This Saturday’s Ohio State-Illinois matchup is perhaps the biggest November mismatch you’ll see outside of the state of Alabama (good luck against the Mercer Bears!). The Buckeyes are currently 41-point favorites over the Fighting Illini, which is the largest spread for an Ohio State conference game in at least 30 years.
Illinois has failed to score 17-plus points against all Big Ten teams other than Rutgers (and do they really count?). They’ve lost to Wisconsin, Purdue, and Indiana by double digits in their last three weeks: Ohio State *shouldn’t* have any problem with the Fighting Illini.
The Buckeyes certainly didn’t expect to have any trouble with the Iowa Hawkeyes either, but breaking down how over-matched Illinois is at all three levels against the Buckeyes defense is a fairly useless endeavor. Instead, let’s break down some of the finer defensive moments from the first 10 weeks of Buckeyes football.
Yeah, Denzel killed a guy!
The Buckeyes have been subjected to more bull shit targeting calls than any other team in the country this season (unverified). Ward’s untimely flag was particularly egregious, warranting an actual apology from the Big Ten. Still, the play remains one of the more lovely displays of violence on the gridiron you’ll ever see:
Ward’s ascension to the team’s top shut-down corner has been a fantastic development for the defense — but he remains the same freshman who routinely downed opposing returns inside the 10-yard line on kickoffs at heart.
Jerome Baker’s coming out party in Nebraska
Baker’s real coming out party of course took place during the Buckeyes’ 2016 win over Oklahoma, but his performance against the Nebraska Cornhuskers this season was nearly as memorable. Few linebackers in the country have Baker’s combination of strength and athleticism, a skill set that allows him to stand tall against the run in the box while also being able to shed over-matched receivers on the perimeter with ease:
Backups Tuf Borland and Malik Harrison filled in admirably for Baker and Dante Booker during the Buckeyes’ win over the Spartans, but Baker still has the highest ceiling of any linebacker on the roster. His ability to make game-changing plays will be needed more than ever during Ohio State’s closing stretch.
Chris Worley sticks it to the Sooners
There wasn’t much to like from this season’s matchup against Oklahoma, but the defense’s ability to keep the game at a 3-3 tie going into halftime was truly impressive. The game eventually got away from the Buckeyes, but Worley and company showed they more than belonged early and stood tall in one-on-one matchups from the No. 4 team in the country:
Worley is able to play all three of Ohio State’s linebacker positions thanks to great speed for his size — yet he maintains the ability to stick ball carriers in the A-gap. When the Buckeyes have been right, it’s usually been correlated with solid linebacker play as well.
Holy hell Nick Bosa
Most people likely had sky-high expectations for Bosa considering the trail of quarterbacks his brother laid to waste during his three seasons, but did anyone truly think Nick could make a similar impact as Joey on a down-by-down basis? Well, he has, and draft experts are already saying Nick would be a top-five pick in this year’s draft if he was eligible. He quickly proved to Michigan State that they had no chance of blocking him, and the rest of the defense followed his lead:
Defensive line dominance was expected from this unit, but it’s tough to imagine anyone expecting Bosa to stand out in the manner he has. We may look back at this defensive line and see six or more NFLers; just remember Bosa was the one standing taller than the rest.
D-line dominance against the Nittany Lions
Ohio State’s inability to control the line of scrimmage has more-or-less been the root cause of their two embarrassing blowout defeats this season. They refused to let this happen against Penn State when it mattered most, neutralizing the same Nittany Lions offense that has run roughshod over the rest of the country to that point:
The Buckeyes have always had the ability to be a great defense, and they have been just that for the majority of this season. Playoff scenarios aside, the Buckeyes will need their defense to be the best its been all season to make it out of the Big Ten with three more victories. Here’s to hoping they get that ball rolling this Saturday afternoon.