Friday, October 1, 2010

GAME PREVIEW: BUCKEYES LOOK TO KEEP ON ROLLING IN CHAMPAIGN

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Ohio State (4-0) will travel to Illinois on Saturday with perhaps the best offense the Buckeyes have had since Jim Tressel became head coach in 2001.

The second-ranked Buckeyes are averaging a ridiculous 49 points per contest thru four games this season, and have racked up more than 2000 total yards. The most dangerous thing about the Buckeyes attack though is that they hit you with balance, averaging 267 yards passing and 240 on the ground.

"When I look at our offense it's like pick your poison," OSU junior wide receiver DeVier Posey said. "You have Brandon Saine, Boom Herron, you have Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry — you all got to see flashes from (Berry) last week, that kid can definitely do something with the ball in his hands.

"You have Dane (Sanzenbacher), you have Jake Stoneburner, you have me, Taurian Washington, Chris Fields and Grant Schwartz.

"And I haven't even mentioned number two's name, yet ... Terrelle Pryor."

Pryor may have been mentioned last by Posey, but his name will be first in the Illinois locker room.

Pryor has been a magician under center this season for the Buckeyes, completing 66.4 percent of his passes for 939 yards, 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He's finally coming into his own as a passer and decision maker, and it's transforming the Buckeyes offense into an absolute scoring machine.

"I think he's making significant steps," Tressel said of Pryor. "You knew that year two was going to be the big one, but you also knew it wasn't going to be perfect and that there would be some great lessons. And if we learn from them and internalize them, then maybe we could get close to reaching that potential that we all feel can be special.

"But the steps get higher starting this week (at Illinois)."

As great as Pryor has been this season, he isn't the only offensive player doing damage on the opposing defense. For the first time in quite awhile, the Buckeyes offense is hitting on all cylinders.

"We have more experience I guess you could say," Posey said. "We have guys that you can trust a lot more, guys that the coaches can trust. We have more options."

Posey said that he has seen a major change in the offense ever since the upset loss at Purdue last season.

"You take your growing pains," Posey said. "I can remember a big growing pain, if you remember the Purdue game last year, I mean that was a game that I feel like we grew a lot from. Even though it's bad that you see an 'L' on the end result, you come back in Sunday and you learn from it. And I think we learned a lot from that game."

Ever since that horrific loss at Purdue, the Buckeyes have ripped off 10 straight wins and have outscored the opposition by an average score of 38-12. Four of those wins have come against teams who were ranked in the top 12. 

In four games this season, the Buckeyes are winning by a margin of 34 points per game.

During last season's showdown between Ohio State and Illinois, the Buckeyes shut out the Illini, 30-0, by smothering their offense in a driving rain. However, just like the Buckeyes, the Fighting Illini have some weapons on offense which are also coming into their own.

Illinois junior tailback Mikel Leshoure is priority No. 1 for the Buckeyes defense this weekend. The 6-foot-1, 230 pound back has been a force this season, rushing for 398 yards (6.8 per carry) and three touchdowns. He has surpassed the 100-yard mark in all three games the Illini have played this season.

"He's a bruiser," OSU sophomore defensive tackle John Simon said of Leshoure. "He's running north and south, not going out of bounds. He's going to run into you."

The Illini also have a new signal caller this year in Nathan Scheelhaase. The 6-foot-3, 195 pound red-shirt freshman is a Juice Williams type, a quarterback who is decent in the air, but an absolute killer on the ground. 

Couple in the scheme of new offensive coordinator Paul Petrino — brother of Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino — and the Buckeyes defense could have their hands full in Champaign on Saturday afternoon.

"The quarterback also, is a very versatile guy," Simon said. "They have a great offensive scheme. Their lineman are doing a great job up front. We're going to have to bring our A-game."

Bottom Line

Ohio State's defense has been outstanding against the run, allowing just 2.6 yards per carry this season. Illinois' offense is pretty one dimensional, grinding out victories on the ground.

Something has got to give.

Look for Ohio State's front seven to control the game and force Scheelhaase to put the ball in the air, meaning more opportunities for the Buckeyes to create turnovers. OSU is ranked second nationally in turnover margin.

On the other side of the ball, look for the Buckeyes offense to roll up another 500 yards and 40-plus on the scoreboard.

Lee's Call: OSU 44-10