Champaign, IL (SportsNetwork.com) - The Illinois Fighting Illini have lost 19 consecutive Big Ten Conference bouts, and putting an end to that dubious streak will be difficult this Saturday as the team plays host to the third- ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
This bout marks the 100th meeting between Ohio State and Illinois, with the Illibuck Trophy on the line. The Buckeyes owns a commanding 64-30-4 advantage in the series (the 2010 game was vacated), and they have officially won seven of the last eight meetings.
Ohio State is undefeated and brings the nation's longest winning streak into this contest (21 games). The Buckeyes have never lost with Urban Meyer as their head coach, and they were idle last weekend. Their next victory will match the longest win streak in school history (1967-69).
Illinois dropped a 52-35 decision at Indiana last weekend, marking the fifth straight loss for a club that had won three of its first four to open the campaign. The Illini need to win out to qualify for a bowl game, and the team's last two games are at Purdue, and home versus Northwestern.
UI head coach Tim Beckman is certainly aware of the challenge his team faces this week, but knows his guys will put forth the kind of effort that will make the university and their supporters proud.
"It all starts out with the Ohio State Buckeyes and we all know what they're all about and the team is rated in the top five in the country in all categories and they're doing an exceptional job, but our seniors are fighting and ready to get back home and play."
Ohio State is indeed getting it done in all phases of the game this season, with the offense generating 48.2 points and 530.9 yards per game -- both of which lead the conference. Braxton Miller (108-of-149, 1,316 yards, 15 TDs, three INTs) came into the campaign as a serious contender to win the Heisman Trophy, but injuries sidelined him for a bit and his numbers have been hampered as a result. Still, there is no denying his talent and leadership, and the Buckeyes have responded by continuing to pile up the wins.
Miller, who can also burn you with his legs (410 yards, two TDs), isn't the only skilled player on the OSU offense, as Carlos Hyde (96 carries, 701 yard, seven TDs), Jordan Hall (79 carries, 519 yards, eight TDs), Corey Brown (41 rec., 547 yards, eight TDs) and Devin Smith (38 rec., 542 yards, six TDs) are all lethal with the ball in their hands. Even backup QB Kenny Guiton (75- of-108, 749 yards, 14 TDs, two INTs; 37 carries, 307 yards, five TDs) has gotten it done when the opportunities were there. Averaging 301.1 ypg on the ground, Ohio State ranks first in the Big Ten in that category as well.
The Buckeyes come into this clash ranked third in the league in both scoring defense (17.0 ppg) and total defense (311.7 ypg), and they have been particularly strong against the run (88.2 ypg, three TDs). From a big-play perspective, OSU sits second in the conference in sacks (26), while ranking first in turnover margin (+9).
Ryan Shazier is having an All-Big Ten-caliber season from his linebacker spot, logging a team-high 73 tackles, which includes 12 TFL and four sacks, and he also leads the club with five QB Hurries. Noah Spence paces the Buckeyes' sack attack with six, while Doran Grant has three picks and is tied with Bradley Roby for the most passes defended with 10.
The pass-catch duo of Nathan Scheelhaase and Steve Hull had a field day in the Fighting Illini's recent loss to Indiana, the former completing 38-of-57 passes for 450 yards and two TDs, both of which went to the latter, who pulled down nine balls for 224 yards. Scheelhaase also scored on the ground, collecting 45 yards on nine carries, while Josh Ferguson led the Illinois rushing attack with 90 yards and a TD on 16 totes.
The Hoosiers ran the ball all over the Illinois defense last weekend, amassing 371 yards and four TDs. The Illini came up with a pair of turnovers and were credited with three sacks, with Earnest Thomas III leading the way with nine tackles (eight solo) and a forced fumble. Corey Lewis pounced on a loose ball in the end zone to bring the Illini to within three points (38-35) early in the fourth quarter, but Indiana scored the final 17 points to put the game away.
Illinois is averaging just shy of 30 ppg, doing so primarily on the strength of a passing attack that generates 288.9 ypg, which ranks as the second-best figure in the conference. Scheelhaase sits atop the league with 2,420 passing yards, and he has the best completion percentage (.652) of any Big Ten signal caller other than Miller.
Ferguson is a multi-purpose back, capable of doing damage in a variety of ways. He currently paces the team's ground assault with 485 yards and four TDs, while also serving as its top pass catcher with 37 grabs for 783 yards and four scores.
As well as the offense has performed for most of the season, the same can not be said of the Illinois defense, which ranks 10th or worse in the league in scoring yield (34.7 ppg), run defense (239.6 ypg), pass defense (243.1 ypg) and total defense (482.7 ypg). Despite those poor numbers, there are some talented players on the UI defense, notably Jonathan Brown (88 tackles, 10.5 TFL, four sacks, one INT), Thomas III (76 tackles, four PBU, three FF) and Mason Monheim (74 tackles, 4.5 TFL, one sack).
A lack of big plays on the defensive side of the ball has really hurt the Illini, as they have only two interceptions and 11 sacks -- both ranking as the worst figures in the conference.
Despite Illinois's sub par record, OSU's Meyer knows his team needs to stay focused on the task at hand.
"We've got to be prepared for getting Illinois's best shot. They've played some pretty good football as of late. Certainly offensively, the quarterback is leading the league in throwing. They took Penn State to overtime and put up a lot of points I think 600 yards on us last game."
11/13 10:57:08 ET