Stop me if you've seen this movie before. Ohio State's offense was occasionally underwhelming against an inferior opponent, as inconsistency, mistakes and inefficiency took away scoring opportunities, as well as a special teams mistake. But the Buckeyes rode an outstanding defense to pull away for yet another win. That's basically what happened yesterday, as the Buckeyes pulled away, 28-3, over Illinois.
That's the last time I'm going to type that sort of game summary this season. Ohio State may very well win some more games this season in a similar fashion, but there aren't any more overmatched teams left on the schedule. Ohio State ends the season with Michigan State and Michigan, and hopefully, a Big Ten championship game (probably Iowa).
We have all week to talk about the Michigan games coming up, but for now, let's take a second to breathe. Ohio State has not lost a Big Ten regular season game since we started this dang website. They've pulled off a historic run through the conference. They're 10-0. The expectations have been through the roof, (and not without reason), and maybe not every game has been the fun, points-explosion we might have hoped it to be, but let's not minimize the accomplishment so far.
Who is up, who is down, and who do we need to buy into after the Illinois game? Let's take a look.
Blue Chip Stocks:
Ohio State's defensive line: Sure, maybe Ohio State didn't drown Illinois is a sea of points, but their defensive line was absolutely overwhelming, and was the MVP of this matchup. The Illini only ran the ball for 20 yards on 25 carries, and their offensive line was simply overwhelmed by the Buckeye pass rush, preventing Wes Lunt from getting set and comfortable in the pocket. Some of this is going to show up on the stat sheet (Joey Bosa had three tackles for loss, and the entire Ohio State defense recorded 11, which is crazy), but not all of it will. What we do know is that Minnesota and Illinois have combined for 53 yards, TOTAL, on the ground against Ohio State. This defense is only giving up 8.5 points per game over the last four games. That's domination, no matter who you're playing again, and this defensive line is the major reason why.
Ezekiel Elliott: Zeke has done everything Ohio State has asked him to do, and then some. There may not be a better blocking running back in the country, and Elliott flying around into people help spring J.T. Barrett for a rushing touchdown. He can catch passes, although he didn't grab one yesterday. But more importantly, he just wears defenses down, moves the chains, and opens up the rest of Ohio State's offense, especially in the second half. All Zeke did was run the ball for 181 yards and two TDs on 27 carries, extending his 100 yard game streak to 15 games in a row, the best in FBS.
Fallout 4: I joked during the game that Ohio State that it's possible they were sluggish because guys on the team were up all week playing Fallout 4. I don't think it's crazy that the release of a major video game might actually have an impact on college football players (man, when I was 19, I blew off a day's worth of classes to play Playstation 2 college BASEBALL), and on the off-chance that it actually did here, or anywhere else, it'd be hard for me to blame the players. It actually lives up to the hype, and between me grabbing it a few days ago and having a sick toddler in the house, I haven't been doing much sleeping. Blame my myriad typos on the radroaches.
Michael Thomas: Ohio State's passing game was a little underwhelming at times, and the Buckeyes have historically struggled to throw the ball at Illinois (playing games in an wind tunnel sometimes has that effect), but while the WR group has struggled with injuries or dudes learning new positions, Michael Thomas has been a rock of consistency and production. #CantGuardMike has caught a pass in 26 consecutive games (and touchdown passes in four consecutive games) and grabbed six balls for 76 yards yesterday, including a beautiful 22 yarder for a touchdown. Thomas can make guys miss, he can go up and fight for a contested ball, and he's been, by far, Ohio State's best weapon in the passing game.
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats: When it's nearly 1:00 AM, and I already drank all the energy drinks in the house, and I need to stay up another hour for dumb late night Pac-12 football, what do I turn to? I blast this. It's like, if Mumford and Sons turned their guitars up really loud and screamed, or if you mixed folk music with R&B and a fat horn section. Seems like a solid investment to me, weird band name and all. If they were called the 'meat sweats', they'd probably get even more Dad Life approval from me.
Ohio State's pass protection: If you look at the box score, you'll see that Ohio State only gave up one sack, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Illinois has a very solid defensive front of their own (Illinois was actually ranked 10th in the country in total defense S&P+ headed into the game), but their ability to constantly pressure J.T. Barrett prevented him from getting to all of his reads, and forced him into bad decisions, like his interception. Ohio State couldn't really get much of a downfield passing game going not so much because they couldn't generate the separation, but because they just couldn't give Barrett enough time. That won't fly over the next two weeks.
Field goal kicking: The Buckeyes tried a different kicker today, switching back to sophomore Sean Nuernberger, but the results remained the same, as Das Boot missed an easy 24-yard chip shot on the game's opening drive. The Buckeyes have struggled with field goals all season, as Jack Willoughby hasn't found consistent success either. I'm all on team Kicking Is For Quitters, but eventually, you're going to need to hit a field goal in the 35-45 yard range, and right now, Ohio State can't feel super confident they will get those three points if a drive stalls.
Ezekiel Elliott's chances at the Heisman: BUY. It might require a stumble from Henry or Fournette, but Zeke's performance this season should absolutely put him in that conversation. Running for 100+ yards in every dang game will typically help your case, and look for Ohio State to go to Elliott early and often against Michigan State and Michigan, especially given how talented Michigan's secondary is. One big game to end the season, plus Ohio State's continued success, should make Zeke quite a contender.
Braxton Miller playing a big role in the next two weeks: BUY. Braxton didn't do much against Illinois (two catches, -4 yards), but coming off an injury against Minnesota, and with the game never really that close, there wasn't much of a reason. But now comes the time of the year to empty the playbook, and toss every wrinkle you might have out on the field. In the open field, Miller is still Ohio State's most dangerous player, and an increasingly capable wideout who can take the top off a secondary that is creeping closer and closer. Plus, there's still that chance he could decide to throw a pass, which would make all those direct snaps or options even more explosive. If there's a chance for Miller to have one more Braxton Miller game, it's coming in the next two weeks. I don't think we've made our last Braxton Miller GIF for the regular season...