Mascot: Fighting Illini
Stadium: Memorial Stadium (62,870)
2008 Record: 5-7
2009 Record: 1-1
Head Coach: Ron Zook (5th year at Illinois, 19-31; 1-3 vs. OSU)
Lettermen Returning: 46 (17 Lost)
Returning Starters: Offense - 8, Defense - 5, Specialists - 2
Base Defense: 4-3
Base Offense: Ace (3 WR)
Returning Stars: QB Juice Williams; WR Arrelious Benn
Robert Ebert - Film Critic
Jerry Colangelo - President & CEO of Phoenix Suns
Gene Hackman - Academy Award winning actor
Red Grange - Charter member of Pro Football Hall of Fame
Dick Butkus - Hall of Fame linebacker
Hugh Hefner - Editor-in-chief, Playboy Enterprises
Steve Stricker - Professional Golfer
Steve Chen & Jawed Karim - Co-founders of YouTube
Ron Zook brings a disappointing Illini squad into the Horseshoe this Saturday, with a team who has already been written off after their 37-9 beating from Missouri. As ugly as that opening loss was, the Illini should strike fear for Big Ten teams because of their high potent offense (436.5 yards a game). Much like the 2007 edition of the Illini, this team has the ability to be scary when the offense puts everything together. Coming off a bye week, you have to wonder if that is a possibility this weekend.
Williams has lots of weapons to throw the ball to, which is probably the greatest strength on this team. Arrelious Benn is obviously the most notable wideout they have, but has seen limited action this season after leaving in the second half of the Missouri game with an ankle injury. He is expected to play Saturday, and how big his role will be is uncertain. The other big name is Jarred Fayson, who transferred from Florida. He is the leading receiver thus far with 89 yard on eight catches. The other two names to keep an eye out for are Jeff Cumberland and tight end Mike Hoomanawanui, who have both proven to be favorable targets for Williams.
The Buckeyes will also have to watch the Illini rushing attack, which is averaging 247 yards a game. Last season, Williams bailed out a group of young runners, but this season they seem to have things together. In week two against Illinois State, the Illini found their man in sophomore Jason Ford. He rushed for 137 yards on 10 carries, and had a touchdown. The other ball carriers the Buckeyes could see are Daniel Dufrene, Troy Pollard, Mikel Leshoure, and Justin Green (remember him?). The Buckeyes have struggled to shut down the Illini runnng attack the last two years, so this will be big part of slowing Williams down.
The other side of the ball is pretty ugly for Illinois. Missouri scored at will in week one against the Illini defense, and Illinois State almost put up 400 yards of offense in week two. What has killed them is that they average giving up 339 yards per game through the air. Yes, that helps them come in at 119th in the nation in pass defense. This is surprising considering they did bring back almost their entire secondary, but it obviously has done little to help them. The front seven is a little stronger than the secondary, though they were hurt by losing star linebacker Martez Wilson for the season. After losing J Lehman and Brit Miller this past two seasons to graduation, this was a big blow. SLB Ian Thomas has stepped up so far this season though, and leads the team 17 tackles (with 2 TFL, 1 sack, and 2 pass breakups). Also expect to hear the names of CB Tavon Williams, S Garrett Edwards, DE Corey Liuget, and DT Josh Brent.
This game is a hard one to predict because the Illini always play the Buckeyes tough despite their record or talent. In fact they have won 7 of the last 10 in Ohio Stadium. The other tough thing to predict is how Williams and Benn will look coming off of injuries. The early bye week though came at a good time, so expect the Illini to look fresh and hungry.
When Illinois has the ball, expect them to move it! Last season they gained 100 more yards of offense than the Buckeyes in Champaign, and they still have those same weapons this time around. It will also be interesting to see how Heacock coaches against a scrambling quarterback. He has the Buckeye defense playing with some serious swagger, but his tenure scrambling QB's have caused the Buckeyes major problems. The two things that should help the defense this time around is strong defensive line play and the ability to force turnovers. The Illini have proven again this season that the are turnover prone, and forcing some on Saturday will be huge for the Buckeyes.
When the Buckeyes have the ball, expect Tressel to look down the field with Pryor. Ohio State has a bevy of options at wideout, tight end, and running back to throw the ball to, so expect Tressel to throw it around. Tressel is Tressel though, so he will no doubt try to establish the run. Illinois' front seven should play the run pretty tough, so the offensive line needs to step up Saturday (which we say every week). More Saine and Hall could be what the doctor ordered as well, and a few big runs could be in the forecast Saturday. The key is Pryor though. If he doesn't turn the ball over and stands strong in the pocket, it's hard to believe the Buckeyes get beat at home!
Father vs. Son Prediction Battle:
Dave: OSU 27-17
Drew: OSU 27-20