Illini tangle with 13th-ranked Buckeyes

Columbus, OH ( – The 13th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes go in
search of their sixth consecutive victory when they entertain the Illinois
Fighting Illini in Big Ten Conference action on Saturday night.

Illinois picked up its first conference win and pulled even on the season at
4-4 after knocking off visiting Minnesota last week, 28-24. The victory put
the brakes on a three-game slide for the Illini, who still have a shot at
earning a bowl bid but will need to win two of their remaining four games —
the others being against Iowa, Penn State and Northwestern. The bouts with the
Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions will take place in Champaign, where Illinois is 4-1
this season.

Ohio State blew a 17-point lead at Penn State last Saturday, but managed to
pull out a 31-24 victory in double-overtime to keep alive its prospects of
reaching the Big Ten title tilt. The triumph improved coach Urban Meyer’s
squad to 6-1 on the season, 3-0 in conference, and was its fifth straight
since suffering a double-digit home loss to Virginia Tech back on Sept. 6.
OSU’s remaining games include a showdown with undefeated Michigan State on the
road next week, followed by a trip to Minnesota and home bouts versus Indiana
and bitter rival Michigan.

Ohio State leads the all-time series with Illinois, 65-30-4, and the Buckeyes
have won the last five meetings, including a 60-35 verdict in Champaign last

Sporting all gray uniforms to honor Illinois legend Red Grange, the Illini
showed plenty of fight in battling back to upend Minnesota last weekend.
Coach Tim Beckman’s club didn’t put up gaudy offensive numbers, tallying only
263 in the game, but took advantage of three turnovers and didn’t fold when
the Golden Gophers scored 21 points in the third quarter.

Reilly O’Toole, a 57.7 percent passer on the season, threw for only 118 yards
with a TD, but he was not intercepted and he also served as the team’s top
ground gainer, totaling 59 yards on 17 carries, scoring on a nine-yard run in
the opening frame. Josh Ferguson found the end zone as well, and he finished
with 48 yards on 15 totes. Mike Dudek led the receivers with five grabs for 41
yards. Ferguson (518 yards, six TDs) and Dudek (42 receptions, 639 yards,
three TDs) are the top performers at their respective positions for Illinois.

The Illini recorded four sacks in the game, and while they permitted Minnesota
RB David Cobb to rush 118 yards and a pair of TDs, an interception, two fumble
recoveries and four sacks played an integral role in keeping the home team in
the game. T.J. Neal, Jr. led all defenders with a dozen tackles, while Earnest
Thomas III was credited with 2.5 sacks.

Illinois is a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big Ten when it comes to
offensive production (28.5 ppg, 390.5 ypg), although it ranks No. 1 in passing
offense (284 ypg). Defensively, the Illini have had trouble stopping the run
(league-worst 258.6 ypg), and forcing turnovers has also been a problem as
they have only come up with four INTs. Sacks have also been an issue, with UI
allowing 25 while securing only 16. Mason Monheim leads the Illini with 72
tackles, while Zane Petty is hot on his heels with 70.

Beckman was extremely proud of the effort his guys put forth last Saturday in
the win over Minnesota.

“The fight, the competitiveness, the belief that we can be successful if we
just play four quarters and if we don’t beat ourselves, and that’s exactly
what they did.”

Ohio State opened up a 17-0 lead at Penn State last week, but needed a pair of
rushing TDs in overtime by quarterback J.T. Barrett and a huge sack by
standout defensive tackle Joey Bosa to stave off the upset-minded Nittany
Lions. The Buckeyes had more success on the ground than any team has had
against the PSU defense this year, logging 219 yards, but they managed only 74
yards through the air as Barrett went 12-of-19 with a TD and two INTs, one of
which was returned for a score early in the third quarter. Ezekial Elliott
paced the OSU ground assault with 109 yards and a TD on 26 carries, while
Barrett added 75 yards and the two late scores on 20 totes.

Bosa got the last laugh, but it was Joshua Perry that served as the Buckeyes’
most active defender last Saturday night, as he recorded 18 tackles, a dozen
of which were unassisted. Penn State couldn’t do anything when it attempted to
the run the ball, tallying a paltry 16 yards on 31 attempts, and as a result
Ohio State saw its average yield for the season drop to 120.4 rushing ypg.

Meyer knows his team dodged a bullet last week.

“Obviously pleased. I don’t think relieved is the right word, but pleased to
get out of State College with a win.”

Barrett leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency (172.8), as he has completed
65 percent of his passes for 1,689 yards, 21 TDs and seven INTs. Elliott ranks
sixth in the conference with 91.4 ypg, while no receiver has more than the 22
catches Michael Thomas (380 yards, five TDs) does.

Perry leads the team with 63 tackles, Bosa has recorded a league-high eight
sacks, and four different players have picked off two passes for an Ohio State
defense that is giving up 20.7 points and 308.1 yards per contest, both of
which rank it in the top half of the conference statistical register.