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I Got Five on it: Can Ohio State stay focused with The Game on deck?

Plus, sticking with the run game, and celebrating JT Barrett’s career.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a wild two weeks for Ohio State.

After the blowout loss to Iowa, the Buckeyes responded with one of the best performances of the Urban Meyer era, beating perpetual thorn-in-the-ass Michigan State 48-3, solidifying their place at the top of the Big Ten East, and keeping their College Football Playoff hopes alive.

Things should be more calm this week, as Illinois heads to Columbus as 41-point underdogs on an eight game losing streak, with a winless conference record, and very little optimism from the fanbase.

Should be an easy win for the Buckeyes, right? Probably, but that doesn’t mean this game means nothing. There’s still plenty on the line, with it being senior day, a spot in the Big Ten title game still up for grabs, and another chance to impress the playoff committee.

With that in mind, here are five things to watch as Ohio State plays its final home game of 2017:

Staying focused with Michigan on deck

The further we get from the Iowa game, the more it looks like the biggest letdown in college football this season. After the emotional win versus Penn State, Ohio State went into Kinnick Stadium with another huge game against Michigan State on the horizon, and literally everything that could go wrong did. So, with The Game next week, can the Buckeyes avoid another letdown against Illinois?

The good news is that they might be the worst Power-5 team in the country (you don’t count, Kansas), and Ohio State hasn’t had any trouble trashing bad teams. In four games against opponents 90th or worse in S&P+, the Buckeyes have won by an average score of 57-12, and there’s really no reason to think that tomorrow should be different, other then bad weather playing a factor. If Ohio State can avoid the slow start that doomed them against Iowa, this should get out of hand pretty quick.

Sticking to the power run game

One thing —among many— Ohio State did well last week was keep the offense simple. After throwing 30 or more times in nine straight games, the Buckeyes went back to their roots, running 42 times compared to 23 passes, and featuring —surprise!— the running backs. The old school approach yielded 335 rushing yards and arguably the best offensive performance of the season. Will they stick with that formula going forward?

At its core, Ohio State is a program that runs the damn ball. As important as the passing game is, the Buckeyes are better than 98.9999999% of the college football universe when they utilize the running game that’s made them so successful under Urban Meyer.

They could probably beat Illinois by 30 running any offense, but I think it’ll say a lot about the offense’s direction for the rest of the season if they stick to what worked against Michigan State, and let J.K. Dobbins, Mike Weber and the offensive line carry the team.

Tuf Borland is the truth

Speaking of things that make Ohio State better, how about Tuf Borland at middle linebacker? With injuries keeping Jerome Baker and Dante Booker out last week, Borland wreaked havoc on Michigan State, recording 11 tackles, a sack, and another non-sack TFL. It’s clear that the defense is at its best with him on the field:

Baker and Booker are back in the lineup, and the whole linebacker group is listed as co-starters, so how will Greg Schiano divie up playing time? Will Borland start at middle linebacker, or will Chris Worley take the majority of snaps in what is his final home game?

Worley appears to be a much better fit on the outside, where he can use his superior playmaking and speed, but its hard to imagine the staff not playing him at MLB on Senior day in favor of a freshman, no matter how good he is. Keep an eye on the linebacker rotation early on though, and how the Buckeyes perform on the snaps with Borland in the middle.

The Illibuck, I guess?

I’ll be real with you; It’s hard coming up with five things to preview about this game since Illinois is so bad, so I’m going to squeeze a #hottake in here:

The Illibuck is the worst Big Ten rivalry trophy.

We talked about it at length on this week’s podcast, and I feel like I need to reiterate it here. While other schools play for something cool, like an axe, or better yet, a pig, Ohio State is stuck playing for a wooden turtle against a school who isn’t even in their division, and quite honestly, isn’t a rival.

In an age where the internet can make The $5 Dollar Bits of Broken Chair Trophy a real thing, it’s time for Ohio State to have a better rivalry trophy with someone they play every year. /endrant

J.T. Barrett’s last game in Ohio Stadium

There are better writers who can more eloquently quantify what J.T. Barrett has meant to Ohio State than I, so here’s a few things that come to mind about Barrett’s career.

He’s set a bevy of school and conference records, and will finish his career with more awards than he’ll know what to do with. He’s the only three-time captain in school history. He has a chance at going 4-0 against Michigan, and has a 34-6 career record as a starter. He’s broken his damn ankle, taken place in a high-profile quarterback battle, been at the center of the most controversial play in school history, and has taken the brunt of criticism whenever Ohio State’s lost.

I’m not going to try and tell you how to feel about J.T. Barrett’s career. He’ll probably never be as beloved as Troy Smith, or looked upon as fondly as Craig Krenzel, and that’s OK. There’s no denying the impact he’s had on the program though, and his place as one of the best quarterbacks in program history. (And, for what it’s worth, the best, in my opinion.)

Who knows how Ohio State’s season will end. Maybe go on a miraculous run, make the College Football Playoff, and win the national championship, with Barrett cementing himself in college football history. Maybe they lose to Michigan next week, end up in the Outback Bowl, and we have to read tweets about how he actually sucked for four years.

No matter what, it’s been a pleasure watching No. 16 the last four seasons, and I know that I’ll be emotional watching him take the field in Ohio Stadium for the final time.