A dramatic second half comeback from Penn State last weekend wasn't enough to steal the victory from Ohio State, but the Buckeyes proved to themselves that they can stay composed when they're backed up against a wall. The overtime performance from Ohio State on the road with a bruised and battered J.T. Barrett was inspiring, but now the Buckeyes will host Illinois in Columbus for the rights to the Illibuck trophy. With five straight wins, Ohio State has momentum and will be trying to grab their sixth straight as they prepare to go head-to-head with Michigan State next weekend.
Illinois will be without starting quarterback Wes Lunt, who injured his leg against Purdue earlier this season, so senior Reilly O'Toole will be filling in. O'Toole has been very solid for the Illini in place of Lunt, and helped lead Illinois to an upset victory over a 6-1 Minnesota team last week. Head coach Tim Beckman has his team sitting at 4-4 on the season, trying to make the list of teams that are bowl eligible. An upset win over Ohio State would help the Illini out tremendously, but it's not going to be that easy playing in the 'Shoe.
We give you five things to look for on Saturday night when Ohio State and Illinois face off in Columbus:
Ezekiel Elliott runs wild
The Ohio State running backs should extremely excited about facing an Illinois team that has given up 258 yards per game to opposing teams, which ranks last in the Big Ten. They've also given up 21 touchdowns on the ground which is also the most that any Big Ten team has given up to this point in the season. The Illini haven't quite faced a running game like the Buckeyes have, so it's hard to think that they'd be able to stop Ohio State in that aspect.
Elliott, meanwhile, has rushed for 640 yards on 117 carries and has accounted for five touchdowns this year and will no doubt be looking to showcase his talent in front of the home crowd once again. Curtis Samuel is Elliott's backup and has had a solid year as a true freshman. You should expect to see a lot of the Ohio State attack coming from the ground on Saturday.
Reserved J.T. Barrett
Don't expect the coaching staff to call too many designed runs for J.T. Barrett this week. After suffering a sprained knee against Penn State, the redshirt freshman quarterback will have to make sure he stays in the pocket as much as he can to avoid any further injuries. Barrett was limited in practices all week, and with the Michigan State game looming, it's important that he stays healthy through the weekend and beyond.
I would expect some more of the Wildcat-type of offense that Ohio State used against Penn State in the second half that featured Dontre Wilson at quarterback and included some read options and option pitch plays with Ezekiel Elliott beside Wilson. Hopefully, the game won't be close by the time the second half comes around so that the Buckeyes can put backup quarterback Cardale Jones into the game to keep Barrett fresh for next week.
Watch out for V'Angelo Bentley
Ohio State fans should get familiar with Illinois playmaker V'Angelo Bentley. The junior defensive back for the Illini has been a spark plug for the secondary and special team units. Bentley has already accounted for both a fumble and interception return that both went for touchdowns this season, and will be looking to make his mark on the nationally televised game tomorrow night.
Bentley is also a key player for the Illini in the return game, both on the punt and kick return teams and ranks third in the nation in combined kick return yards with 677 on 35 returns (24 KR for 554 yards, 11 PR for 123 yards). His punt return average (11.2 ypr) ranks 17th nationally, so Ohio State's special teams will have to be wary of the dangerous playmaker.
More ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ for the Buckeyes
Joey Bosa has been simply sensational for Ohio State this year, completely dominating opposing teams and no doubt striking fear into the other team's quarterback. Bosa had 2.5 sacks last weekend to increase his Big Ten conference leading totals to 8.0 quarterback sacks and 11.5 tackles-for-loss. One of those sacks helped clinch the double overtime win over Penn State, driving one of the Nittany Lions' players into his own quarterback.
Bosa's shrugging after every sack and big play has already transformed into memes on social media sites like Twitter with the depictions something similar to what you see above (¯\_(ツ)_/¯). Bosa is just having fun playing the game and you won't hear any complaints from Buckeye fans as he continues to have a huge impact on Ohio State's defense.
Keeping the Illibuck in Columbus
The most important thing to remember this Saturday is that Illinois is a rival, and Ohio State will be fighting for the glorious Illibuck trophy and all of its turtle greatness. The Buckeyes have dominated the series, 65-30-4, and are 39-18-4 at home in Columbus when facing the Illini. Ohio State has also won eight out of the last nine games, and haven't given the Illibuck trophy up to Illinois since the 2007 game, which also was in Columbus.
With a talented team at his disposal, I can't imagine coach Meyer taking a loss on Saturday, especially when taking into account his 34-3 record in the month of November since the start of the 2003 season as a head coach. I'm taking Ohio State to win this one, and big, as they try to convince the College Football Playoff committee that they're a much different team than when they lost to Virginia Tech in the second week of the season.