This afternoon Ohio State plays Illinois in Ohio Stadium. Under new coach Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes have bounced back from last year’s grim 6-7 record and now stand at 9-0 — surprising all but the most optimistic members of Buckeye Nation.
Like OSU, Illinois has a new head coach — former Toledo coach Tim Beckman — but the similarities end there. The Illini season has been one of disappointment rather than accomplishment. Illinois is 2-6, has lost every one of their four Big Ten games, and has experienced some embarrassing losses, like a 52-24 loss, at home, to Louisiana Tech and a 45-0 drubbing at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines. Illinois’ offense has sputtered and broken down; the Fighting Illini are one of the worst teams in the BCS in passing and scoring offense and not much better at running the ball. Their once-promising quarterback, Nathan Scheelhaase, remains a run-pass threat, but he hasn’t had much help. Last week, against Indiana, he was sacked seven times. Today, the Buckeyes also will try to put pressure on Scheelhaase and force him into bad decisions.
This is a game that Ohio State should win, but also one that the Buckeyes can’t afford to take for granted. Ohio State hasn’t exactly been overwhelming, and in many games the Buckeyes experienced offensive or defensive breakdowns that kept the outcome in doubt until late the fourth quarter. And those of us, myself included, who went to the Purdue game only two weeks ago remember what happened the last time a winless Big Ten team came to Ohio Stadium for a match-up that Buckeye fans thought would be an easy win. As exciting as the Purdue finish was, I don’t want to see today’s game hanging in the balance as the clock ticks down.
Ohio State needs to execute on offense, score early and often against an Illinois defense that has given up a lot of points this season, take advantage of an Illinois offense that has struggled to score, and show a killer instinct in putting this game away as early as possible. There will be time enough to reflect on the season so far next weekend, when Ohio State has a bye.