Coming off of last week's nail-biter against Penn State, Ohio State needed to run away with this one and make a statement against an overmatched opponent. On a chilly night in Columbus, they did just that. The final score was 55-14, which seems about right given what was happening on both sides of the ball.
There was obviously a lot to like about the Buckeyes' performance on Saturday night. Solid performances from most of the usual suspects set the tone early and helped the offense post its 5th 50-point performance in the last 6 games. Still, sloppy moments on both sides of the ball will provide a lot of opportunity for improvement for the team in practice this week as they prepare for a visit to East Lansing. Let's take a look at who's up and who's down, with that convincing victory behind us.
Blue Chip Stocks:
Joey Bosa, DE: Hope y'all aren't getting too tired of seeing Bosa's name in this spot. The future 1st-rounder seems incapable of taking even one play off. From blowing up plays in the backfield to sacking the quarterback to a huge TFL on 4th-and-short, Bosa came to play against Illinois on Saturday. In a moment that will perhaps prove prophetic, NFL Draft expert Todd McShay mistakenly referred to Bosa as "Watt," as in J.J. That slip came on the heels of McShay intentionally comparing Bosa to Watt, which seems...fair. "But that's absurd," you say, "It's far too early to--" LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU
Darron Lee, LB: The baddest man in the history of New Albany was at it again on Saturday night. Lee was an animal--err, Manimal--flying all over the field, making big hits, even recording an interception. Lee, a redshirt freshman, has been the biggest pleasant surprise of this season. He continues to prove week after week why he's been the coaching staff's choice to anchor down one of the outside linebacker spots every down.
Devin Smith, WR: Welcome to the blue chip list, Mr. Smith. The veteran wideout had a monster day despite ending the game with just 3 catches--2 of those ended up in the end zone, and Smith had 72 yards total. Smith's 25 career TD grabs tie Santonio Holmes for 3rd-most in Buckeye history, and he's in pretty good company. Cris Carter and David Boston are the only names ahead of Smith on the list. With his performance Saturday, Smith also became just the 8th Buckeye wideout to eclipse the career 2,000 yard mark.
Curtis Samuel, RB: The true freshman, hailing from Brooklyn, apparently did enough in practice this week to merit a starting role in Saturday's game. Samuel finished the game with 63 yards on 9 carries. 2 of those carries went for touchdowns. Samuel's quick feet and lack of fear make him an excellent complement to Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield and a strong case for Urban Meyer's ability to scout and develop rushing talent.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB: Speaking of Elliott...think losing out on starter's carries despite a long string of big performances might light a fire under him? Elliott ran angry on Saturday, gaining 69 yards on just 9 carries. The team will need that kind of rushing prowess against a stout Michigan State defense next week. Urban Meyer is an evil genius.
The little dumb mistakes: There was no standout bad performance to pick on from this game. That tends to happen when your team hangs 55 points on the opponent and only allows 14 (7 of which came in garbage time). But the show must go on, so let's pick on team discipline for a moment: The team committed 6 penalties, giving up 56 yards as a result. These included infractions by Cam Burrows and Joey Bosa on late hits out of bounds, out-of-character for such a well-coached team. Giving up 15 yards at a clip to a team like Illinois might not matter in the grand scheme of things, but against Michigan State? That might be a different story completely.
BUY: Tip drill INTs. Two picks from deflections in the first 16 minutes! The maligned pass defense of Ohio State was excellent today against the Illinois QB rotation of Riley O'Toole and Aaron Bailey, pulling in a brace of interceptions and generally playing pretty secure coverage (weird bunch formation screen play notwithstanding). The picks themselves both came from the linebacking corps, but the pass defense was by and large smothering.
Here’s the zany formation Illinois broke out to break a 55-yard run: pic.twitter.com/c1ZqWmxvWL— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) November 2, 2014
SELL: The kickoff unit. It makes sense that the Buckeyes would try to keep the ball out of the hands of dangerous return man V'Angelo Bentley. But the weird, sky-high short kicks could clearly use some work, as evidenced by the excellent field position that Ohio State gifted the Illini on the game's opening drive. The second attempt was slightly better, but still not awe-inspiring. Couple those with a Kyle Clinton boot out of bounds in the 3rd quarter and you have a sloppy day from a unit that Urban Meyer generally has in whip-smart shape.
BUY: The defense creating turnovers. You get a Buckeye sticker! You get a Buckeye sticker! And you get a Buckeye sticker! Everyone gets a Buckeye sticker! Seriously, that was phenomenal to watch. Everyone from Curtis Grant to Darron Lee to dad-rock aficionado Steve Miller got in on the party, forcing the Illini to cough up the football a whopping four times (not counting TODs). The aforementioned interceptions might have been a little fluky, but the Buckeye defense made athletic plays in space all night and did what they had to