J.T. Barrett hopes to pick up where he left off in return vs. Illinois
Who: No. 3 Ohio State vs. Illinois
When: Saturday, 11 a.m. CT
Where: Memorial Field, Illinois
Spread: Ohio State -16
Matchup to watch: Joey Bosa vs. Illinois RBs
While the All-American defensive end hasn’t necessarily put up the sack numbers many thought he would, Bosa has been a pain for opposing tailbacks. His 12 tackles for loss are one of the reasons that opposing backfields have struggled to get going against the Buckeyes. Illinois has two backs that are capable of breaking big plays out of the backfield. After combining for over 300 yards from scrimmage last week, Josh Ferguson and Ke’Shawn Vaughn will look to provide the balance that Illinois desperately needs to establish against Ohio State. Both Ferguson and Vaughn are more shifty and do a lot of their damage outside the hashes. Against a guy that gets off blocks as well as anyone in the country, that might be a problem.
Thing I’m excited to see: The return of J.T. Barrett
I say “return” when really it was only one game that he missed. But coupled with the bye week, that Rutgers game feels like a long time ago. Whether or not you believe that Barrett should be back already following his one-game suspension, we can all agree that when he’s on the field, he’s a special talent. The Buckeye offense needs him running the show to add tempo and keep opposing defenses off-balanced. We should see Urban Meyer pull out the full arsenal on the road, which means Barrett will likely get plenty of running opportunities. Illinois has been vulnerable at times against mobile quarterbacks, which means it’ll be up to Jihad Ward and T.J. Neal to make plays in the backfield before Barrett gets into the open field. If Illinois does that, it’ll have a chance to hang around.
Number to remember: 30
If Ohio State takes care of Illinois, that’ll be its 30th straight regular-season conference win. That would be an FBS record. It’s easy to get caught up in saying that Ohio State underachieves and that there are plenty of B1G teams that can beat them. But that’s just it. They don’t. The Buckeyes still haven’t lost a B1G regular season game under Meyer, despite the fact that they get everybody’s best shot week in, week out. They got Minnesota’s best shot last week. They’ll probably get Illinois’ best shot on Saturday. But in the anything-can-happen world of college football — just ask Michigan State — the Buckeyes always find a way to win.
Prediction: Ohio State 35, Illinois 14
It would be funny if I just praised the Buckeyes’ unparalleled consistency then dropped the upset pick of the year. But no, I don’t see that happening. With Barrett back, the Ohio State offense should be back. Even if Barrett struggles out of the gate, Ezekiel Elliott can move the chains until the sophomore quarterback gets back into the swing of things. Another slow start might make Buckeye fans a little nervous early, but this one should never be in doubt down the stretch.