We often do not give the opponent enough credit, be it after a win or a loss, but I do think Ohio State exposed Illinois somewhat.
The Fighting Illini are a good team – better than I expected them to be – but their opposition has not been great.
Give them credit for making plays to win games in the first half of the season, but there are more holes on that team than were apparent.
I’m not sure they faced a team that could or was determined to attack their rebuilt defensive front the way Ohio State did, and that showed.
Stopping the run can be a mindset as much as anything else. It is tough to have a team smashing straight ahead at you nonstop just as much as it can get mentally draining to spend the whole game running from sideline to sideline against option and spread passing teams.
I was among the many criticizing Ohio State for being too one-dimensional – and I still think those criticism are valid – but they get credit for believing in what they were doing and sticking to it. I still think they need to believe they can do a couple more simple things, and that could make life a lot easier for them and their young quarterback.
The Buckeyes’ very simple attack is flawed because it does not seem as if Miller is comfortable with the basic parts of it. The straight play action, throw-it-deep pro-style offense is somewhat foreign to him. I think there are simple things he can do, but they don’t fall into that family of plays. Marrying spread and pro-style offenses can be difficult – as we have well learned watching Ohio State the past six years or so – but I think they could do a better job.
I also think they would be better served to try to get Miller involved earlier in the game. He did not look comfortable at all in the pocket, and I wonder if that had something to do with going out there and waiting about a quarter and a half before he was asked to drop back and look down the field. Of course, Illinois’ front four was doing a good job of bringing some heat, so I’m sure that didn’t help. It seemed like Ohio State’s offensive line was hanging on for dear life in pass protection.
A win is a win is a win, but all is not well with the offense. The importance of three turnovers cannot be discounted much like how field position dominated the Colorado game. Perhaps they have other ideas about what to do when the unique wind situation at Memorial Stadium is not present – and that is valid because there’s no other place like it since most of the other stadiums they play in are bowls or horseshoe shapes that keep the wind off the field better – but I’ll believe that when I see it.
I think they were far, far more conservative than they needed to be and unlike last week the defense bailed them out.
About that defense… The front seven really brought it. John Simon and Johnathan Hankins were men possessed, and Etienne Sabino seemed to play much better than he did in Lincoln.
It was also important for fellow veterans Tyler Moeller and Travis Howard to come up with big plays. Those guys did not have the impact on the first half of the season that was expected of them – and I kind of think scheme was at least somewhat to blame, especially for Moeller – but they really came through in Champaign.
The Silver Bullets not only took the ball away twice, they made the Illini earn everything they got on offense. That was another key difference. Big plays have been pretty much the whole problem the defense has faced this season. Long run to start the game at Miami. 36-yard touchdown pass by Michigan State that set the tone for that game. Two 30-or-more-yard TD passes at Nebraska plus a quick-strike TD run by Taylor Martinez. That’s the story of the year.
Of course I must mention Bradley Roby being Johnny On The Spot, too. His comment about A.J. Jenkins probably didn’t make it as far out of the interview room as it might have been expected to, but regardless he has had a great year so far. He seems to have a good sense about where to be and when to make a play. He has been taking care of his opportunities. He is not afraid to attack in the running game, either.
Overall, that is what Ohio State defense is supposed to look like. They found that balance of where to take away plays and still attack. There were a lot of silver helmets around the ball at all times, another key to the season. If you want to know what kind of game this OSU defense is having, start by counting the hats within spitting distance as the pile starts to unravel. The more the merrier.