How can Ohio State beat Illinois? Here are keys for the Buckeyes' matchup with the Illini

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra

Turnover track

A three-interception performance by Justin Fields against Indiana must prove to be an aberration. The Buckeyes' star quarterback had been picked off only three times in his previous 17 career college starts. But if such loose play turns into a trend, the turnovers could be costly. The Hoosiers were unable to score any points off turnovers, though that's playing with fire. Given a chance, Illinois could capitalize on some of the mistakes and create another tight fourth-quarter finish for Ohio State.

Big targets

It was tough for the Buckeyes to slow Indiana wide receiver Ty Fryfogle, who was the Big Ten’s offensive player of the week for the second consecutive week after he caught seven passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns against them. Fryfogle’s size makes him difficult to contain, and Illinois’ Josh Imatorbhebhe could present similar challenges as another big pass catcher. Imatorbhebhe, who like Fryfogle is listed at 6 feet 2, is in a productive stretch, having caught two touchdowns in the past three games.

Not what Ohio State wants to see: another big target catching passes against them. But Josh Imatorbhebhe (9) of Illinois is a capable receiver.

Second-half drop-off

The Buckeyes are tailing off at the end of games. They have outscored teams 108-30 in the first half but have been outscored 74-73 over the final two quarters. The issue was particularly apparent last week as they nearly blew a 28-point lead against Indiana. Could Illinois capitalize if Ohio State takes its foot off the gas? It might take a team that is more dangerous on offense, but the habit could doom the Buckeyes at some point this fall.

Ohio State football:Ohio State ranked No. 4 in first College Football Playoff rankings

Key matchup

Ohio State rush defense vs. Illinois rush offense

The Fighting Illini have had success with their running game this season. Between running backs Chase Brown and Mike Epstein, they are one of only two teams in the Big Ten to have two rushers totaling more than 300 yards. They rank second in the conference in rush offense. But the Buckeyes have kept teams bottled up on the ground despite other issues with their defense. In last Saturday’s win, they held Indiana to minus-1 rushing yards.

Key stat

Since the No. 1 Buckeyes were upset by the Illini in 2007, Ohio State has won the past nine game in the series against Illinois by an average of 24 points.

By Joey Kaufman