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The Penn State game represented the first time all season there were no changes to the Ohio State depth chart.
This week there are some minor tweaks. One is caused by the departure of Rod Smith. Another is that safety Russell Doup is listed as a long snapper behind Bryce Haynes.
Here’s the full two-deep.
Our friend, Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch, cleverly called Saturday’s close call against Penn State a “near-death experience.” Given the time of year, it’s only appropriate that Ohio State’s players started this week discussing their efforts to come back from the dead in a couple very lively interviews.
This past weekend, Illinois became the first team this season to hand Minnesota a Big Ten loss. They would like nothing more than to do the same thing to Ohio State this upcoming weekend and prove their victory wasn’t a fluke.
As for the Buckeyes, they came uncomfortably close to losing against a team in Penn State that, given their scholarship limitations and their season’s recent trajectory, many believe they should have beaten handily. There’s nothing more the Scarlet and Gray would like to do Saturday than to prove that was a fluke.
That sets up the matchup at Ohio Stadium, but what else should we expect to see when Illinois and Ohio State collide?
The Fighting Illini started their season by winning three of their first four games. Then they went on to drop three of four.
During that rough stretch, Illinois lost starting quarterback Wes Lunt to a broken leg.
That has pretty fundamentally changed the way the Illini have been doing things. Up through the game in which Lunt was hurt, Illinois passed the ball about 61 percent of the time (248 pass attempts to 159 rushes). In the two games since, they’ve passed the ball 37 percent of the time (47 pass attempts to 80 carries).
Reilly O’Toole has taken the bulk of the snaps in Lunt’s absence, and he’s been fairly impressive. He’s completed 26 of his 40 passes (65 percent) for 214 yards (8.23 yards per completion). He’s also thrown 3 touchdowns with no interceptions. Those numbers look even better when you consider they came against Wisconsin and Minnesota, certainly no defensive slouches.
Aaron Bailey has seen some time under center, too. However, he has run the ball more than he has passed it.
Actually both O’Toole and Bailey will run the ball. O’Toole ranks third on the team in carries, with Bailey right on his tail. As O’Toole only averages 1.9 yards when he runs, though, Bailey has to be considered the more effective rusher.
Their ground game is paced by junior running back Josh Ferguson. He has 518 yards on 102 carries. He also has featured in the passing game, having at least two receptions in every game he’s played this year, and as many as ten (against Purdue).
Ferguson is a Naperville, Illinois native, as is the team’s leading receiver, freshman Mike Dudek. He averages 15.2 yards per catch and has three touchdowns. If Dudek gets 38 receiving yards against Ohio State, he’ll break the school’s record of 676 receiving yards by a freshman currently owned by Arrelious Benn, who made his mark in 2007. Meanwhile, 6’3″ receiver Geronimo Allison has chipped in with five touchdowns of his own, and had he not missed the game against Texas State, he could be the team’s leading receiver. Oh, and Dudek completed a pass to Allison last week, so that’s at least in their playbook.
Despite their experience, the offensive line is ranked 110th in the nation in sacks allowed. They’re giving up 3.13 sacks a game, which is only slightly fewer than Penn State. They’ve even had to move guys around. Michael Heitz started the season at left guard, went to right tackle and is now back at left guard. Two games ago, they went with a new starting right tackle as Christian DiLauro beat out Pat Flavin.
On the other side of the ball, Illinois has struggled. They are 104th in the nation in scoring defense. This is despite the fact that they are ranked 21st (one spot behind OSU) in tackles-for-loss.
Junior linebacker Mason Monheim out of Orrville, Ohio is their leading tackler overall, with defensive back Zane Petty not far behind him. Both are in the top 10 of the Big Ten when it comes to tackles.
Earnest Thomas III, who plays the star position (ie. linebacker/safety hybrid), leads Illinois in sacks. That tells you a little bit about where the team will bring the pressure from.
The most disruptive player for the Fighting Illini, though, might be defensive back V’Angelo Bentley out of Cleveland Glenville. He has 36 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, an interception and two fumble recoveries this season. He is the only Illinois player in school history to record a kick return, punt return, interception return and fumble return for a touchdown in his career. Ohio State fans might remember his 67-yard punt return against them last year.
Regardless of his athleticism, Bentley might not be the star of the club’s special teams. That’s because Justin DuVernois has been punting for Illinois for four years and leads the Big Ten. They made a change at place kicker after some early season struggles and David Reisner has taken over the job, but his long this year is 19 yards, and he’s missed an extra point.
Ohio State hosts Illinois at 8 p.m. with all the play-by-play airing on 97.1 The Fan.
“I want to publicly apologize to Coach Dantonio as well as the players and supporters of Michigan State for our act of poor sportsmanship displayed pre-game yesterday. I spoke with Mark earlier today and expressed to him that we meant no disrespect to his team. During our regular Friday night team meeting, one of the topics presented to motivate our team was a history lesson addressing commitment and teamwork in a tough environment. A tent stake was presented to the team as a symbol of this concept. The stake was brought into our locker room as a visual reminder, and one of our team leaders chose to take it out on the field. As the leader of our football program, I take full responsibility for the actions of our team. We believe in displaying a high level of respect at the University of Michigan and unfortunately that was not reflected by this action prior to kickoff.”
Come the start of daylight savings time, there are going to be a lot of Buckeyes wishing they could turn back the clock…to the Virginia Tech game.
Everything about the way Ohio State has played since, and everything about the way Virginia Tech has played since, suggests a rematch would result in an entirely different outcome than the 35-21 loss OSU suffered September 6.
The scab was picked last night when the Hokies fell to the Miami Hurricanes 30-6. So today might best be spent thinking about the balm that has been the play of quarterback JT Barrett.
It also might be worth questioning whether Barrett’s present performance would be possible without that past adversity.
The redshirt freshman threw 3 interceptions and was sacked 7 times that evening. In the games that have followed, he’s completed 72 percent of his passes, thrown 17 touchdowns to just one pick, and averaged 293 passing yards a contest.
Plus, he’s taken the reigns of the team.
His teammates really noticed that when Barrett gave a speech before playing Kent State.
“He kind of put the offense on his back and took responsibility for the offense,” said H-back Jalin Marshall. “He told us that he’s got us, no matter what. I think that really sunk in to everybody on the offensive side, especially me. Being young, being in the same class as him, it meant a lot to me to feel he really had my back, because I really had his.”
“You could just tell he wanted everyone’s attention, and that’s what he got,” added running back Rod Smith. “He pumped everybody up, and we went out there and executed and have just been rolling.”
The address to the team was, in and of itself, nothing new. In fact, wide receivers coach Zach Smith said he noticed some of his players, wide-eyed and mouthing “Wow!” after Barrett’s pep talk before the season opener against Navy.
This speech, following a tough loss to the Hokies, though, carried an even deeper resonance.
“Him getting hit as many times as he did against Virginia Tech, and keep getting up and going, that was when he started to earn my respect,” explained head coach Urban Meyer. “I think for someone to stand up and to give a speech or whatever, it just depends on who’s standing up and what has he shown. And I think everybody, including Buckeye nation, saw a tough nut that got hit a bunch against Virginia Tech and kept swinging.”
Expect another speech from Barrett before tomorrow’s game against Penn State. The Nittany Lions have an even stingier defense (15.2 points/game) than the Hokies unit (21.3 points/game) that caused Ohio State such problems.
And senior Nick Vannett, who’s assuredly heard his share of pregame talks is looking forward to it. “Just to see the emotion from him gets you kind of riled up as an offense,” he said of Barrett. “He gets after it. It’s probably as good I’ve seen, honestly. So if football doesn’t work out for him, he’s got a backup plan.”
Pat Elflein details what they’ve done to get ready for the crowd noise and for the defense that will blitz more than any other they’ve faced.
A very, very confident Nick Vannett talks about heading to Happy Valley. Did we mention he seemed pretty confident?
And, you can watch it if you want, but if you’re Kerry Coombs, you really should see the end of Doran “Batman” Grant’s interview.