No. 9 Ohio State (8-2, 6-1 Big Ten) will play its final game in Ohio Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Saturday when it hosts Illinois (2-8, 0-7 Big Ten). It will also celebrate Senior Day, with players like quarterback J.T. Barrett, center Billy Price and linebacker Chris Worley competing in their final game in the Horseshoe. The Buckeyes have a chance to clinch the Big Ten East title Saturday with a win if No. 24 Michigan loses at No. 5 Wisconsin.
Ohio State offense vs. Illinois defense
Ohio State comes in heavily favored to throttle the Fighting Illini, and the lopsided matchup between the Buckeyes’ offense and Illinois’ defense is a major factor in that. The Fighting Illini have allowed 28.4 points per game, the 76th most in the nation, and 403.2 yards per game. Ohio State will bring an offense that averages the third-most yards per game at 546.5 and fifth-most points at 44.2.
The greatest disparity between the Buckeye offense and Fighting Illini defense comes in the ground game. Illinois has allowed the 105th-fewest rush yards per game at 199.1 and 80th-fewest yards per carry at 4.5. Meanwhile, Ohio State comes in with the 16th-most rushing yards per game (245.3) and fourth-most yards per carry (6.1).
The Buckeyes also are coming off their most dominating rushing game of the season, recording a season-high 335 yards on 42 carries and scored four touchdowns. Both freshman J.K. Dobbins and redshirt sophomore Mike Weber recorded more than 120 rushing yards.
As for the passing game, Ohio State still holds a statistical advantage over the Illini. Ohio State has averaged 301.2 passing yards per game, 17th-most in the nation, and 8.5 yards per attempt, which is tied for 18th. Illinois has been sound defending against opposing aerial attacks, holding opponents to the 42nd-fewest pass yards per game (204.1) and 57th-fewest yards per attempt (7.1).
The Fighting Illini have a pair of safeties who have put together strong seasons and helped the pass defense remain solid for the team. Stanley Green and Bennett Williams are second and third, respectively, in total tackles on the team despite playing in the defensive backfield. Green has picked off one pass this season, forced two fumbles and recovered one. Williams has 1.5 sacks, two interceptions, two passes defended and one forced fumble.
The defense for Illinois has been comparatively solid when examining it as a whole. It has done a far better job keeping opponents from scoring than the Illinois offense has done itself in trying to score. However, given the struggles of the Fighting Illini offense, the defense might be on the field for extended time Saturday.
Ohio State defense vs. Illinois offense
The Buckeyes held then-No. 12 Michigan State to just three points in their most recent game in Ohio Stadium. There’s a chance Illinois might not even be able to muster up that much. The Fighting Illini offense comes into this game having averaged 16.4 points per game, 124th in the nation, and squares off against a defense that has allowed the 25th-fewest points at just 20.4.
The only aspect of Illinois’ offense that has found any semblance of success this season has been its passing game. Two quarterbacks — the pocket-passing Jeff George Jr. and the mobile Chayce Crouch — have regularly split time under center for Illinois in its attempt to provide unique looks to opposing defenses.
Unfortunately for the team, neither quarterback has found much of anything. George has 1,273 passing yards with a 51.9 percent completion rating and seven touchdown passes to 10 interceptions.Crouch has only 427 passing yards with a 53.2 percent completion rating with a touchdown and four picks. On the ground, Crouch has 93 total yards on 46 carries and one touchdown.
Overall, the offense has the 92nd-most pass yards per game. It is completing just 51 percent of passes and has thrown eight touchdown passes to 17 interceptions. Part of the problem for the quarterbacks has been the inconsistency of the offensive line. The line has allowed the fourth-most sacks per game at 3.6 and the 117th-most tackles for loss per game at 7.3.
The offensive line’s struggles has contributed to the inability for Illinois to gets its run game going. The Fighting Illini have the 121st-fewest rush yards per attempt at 3.32 and the 122nd-fewest rush yards per game at 107.8. Only Mike Epstein and Cam Thomas are averaging more than 4.5 yards per carry, and the former is out for the year and the latter is questionable for Saturday.
This Fighting Illini offense plays right into the hands of the Ohio State defense. Though the passing defense for Ohio State has struggled at times, it seemingly only has issues when the defensive line is not applying enough pressure on the quarterbacks. Ohio State’s defensive line has the ninth-most tackles for loss per game (8.3) and 23rd-most sacks per game (2.7). But perhaps most importantly, it is coming off one of its strongest game of the season in which it had nine tackles for loss and six sacks against the Spartans.
The Fighting Illini quarterbacks could struggle to receive sufficient pass protection, and it is unlikely the rushing offense will produce much against a rush defense that has allowed the 14th-fewest yards per game (116.5) and ninth-fewest yards per carry (3.16). This figures to be a tough game for the Fighting Illini.
Edward Sutelan: Ohio State wins 63-3
Colin Hass-Hill: Ohio State wins 58-3