Ohio State has lost three of its last four games, with the most recent setback coming last weekend at Nebraska in a thriller between the new conference rivals. Ohio State blew a 21-point lead in the second half, and lost for the first time in Lincoln in school history. It was the biggest comeback in school history for the Cornhuskers. The Buckeyes, who are 0-2 in conference play for the first time since 1993, will receive a bye on October 22nd, before hosting Wisconsin for Homecoming on October 29th.
Illinois is 6-0 after last weekend's 41-20 win over Indiana, and is one of the 13 schools remaining with an unblemished record. The Fighting Illini are bowl eligible for the second consecutive year. Illinois follows Saturdays game with the Buckeyes with road contests at Purdue and at Penn State before its bye coming in the first week of November.
"You know, our deal is just we got one game at a time," Illinois head coach Ron Zook said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. "We don't look ahead, we don't look behind; they've done a pretty good job of that, in my opinion. We kind of equate it, like I said last week, to a game."
Ohio State leads the all-time series, 62-30-4 and has won each of the last three meetings.
Ohio State's night against Nebraska changed after quarterback Braxton Miller left the game with an injury in the third quarter. To that point, Miller was five-of-eight for 95 yards and one touchdown, and had run for an additional 91 yards. Backup Joe Bauserman finished just 1-of-10 for 13 yards and one interception against the Cornhuskers. On the year, Bauserman is 40-of-86 for 492 yards and five touchdowns, while Miller is 25-of-47 for 386 yards and four touchdowns against two interceptions. Ohio State is 111th nationally in passing offense (146.33), and 86th in scoring offense (24.3). Carlos Hyde has been the most reliable running back, averaging a team best 66.6 yards per game with five touchdowns. Ohio State will have running back Dan Herron back this week. The all-Big Ten performer sat out the first six games serving an NCAA suspension.
"I don't know that their offense is going to change an awful lot," Zook said of Herron's return. "They're going to, you know - as I said, this will be a physical game. They're going to line up and pound you."
The defense continues to be a top-25 unit in total production, ranking 22nd in total defense (308.1) 21st in pass defense (191.5) and 36th in rushing defense (116.6). This will be a tough matchup for Scheelchase and the Fighting Illini, although Ohio State's numbers have been mediocre in terms of producing pressure; the Buckeyes average a modest 5.7 tackles for loss per game and have 12 sacks through six games.
Illinois sports the 13th ranked rushing offense in the country (226.1 yards per game), and has three players rushing for 50 yards or more per game. That crew is led by Troy Pollard, who averages 60.1 yards per game. Pollard had 133 yards rushing against Western Michigan in September, but has just carried the ball 12 times in the last two games. Davonn Young averages 52.33 yards per game, and Jason Ford gets 46.5 yards per outing. Quarterback Nathan Scheelchase rushes for 57.8 yards a game, and has thrown for 1,238 yards and 10 touchdowns against three interceptions so far in 2011. Scheelchase has had some big performances the past two weeks, including a 391-yard and three touchdown passing day against Northwestern on October 1st. He ranks fifth nationally in passing efficiency (175.83). Illinois scores 34.6 points per game.
A.J. Jenkins has proven to be one of the country's most productive receivers. He ranks fifth in receiving yards per game with 135.8, and is tied for 15th nationally in receptions per game (7.6).
The Illinois defense gained traction when it held Arizona State's high powered offense to just 14 points back on September 17th. Even though the Fighting Illini have given up 75 points in the three games since, the unit is still tied for 17th nationally in scoring defense (17.8) . Illinois ranks 15th in total defense (296.6) and ninth in rushing defense (79.6). The unit is averaging 3.6 sacks per game. Whitney Mercilus, who had three sacks against Indiana, is second nationally with 8.5 sacks and has 10.5 tackles for loss total. Trulon Henry leads the team with two interceptions through six games. The Fighting Illini have recorded nine takeaways (seven interceptions, two fumble recoveries).