Open Thread: Illinois

Posted by Vico in Buckeye Football, Open Threads |

Why do we even honor this stupid trophy?
The Buckeyes and Illini are set to kickoff at noon (ET, eleven for us CTers) tomorrow under the loving eyes of Andre Ware and Dave Pasch.  The game will also be the first meeting since the Illini came into Columbus last year and knocked off the Buckeyes on Ohio State’s Senior Day.  Now, the Buckeyes hope to give the Zookers their comeuppance in Champaign for Illinois’ senior day.

The game also pits two teams heading in vastly different directions, while still falling short of preseason expectations.  Ohio State, tagged to be a worldbeater preseason, was routed by USC and lost at home to Penn State.  Still, the Buckeyes have performed well throughout the rest of the season and are on the path to earning a share of a 4th consecutive Big Ten title.  Illinois, on the other hand, has had a season that I’m hoping has made Ron Zook begrudge him ever letting a reality TV show — The Journey — be constructed around it.  Their defense was blitzed by Chase Daniel for the second consecutive year, they lost at home to Minnesota, were bombarded by Penn State and beaten by lowly Wisconsin.  To make matters worse, they decided to become the Big Ten’s newest MAC casualty this season by losing to Western Michigan in Detroit the week before.  In short, they’re 5-5 and are finishing their season against a potential conference champion (Ohio State) and a potential January bowl team (Nerdwestern).  They could just as well be spending their holidays at home.  Illinois is certainly missing J Leman.

We all miss him.

For the second straight week, the Buckeye defense will have to deal with a spread-ish offense run by a mobile quarterback.  For those of us who remember Kafka’s Tim Tebow impersonation early into the game last week and the defensive debacle last year against the Illini in Columbus, I’m sure we’ll all be watching with baited breath to see what will transpire when Illinois has the ball.  That said, there is definitely cause for optimism.  After Kafka ran wild on the 4-5 wide shotgun QB draws on the first drive of the game, he was stuffed for practically the rest of the game.  Further, Heacock’s defenses don’t exclusively feature the passive zone coverage that doomed them in important stretches last year.

Perhaps most importantly, though, Illinois’ offense just isn’t what it was last year.  Rashard Mendenhall’s departure for the NFL left a two-man tailback tandem in his wake.  Daniel Dufrene — who had the big gain fumble on Illinois’ first play from scrimmage — and freshman Jason Ford have done an admirable job in lieu of the explosive Mendenhall.  Yet, they just aren’t Rashard Mendenhall and it’s showing both in the stats and in the wins-losses column.  Accordingly, with Mendenhall’s departure mostly uncompensated for at the tailback position, Juice Williams has had an incredible burden in leading the offense.  He, and not Dufrene, is the Illini’s leading rusher this season, though it’s a slim margin (577 yards to 575 yards).  Further, it seems the Illini offense is struggling with the fact that lightning just may not strike twice.  After finally accruing the talent to run the zone-read option plays, Illinois’ offense barnstormed through most foes — including us — last season before being kicked in the jimmy by the Trojans in Pasadena.  But it seems like opposing defenses are catching up to the Illini’s schemes, which, in conjunction with Mendenhall’s absence, has forced Juice Williams into more passing situations.  While he has two games over 400 yards passing, Juice’s TD-INT ratio is not good (20-14).  His performance has also been cause for public criticism from Ron Zook.

There is no such thing as too much J Leman
Illinois’ defense has also been underwhelming this season and some of the stats that buttress that observation are surprising.  They are 72nd nationally in points per game surrendered (26.2) and they are 75th nationally in defensive passing efficiency.  In the aforementioned MAC Experience last week in Detroit, Western Michigan’s QB was 28/40 for 301 yards and two touchdowns.  What makes these numbers more confusing is that the Illini’s defense is not wanting for talent.  Indeed, it seems like they have a stud at every position.  The weakness might be the defensive line for the Illini, though Zook had the unit tabbed as the defense’s strength preseason.  Yet, the defensive line was their weakness last year (IMO), and it was compensated for by a very active performance from J Leman.  We all miss J Leman.  While he doesn’t have Leman’s it factor, Brit Miller, senior middle linebacker, has more than filled in for Leman’s statistical production last season.  Miller leads the Big Ten in tackles and is 9th nationally in TFLs, but still no one gives a shit because he’s not J Leman.  Martez Wilson hasn’t lived up to the hype this season, but his speed and athleticism are very real.  The Illini also have capable talent in the secondary, with Vontae Davis as the headliner of that unit.  Again, they have, in essence (but perhaps not spirit, because of J Leman), the blueprint for last year’s defense that stifled the Buckeyes’ offense.  And yet: it isn’t working.

As someone who’s new to blogging, I struggle with a format for these type of posts.  This is true especially for this year’s team as our offensive line — the only thing I really watch — has been frustrating.  Furthermore, I hate making predictions since predictions are glorified unscientific guessing.  Still, I’ll take a stab at it with some kind of keys to victory.  I’ll also try to shy away from something that centers around the truism for this year’s team that “as the offensive line goes, so goes the team”.

Ohio State wins if… Nader Abdallah has a repeat performance of his game last week against Northwestern.  Of course, this isn’t limited to just Abdallah, and if Cam Heyward and Doug Worthington want to dominate as well, they are more than welcome to.  But it seems that Abdallah has been the one to catch fire of late this season.  I don’t know if the stats he piled up (8 tackles, 3 solo, 1 TFL and a QB hit) were a function of the opposition or not, but a similar performance would create havoc for Illinois’ fragile offense.  Pressure up the middle is crucial for defending the option.  It would allow Laurinaitis to spy and it would certainly turn Good Juice into Bad Juice.  The latter is what I want to see this game.

Illinois wins if… they get sacks.  I know, I know.  I said I’d try to shy away from saying something about our offensive line.  That said, while Illinois’ defense has been grim at points this season, they are first in the conference and sixth nationally in sacks per game.  As we all know, our offensive line is the clear weakness of our football team and their performance this season hasn’t gotten any better.  Sadly, there’s just no hope that they will be anything other than a liability against Illinois and Michigan, with a faint hope that a month off could do them some good in preparation for a bowl game.  Remember, Ohio State found themselves behind down and distance often against Northwestern last week.  And still, in spite of the 3rd and 10, 11, 14, 15, and 16 holes our offense was in, they inexplicably got out through the grace of Terrelle Pryor.  That is not skill; that is luck.  Remember again: there was nothing good that our offensive line did on Beanie’s 55yd TD run against Northwestern.  That was not skill from the line that created that running lane; that was luck that Beanie wriggled his way out of that.  If Illinois is able to get to Pryor on these certain passing situations, as Northwestern was NOT able to, our offense gets off the field and Illinois is in a better position to win.

This will be the first Illibuck game of the post-J Leman era.  While he will not be on the field playing, his spirit will watch over us all.

The spirit of J Leman watches over Beaver Stadium earlier this season (HT: BSD, Illinois Loyalty)


Written by: Vico | full bio

Vico is the nom de guerre of the founder and current website chair of Our Honor Defend. He is currently living in exile in Alabama.


31 Responses to “Open Thread: Illinois”

  1. 1 GetBuck

    Nader needs to continue his fantastic play to stop The Juice and Illini’s hi powered offense. Otherwise, we will need to put up a bunch of points to win. Go Bucks!

  2. 2 dan

    Vico, could you have finally come up with Pryor’s nickname:

    “….they inexplicably got out through the grace of Terrelle Pryor. ”

    Tyrelle “Grace” Pryor. “Grace” describes his play for the Buckeyes–on many levels.

  3. 3 Vico

    It’s so odd to see us begin the game kicking off.

    Nader was held on that first play from scrimmage… and Doug Worthington was overpowering on that first drive.

  4. 4 Vico

    It’s good to see Bad Juice make an appearance, and great awareness by Nader to jump on the fumble

    And I love the wrinkles thrown in the goal line situation on 2nd and 3rd and goal. I’m convinced Illinois wasn’t ready for the Shotgun QB off-tackle with Beanie as lead blocker.

  5. 5 Gabby Jay

    More Bad Juice, plz.

  6. 6 Vico

    That was a dumb defensive series… and that was a total flinch on the right tackle on the touchdown pass.

  7. 7 Vico

    YES! That. Just. HAPPENED.

  8. 8 Vico

    After one quarter:

    * I love the playcalling. Not everything is working, and Pryor has made a mistake or two, but Illinois wasn’t prepared for some of the new wrinkles show on offense.
    * Defense is cause for consternation, but the line has been plugging up holes. The linebackers just need to tackle.
    * Nader Abdallah… Nader f’n Abdallah.
    * Illinois is clearly ready to play. It’s worth watching how the Buckeyes can match the Illini’s intensity on defense.

  9. 9 Gabby Jay

    Jake Ballard made that end-around to Hartline. Whoever that offensive lineman was (Cordle?) slipped.

  10. 10 Gabby Jay

    3rd and 18 conversion Jesus Christ.

  11. 11 Vico

    well boy, if that wasn’t the most strategic use of a timeout on defense, I don’t know what is.

  12. 12 Vico


  13. 13 Gabby Jay

    Hmm, you’re not looking so stupid now for your praise of Sanzenbacher.

  14. 14 Gabby Jay

    do we not know how to tackle?

  15. 15 Vico

    I think our defense are conscientious objectors to tackling.

  16. 16 Gabby Jay


  17. 17 Vico

    We could’ve done without that fumble, though

    And without exaggeration, there has to be at least 20 missed tackles by the Buckeyes this game.

  18. 18 Vico

    Well, let’s see what our defense is made of.

  19. 19 Vico

    now that’s a stop. Way to go D.

  20. 20 Gabby Jay

    Uh oh… hammy tweak?

  21. 21 Gabby Jay

    Oh yes, Ohhhh yes. I will take that late hit penalty. I will take it and enjoy it.

  22. 22 Vico

    Agreed. I was upset that Pryor didn’t run that, but i’ll take it.

  23. 23 Vico

    BACKBREAKER. Someone step in and get a pinfall please.

  24. 24 Vico

    and the wheels may have fallen off the wagon now…

  25. 25 Gabby Jay

    was that even a fumble? It certainly wasn’t a facemask on Pryor (close, though)

  26. 26 Vico

    ohhh yeah, eat that Illinois.

  27. 27 Gabby Jay

    Smells like victory to me.

  28. 28 Ken

    I loved the sack on Juice at end of 3rd qtr by Homan. It looked like Homan and JL were on a twist when they blitzed. Don’t get creative with defensive calls on me now.

    Looking back to the hit on the 1st Qtr crossing pattern and the late sideline hit… has anyone taken more vicious hits than Sansenbacher? My God, he can’t wait until season ends, while he can still remember it.

  29. 29 El Caballo de Sangre

    Holy cow, how bad was Andre Ware today? Some (paraphrased) highlights:

    “Illinois’ OC needs to tell his junior QB Juice Williams to throw the ball to open receivers, and remind him that, as a football player, he can expect to get hit from time to time.”

    “Terelle Pryor is not properly deferential to opposing fans, but he is so to Ohio State’s seniors, which is illustrated by the way he gets in those seniors’ faces.”

    “As a Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Houston, I can unironically say that the level of competition a given team faces should not be a factor in how one perceives that team.”

    “I believe that three of the eight non-Championship Game BCS slots should be filled with Utah, Boise State, and Ball State (at the possible expense of Ohio State or Penn State depending on next week, the SEC runner-up, and even USC(!) should the Beavers win out). I believe this particularly about Ball State so strongly that I will mention it no less than three times.”

    “Punting from your opponent’s 28 is the right thing to do.”

  30. 30 Vico

    I was a fan of how he was saying Ohio State should not be given preferential treatment over a Boise State or Utah, hinting at it being unfair (an appropriate insight), but is also a proponent of allowing 3 Big 12 or 3 SEC teams into the mix.

  31. 31 El Caballo de Sangre

    Right you are, Vico; I forgot about that one.

    The BBC’s got a nice (and quick!) post about our BCS possibilities should the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions win next week: If both Utah and Boise State win out, we’ll just have to trust our luck, marquee value and massive fan base to get an at-large bid. If we don’t get that bid, that’ll suck but I’ll be able to live with it. A loss to either Utah or Boise, and we’re in.

    I’m guessing that even if both win out, we play Texas in Glendale. And win.

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