Illinois has lost ten straight Big Ten games, a losing streak that dates back to a 17-7 defeat at the hands of Ohio State last season.
There are a number of reasons for that. The Fighting Illinis are playing for a new coach in Tim Beckman. Their starting quarterback, Nathan Scheelhaase (ankle, concussion), has missed a couple of games with injury, and upon his return was promptly greeted with a seven-sack performance in a 31-17 loss to Indiana.
Finally, Illinois has not played the easiest schedule. Their opponents have a combined record of 38-28, and the Big Ten teams they have faced includes Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Now comes the Buckeyes.
Ohio State will be playing a team that is ranked 115th nationally in scoring offense and 86th in scoring defense.
There are areas where the Illinis have seen success. They’re top 20 nationally in terms of time of possession. They’ve managed to be effective defensively when it counts most. They’ve only given up 22 touchdowns in opponents’ 33 trips to the red zone (45th nationally). They have made the stop on 70% of opponents’ third downs (12th nationally). Justin DuVernois is a pretty good punter.
Other players who have stepped up for Illinois are leading receiver Ryan Langford, and running backs Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young. Young is actually a receiving threat as well having caught at least two passes in all but one game this year and with a total of 27 catches this season. Defensively, junior linebacker Jonathan Brown is being counted on. Linebacker Ashante Williams is not only one of the team’s top tacklers, but he’s returned an interception for a touchdown this season.
Illinois plays Ohio State this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on 97.1 The Fan.