Can anyone out there remember the last time Ohio State came in as an underdog to Illinois? You’ve got to go back to the early 90s and those dark days of Coach Cooper. Well folks, those dark days are here again as we find ourselves 4 point underdogs to the Illini. Not only are the Illini favorites, they are 6-0 and ranked No. 16 in the AP poll. Granted, Arizona State was probably the toughest team they’ve faced so far this year but there is no question they are a potential sleeper in the Big Ten.
You can’t look at this game without nightmares of last year’s Ohio State/Illinois matchup. You remember the one. The game where Terrell Pryor went out late in the third quarter and Joe Bauserman proceeded to throw a pass directly into the arms of an Illinois safety. Things were so bad in the backup position that after holding the Illini to three and out, Pryor limped back onto the field and basically handed the ball off to Herron for a couple of long slow drives to run out the game.
Once again we’ve got a mobile young quarterback who isn’t afraid to take risks. He’s also made it painfully clear that if he goes out, the Buckeyes are in serious trouble. With a tender ankle and facing an Illini defense that is leading the Big Ten in sacks, might as well paint a big bulls eye on Braxton Miller’s helmet. Hopefully, the offensive line can show the protection they did against Nebraska and not the lack thereof that they showed against Michigan State.
Where’s Kenny G?
You would assume that by this point, the coaching staff would place a pair of headphones on Bauserman and use him as side line decoration but that does not appear to be the case. The depth chart still shows Bauserman as the backup to Miller and there is no metion of Kenny Guiton. We did see signs of Guiton warming up late in the fourth quarter against Nebraska and word is that he is taking snaps this week in practice.
I can’t possibly imagine what Guiton has done during practice to show that he is a bigger risk than Bauserman in the back up position. If anything, I would think that his style matches Miller’s a little better and unless we start putting recievers in the stands, he’s got to have a better passing game. Other than spring game, he’s completely untested but at this point, I think all of Buckeye Nation is ready to give him a shot.
Best bet, pray that Miller stays healthy and puts in a game like he did against Nebraska.
No sign of Herron in the depth chart either. The running game may be the best thing we have going against an Illinois defense that hasn’t really been tested on the ground. If it looks like the ground game is working, I can’t believe we won’t see him back in the game.
Defense…again…and special teams
Buckeye defense is again going to be key to this game. Illinois will be bringing a pass rush and doing everything they can to pressure Miller (or worse…I can’t say it) so field position might be key. The Illini have one of the worst records in all areas of special teams in the country. Kick returns might be one place where we see Herron get himself back into the game. In Tuesday’s press conference, Coach Fickell said that we might see Herron in on special teams. What a great way to get him back in the swing of things than by turning it on against a struggling Illinois return coverage.
So there it is sportsfans. Defense combined with field position and long slow drives on the ground with a little bit of punt/kick return theatrics and we may actually pull off the upset (“upset”…did I just say that?).
Rumors of Meyer
Sports writer Jeff Rapp got a lot of attention on his blog last week when he published an in-depth report stating that Urban Meyer and Penn State have been batting eyes at each other across the coache’s recruiting table. As can be expected, all parties involved from Meyer to the Penn State athletic office are in full denial. Considering that Joe Paterno has to step down someday (doesn’t he) it’s reasonable to speculate that Penn State might be interested in a high profile coach like Meyer. Of course, this sort of talk get’s in the way of Ohio State’s apparent interest, at least on the fans part, of bringing Meyer back to the Buckeyes.
I’ve expressed my opinion of Meyer many times on this blog and to be honest, I thought he had a reserved begging spot just outside of President Gee’s office. With the never-ending NCAA investigation however, it is easy to understand why Meyer might stray.
This of course leads us to the bigger picture question regarding who will hold the head spot come next Sept. and in the years to come. As much as I want to give Fickell the chance, he continues to show a competency to completely collapse and it’s going to take some serious turn around to get the fans back on his side. I can’t get over this sense that Fickell is just being propped up as the guy to stand behind the podium until all this blows over. The outcome will have a a big impact on any coaching decisions from both sides of the table.
That said, a high profile coach like Meyer would have a big impact on the road to recovery.