Illinois and Ohio State enter this Saturday's game on two very distinctly different trajectories. Urban Meyers' stock has never been higher in his short tenure in Columbus and this Buckeyes team seems headed towards a real shot at an unbeaten regular season.The Fighting Illini, on the other hand, are a fan base marred by dissenters who want first year head coach Tim Beckman summarily dismissed while others wonder yet if Ron Zook wasn't better than this alternative.
But this Buckeyes team has a certain way about them. They let teams less physically talented and even less successful on the field than them hang around way longer than they otherwise should. Can the Illini become the first to finally break through and take down the unbeaten Bucks?
To figure out that answer, we welcome to this edition of 5 minutes in the Holy Land a man who needs little-to-no introduction. None the less he's getting one: Tom Fornelli writes for CBS Sports' Eye on College Football. He's also the manager of SB Nation's exciting new Illini vehicle, The Champaign Room. Remember, there are no sacks in The Champaign Room. You can follow Tom on Twitter at @TomFornelli.
So I was of the completely mad sort who thought that Tim Beckman made a lot of sense as a potential Ohio State hire if Urban Meyer wasn't genuinely interested in coaching again and was simply using the process to fuel his ego. He'd had tremendous success at Toledo (including but not limited to nearly defeating the Bucks a year ago), ran an offense that would be a marked upgrade from the personality-less vanilla extract of the Tressel years, but still had a defensive background and could keep Ohio State's defense first philosophy alive and well. Plus it didn't hurt that he knew the program and had experience as a Tressel assistant but wasn't recent enough to where he'd have the tattoo-for-bartering ties to in anyway taint his candidacy.
But then the Penn State stuff happened. And then the regular season on the field stuff followed. Where do you stand on Beckman? Can he still be the guy for Illinois and how much has your opinion of him swayed since the initial hire?
Obviously it's hard to be enthused about what has happened in Beckman's first season here. From just plain bad football on the field to rumors of discord amongst a coaching staff that doesn't seem to be very good at the whole coaching thing right now. That said, terrible starts for Illinois coaches isn't exactly a new phenomenon around here. Ron Turner got off to a slow start, and Ron Zook was 4-19 in his first two seasons.
So I'm not exactly ready to put Beckman's head on a stick just yet. My opinion of him hasn't changed much, if at all. I thought he was a good recruiter, and he's proving to be as our 2013 class is looking nice so far. What worried me was when I found out Matt Campbell was going to be staying behind at Toledo. Obviously that's worked out pretty well for the Rockets, while the Illinois offense is completely lost.
Tim Beckman and Urban Meyer have a history with Beckman having served as Urban Meyer's defensive coordinator his two years in Bowling Green. Does this give the Illini any kind of edge/leg up on preparing for Meyer's offense?
I don't think so. First of all, they didn't have Braxton Miller at Bowling Green. You can't really prepare for that. Plus while I think that the offense Urban runs now at Ohio State is similar to the one he ran at Bowling Green, I'm sure quite a bit has changed. Maybe Beckman has an idea of Urban's tendencies from working alongside him, but it's also possible Beckman never paid any attention to the offense at Bowling Green.
So what exactly has been the source of the bleeding for this Fighting Illini football team? While expectations may not have been sky high, they were certainly loftier than the on the field product has produced. Beckman said on the Big Ten Coaches conference call yesterday that offensive line and wide receiver issues have played a big part in the team to this point. Is that an accurate assessment of the situation, more scapegoating, or just an incomplete assessment of the picture as a whole?
I'd say Tim's pretty much right. The receivers have not been great, but I think the biggest culprit on the offense is the offensive line. If it's capable of blocking anything, I've yet to see it. I mean, Indiana had 7 sacks last week after having only 12 all season. This Illinois line has allowed 30 sacks this season. Only three teams – Colorado, Washington State, and Cal – have allowed more. Then there's special teams which has been abhorrent.
I think what's so depressing about the 2012 season so far is there really isn't one aspect of this football team you can point to and say "well, at least they're playing well."
llinois would seem at face value to have some decent running backs. Has Nathan Scheelhaase's pocket presence impacted their ability to be effective, is this another offensive line issue, or what exactly is there reason why these guys haven't been as worked into the offense as might otherwise be expected?
I think it's a combination of the line and playcalling. No team in the Big Ten is rushing for less yards per carry than our 3.42, though that number is a bit skewed by Scheelhaase being sacked so often. Josh Ferguson, Donovonn Young, and Dami Ayoola are averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Not great, but much better than the 3.42 mark.
Still, the way the Illini use their backs can be frustrating. On Saturday against Indiana they were facing a run defense that has been terrible this season and finding success. So of course you see them doing things like going with an empty backfield on third and 2. Just stupid, stupid stuff.
And finally, what does Illinois have to do to steal this game? Ohio State's been a team that's played up and down to their opposition seemingly all season so it's not as out of the question as Vegas and the experts might want us to think it is. Would it take a perfect storm or just a complete game and maybe a few breaks here and there for the Illini to end Ohio State's perfect season?
I know Illinois has gone to Columbus and done crazy things before, but I just don't see it happening with this team. Unless Ohio State takes this one for granted, Braxton Miller gets hurt or Nathan Scheelhaase has the game of his life, I just don't think it's possible. Instead I see the Buckeyes front seven padding their sack statistics for a few hours, Scheelhaase leaving with an injury, and the Buckeyes winning by at least 25.