The Ohio State Buckeyes are coming off their second bye week of the season and again they are looking to impress voters against what would seem to be inferior competition within the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are traveling to Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini who have yet to tally a conference victory (0-5). The Buckeyes not only have the records on their side, but they have history on their side as well. Dating back to 1993, Ohio State has won nine consecutive games in Champaign.
Ohio State is still on the outside looking in when it comes to the national title picture, but they still have a Big Ten championship in their sights and the nation's longest winning streak to defend. Here's a look at the five things you should be looking for Saturday as The Buckeyes try to continue their dominance on the road against Illinois.
Steady Improvement in the secondary
The Buckeyes' defense has shown solid improvement in the past two games against Big Ten foes Penn State and Purdue. The performance in West Lafayette two weeks ago may have been the best all around performance of the season for the Silver Bullets. Junior cornerback Doran Grant set the tone by scoring on an interception within the first minuet of the game. A combination of aggressive play in the front seven and solid coverage on the back end gave Ohio State a nice shutout heading into the bye week. This week's opponent poses a much tougher test for a Buckeye secondary that was less than stellar for the first half of the season but is slowly coming along. The Fighting Illini come in with a passing offense that ranks in the top-25 nationally with 288.9 yards/gm through the air. Look for the Buckeyes to play a lot of press coverage to throw off the timing of Illini offense and to allow the hungry pass rushers up front put pressure on Illinois' senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
While Ohio State was enjoying their second bye week of the season, the BCS picture received a nice shake up in the form of a huge Thursday night upset by the Stanford Cardinal over the Oregon Ducks. The Ducks were projected to be Alabama's championship contender in early January, but the Buckeyes have now leaped to the number three position in the BCS standings. The only problem now is that it appears Ohio State will not face another ranked team in the regular season which means there may not be another chance to improve their computer rankings until the Big Ten Championship Game. Look for Ohio State to try to come out early and step on the throats of the Illini much like how they jumped out to a 28-0 first quarter lead against Purdue. Many voters may only give this game quick look and the need to impress the public, although very silly, is very much important in the era of the BCS.
Hyde's Quest for 1,000
Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde is quietly following up a superb junior season with an even better senior year. Hyde is on pace to exceed his 2012 total of 970 yards even after serving an early three-game suspension for an offseason incident at a Columbus night club. After carrying Ohio State to a close victory against Northwestern earlier in the season, his passion for being a Buckeye was shown in the post game interview where some tears were shed after the emotional win. Now Hyde has a chance to break the 1,000 yard mark and cement himself in Ohio State history. Assuming the Buckeyes come out and take an early advantage on the road, you can expect Hyde to get a heavy amount of carries in the second half along with the plethora of running backs Ohio State has in their stable. Look for Hyde to rack up the yards and pass the 1,000 plateau within the next couple of games.
In the previous game against Purdue, junior tight end Jeff Heuerman seemingly came out of nowhere to put up a season high performance. Heuerman's 5 catches for 116 yards earned him the John Mackey Tight End of the Week Award. This week look for more Ohio State receiver's to get in on the action. My money would be on junior receiver Devin Smith who hasn't had a 100-yard receiving game since the third week of the season at California. Look for Braxton Miller to go for some big plays early in the passing game and look for him to target Smith who is Ohio State's speediest receiver on the outside.
The battle for IlliBuck is definitely the most underrated trophy game in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes and the Fighting Illini once played for a real live turtle until 1927 when the turtle passed away. Now the wooden turtle trophy known as "IlliBuck" goes to the winner of this game annually. The Buckeyes have won eight out of the last nine in this rivalry (sound familiar Michigan fans?) making this rivalry something of a laugher, but that one that Illinois won in 2007 gave them a berth in the Rose Bowl. The Fighting Illini would like nothing more than to pull the upset and bring IlliBuck back to Champaign, but Ohio State will be very excited to try and extend the nation's longest winning streak to 22.