Eyes on the prize

It’s senior day, with all the accompanying emotions in players who know they’ll never play at Ohio Stadium again. They want to end their careers in the Horseshoe the right way. For that to happen, they must compartmentalize those feelings. When it’s time for the opening kickoff, their minds must focus only on football and not look past an Illinois team that’s winless in the Big Ten. For an Ohio State team whose College Football Playoff hopes rest on a thin reed, nothing but its best performance is acceptable.

Handle the middle

Illinois’ defense has been respectable, led by the tackles. Jamil Milan and Tymir Oliver are good enough to start anywhere in the Big Ten, according to Urban Meyer. They’ll be a challenge for center Billy Price and guards Michael Jordan and Demetrius Knox because the Buckeyes prefer to establish the inside run game first.

Keep turnovers down

Illinois leads the nation fumbles forced per game. Sixteen times they’ve caused opponents to lose their grip on the ball. Multiple Ohio State turnovers are probably the only way that the Illini can hang with the Buckeyes. Ohio State has had some issues with fumbling this season, and the last two weeks, J.T. Barrett has been prone to interceptions.

No targeting

For as much as Ohio State has tried to maintain singular focus on Illinois this week, the Buckeyes know that Michigan awaits next week. It’s also worth repeating that Ohio State has lost key defensive players to targeting ejections the last two games — Nick Bosa against Iowa and Dre’Mont Jones against Michigan State. Fortunately for OSU, both of those came in the first half, so they were eligible to play the entire game the following week. Assuming the Buckeyes are ahead comfortably at halftime, it would make sense to factor in the risk of losing a player to a targeting call in the second half to ensure being at full strength against Michigan.

Who has the edge vs. Illinois?

When Buckeyes

run

Edge

OHIO STATE

If Ohio State was able to roll through the Big Ten’s toughest run defense last week, the Buckeyes should have little trouble doing so against the league’s next-to-worst.

 

When Buckeyes

pass

Edge

OHIO STATE

As long as J.T. Barrett can fix his recent issues with interceptions (six in the last two weeks), the Buckeyes likely will have little trouble exploiting the Illini’s secondary.

 

When Illini

run

Edge

OHIO STATE

Illinois ranks 121st nationally and last in the Big Ten in rushing offense. That doesn’t bode well against a Buckeyes run defense that is usually stout.

 

When Illini

pass

Edge

OHIO STATE

The Illini have started three quarterbacks this season, and none has distinguished himself. OSU’s pass defense looked good against Michigan State.

 

Special

teams

Edge

OHIO STATE

The Buckeyes appear to have fixed their kickoff coverage and have not allowed a single yard on punt returns.

— Bill Rabinowitz / brabinowitz@dispatch.com / @brdispatch

Get the latest Buckeye football news. Sign up for the BuckeyeXtra newsletter.