42 catches, 639 yards, 3 TDs) and Geronimo Allison (32 catches, 499 yards, 5 TDs) are the top receiving threats for Illinois.

Advantage: Ohio State

OFFENSIVE LINE

Ohio State’s line took a step backward against Penn State. OSU coach Urban Meyer said there were many problems to address after that game but the offensive line was the one he mentioned first and most often.

Illinois guard Michael Heitz is a four-year starter and tackle Simon Cvijanovic and guard Ted Karras have 34 and 30 starts.

Advantage: Ohio State

DEFENSIVE LINE

Joey Bosa’s two sacks against Penn State, including one on the game’s final play, gave him 8 for the season. Michael Bennett also got a big push on the final play and Adolphus Washington had a sack earlier.

End Jihad Ward, one of six junior college transfers to join the Illini this year, has been the standout so far on the line.

Advantage: Ohio State

LINEBACKERS

Joshua Perry had a career-best 18 tackles last week and leads OSU on the season with 63. Darron Lee continues to make plays in his first season as a starter, including 1.5 sacks last week.

Mason Monheim (72 tackles) and Earnest Thomas III (8.5 tackles for losses, 4.5 sacks) lead Illinois’ linebackers.

Advantage: Ohio State

DEFENSIVE BACKS

The good news for Ohio State in the Penn State game was that it didn’t allow a completion of longer than 24 yards. The bad news was that the 24-yarder went for a touchdown and that DaeSean Hamilton set a Penn State record with 14 catches. Meyer says the entire defense is getting better.

Illinois cornerback V’Angelo Bentley picked up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown for the go-ahead score when Illinois surprised Minnesota 28-24 last week. In his career, he has scored on kickoff and punt returns, including a 67-yarder against Ohio State last year, and on an interception and a fumble recovery.

Advantage: Ohio State

SPECIAL TEAMS

Two of the best punters in college football, OSU’s Cameron Johnston (44.4) and Illinois’ Justin DuVernois (45.8) will trade kicks, assuming Illinois’ defense stops Ohio State occasionally.

Advantage: Ohio State