Andy Gottesman / The Lantern
Ohio State’s Big Ten season started favorably with a convincing 30-0 thrashing of Illinois on Saturday. The Buckeyes’ first conference test went smoothly despite unfavorable weather conditions.
“I thought our guys did a good job of focusing on the task at hand, the Big Ten beginning,” coach Jim Tressel said at his weekly press conference. “We had a couple mistakes with the football, but for the most part I thought we did a good job of handling a game type that we hadn’t been in in quite some time.”
The last time the Illini visited The Horseshoe they played the role of spoiler, as they defeated the then-ranked No. 1 Buckeyes 28-21.
However, there would be no upset this season as the Bucks held their opponent scoreless for the second consecutive week, posting back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1996.
“Obviously our defense sets the tone,” Tressel said. “Even if the opposing team starts a couple first downs and so forth, they don’t panic. They just keep playing, come up to the play.”
The score might have been decisive over Illinois, but Tressel doesn’t believe his team played mistake-free football in its first conference win.
Only three players on offense and five on defense were graded as having “winning performances” by the coaching staff.
“We enjoyed the decisiveness of the score, and the fact that it was a shutout was something you take tremendous pride in as a defensive football team, but we’ve obviously got a lot of work to do,” Tressel said.
Although the Buckeyes (3-1, 1-0) were considered visitors when they traveled to Cleveland to play Toledo, they now prepare for their first real road test against Indiana (3-1, 1-0) Saturday night.
Senior safety Kurt Coleman out
Senior captain Kurt Coleman has been suspended by the Big Ten for Saturday’s game against Indiana after a late “helmet-to-helmet” hit on Illinois backup quarterback Eddie Mcgee.
The suspension was handed down Monday by Big Ten officials. A joint statement was released following the suspension by athletic director Gene Smith and coach Jim Tressel that showed displeasure with the ruling.
Losing a three-year starter and captain is never easy, but the Buckeyes will try to move forward despite losing their defensive leader.
“Well, you can never look at losing a player as something that stops you in your tracks because guys sprain ankles, they twist knees, they pull hamstrings, they hurt elbows,” Tressel said. “You better have been getting ready the next guy at any position. So do you like losing guys? No. I think we’ve been pretty fortunate.”
Tressel said Coleman took the decision like a man and will move forward. Anderson Russell and Jermale Hines will play at the safety spots this week.
Sophomore Ohrian Johnson has also seen time at safety and should see more action in Coleman’s absence.
Buckeyes’ stout defense vs. Indiana’s high-powered offense
The Buckeyes’ defense had another strong performance against Illinois, forcing three turnovers and holding the Illini to 170 yards of total offense.
After its second shutout, OSU turns its attention to Indiana and a Hoosiers offense that put up 467 yards against Michigan last week. After two solid defensive outings, the Buckeyes are preparing to be tested again.
“Obviously they watch TV. They watch the highlights,” Tressel said of his team’s awareness of Indiana’s offense. “They see the facts and figures, and they saw that Indiana had every opportunity to win thier Big Ten opener and put up a lot of yards and made a lot of plays, so our guys went to work on that.”
After struggling with Navy the first game of the season, the defense has been the strong point of the team thus far, and their success can be attributed to several factors.
“I think it starts with good personnel. There’s no doubt about it,” Tressel said. “We have some veterans who have been there and grown and so forth. We have a little bit of depth, such that we can play 15 or 16 or 17 guys a week, but they prepare awfully hard.”
Shotgun offense and running game spell success
OSU’s offense looked a little different in the rain on Saturday, as most of its plays were run out of the shotgun. The Buckeyes used more spread formations and a formidable running game to control the clock for the win, despite having no passing yards in the first half.
Running back tandem of Daniel “Boom” Herron and Brandon Saine, along with quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s rushing ability, accounted for 236 yards on the ground in what might be the Buckeyes’ new style of offense.
“I think if you’re a defense, you’re a little more concerned about the quarterback as a runner when he’s in the shotgun, as opposed to having to go backward to run forward,” Tressel said. “The downside to the shotgun quite obviously is that when I’m under center I can have my eyes on those safeties all the time, and I know how they’re spinning their coverage, and I can get my post-snap reads.”
OSU’s success on the ground will also open up its passing game, which has not been up to Tressel’s standards yet.
“We haven’t completed as many passes, period, as I’d like to complete,” he said.