Drew Thurman (11:58 pm)

After the Oregon State beatdown in Corvallis (quack, quack), the Buckeyes look like they have a BCS bid in their reach. I like many of you was ecsatic at the chance of another BCS bowl, but I wonder if we have totally put things into perspective. Are the Buckeyes ready for a BCS Bowl?

This '08 team is not battled tested the way I feel they should be. Against the two best teams the Buckeyes played, USC and Penn State, the Buckeyes lost. I understand that there were a lot of things that went wrong against USC, but the team still got embarrassed 35-3. Outside of these two teams, I am not sure the Buckeyes played anyone of national importance. Michigan State and Northwestern were the best the Big Ten had to offer outside of the Nittany Lions, and both have proved that they are products of the Big Ten being down this year.

I am not trying to be negative because I am as big of a Buckeye fan as anyone, but I think it is important to look at the facts. So let's draw some comparisons. Let's predict that the Buckeyes happen to play Texas in the Fiesta Bowl (there are many other situations that could indeed happen), but let us imagine. To me the Longhorns are way more prepared to play in a BCS game, not because of talent or coaching, but because of their schedule. For example, they went through a four week stretch of playing Oklahoma, Missouri, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech. That to me is battled tested!

Second, the Buckeyes have not been in many nail biters this season. The games against Wisconsin and Penn State are the type of games the Buckeyes could use much more of. In 2002 the Buckeyes had one hard fought battle after another that prepared them for a National Championship victory. That season the Buckeyes had six regular season games they won by 10 points or less. Compare that to this season where the Buckeyes have only won two games by 10 points or less.

I understand that a lot of this is out of Ohio State's hands, but the facts are facts. The Buckeyes got to breeze through a lot of games this season, and this only hurts the team in the long run. This was a similar problem last year, and the Buckeyes ran into an LSU team that was much more prepared due to their schedule.

So where do this leave the Buckeyes? Well, I am not sure I can really be the one to predict. Of course the Buckeyes could come out and look like world beaters, but at this point I still have my reservations. There is nothing wrong with reservatons, and as fans it is important to ask ourselves the tough questions. Questions like: 

*Does this team have the offense to play with a top tier team?
*Is this team that much better than the one that lost to USC and PSU?
*Are the Buckeyes being set up for another BCS disaster?

What do you think?

 
 

Drew Thurman (4:53 pm)

While the SEC and Big 12 fans get the pleasure of watching two more weeks of conference football, the Big 10 is already done and has already handed out its awards. This means my attention is now once again focused on the Buckeyes 2009 recruiting class. The class filled up extremely early, but there has not been a lot of news during the actual regular season. The Buckeyes still have needs though, and closing out this class is going to be very important. Let's take a look:

Keeping Commitments:

The big fear with early commitments is always the chance that they will change their mind before National Signing Day arrives. I for one wish college football would institute an early signing period like in basketball, but since there is not, it will be important for the Buckeyes to hang on to its early commitments. Rumors have already been circulating about Jamaal Berry and James Jackson. Bill Kurelic over at Bucknuts has interviewed both of these young men, and both have made it clear that they are all Buckeye at this point. In fact Berry was in town for the Ohio State-Michigan game and gave the trip a perfect 10. The rumors about him are probably not going to end any time soon though, as he takes visits to both Ole Miss and Florida.

The man I have heard little about though is Louisville native, Justin Green. I have several friends from the Kentucky area that continually talk about Justin Green taking other visits and decommitting. Obviously rumors and nothing more than rumors until facts come out, but I think Green is someone to watch down the stretch. With the decommitment of Darrell Givens early in the year and the recent Bradley McDougald departure, Green is an important guy to bring in this year.

Big Acquisitions:

The Buckeyes 24 commitments are all very important, but there are still some needs that need to be met in filling this class. Lucky for the Buckeyes there are still some big names out there to pull in.

Offensive Line -

The first area of importance is the offensive line. I realize that the Buckeyes pulled in an outstanding offensive line class last year and have commitments from Corey Linsley, Sam Longo, and Jack Mewhort this season, but this is still a position of high need. Offensive linemen are always in high demand, and our offensive line didn't really look all that great this year.

It is going to be very important to pick up a couple of more commitments here if possible, especially someone who can play tackle. Marcus Hall (pictured above) is a guy that would be huge to pull in with this class. Browning to me is not a true offensive tackle, and I personally feel it would help the line if he moved inside and let Shugarts, Adams, and hopefully Hall fight for those starting tackle spots. Hall is not going to be easy to get though, even though he is from the "Glenville pipeline." Cordale Scott showed last season that he was willing to bypass the Buckeyes, and Hall is making it very clear he is going to take all of his visits!  

Another guy that could help the offensive line is John Martinez of Salt lake City, Utah. Martinez is a true guard and not a tackle, but is way to talented to let slip by in my opinion. He he still waiting for a Buckeye offer, but he if eventually gets one, it is a very real possibility he could head the Buckeyes way. Can you imagine what our offensive line could look like after the '08 and '09 classes?

Tight End -

The tight end position is something the Buckeyes always seem to be in need of. The Buckeyes did bring in Nic DiLillo in '08 and already have Reid Fragel committed in this class, but neither of these young men seem like serious receivers to me. I realize the Buckeyes do not throw to the tight ends near enough, but both Nicol and Ballard have caught some important passes in their careers. So it would be very nice if the Buckeyes could pull in another tight end.

Ra'Shede Hageman, the Buckeyes best prospect, committed to Minnesota in lieu of blocking more than catching at Ohio State. That leaves the options pretty limited at this point, but the Buckeyes are looking at Dion Sims. He is from St. Mary's Preparatory School in Orchard Lake, Michigan, the same school as Aaron Gant and Taurian Washington. This may help sway his decision some, but the Buckeyes are going to have a hard time pulling in an athletic tight end like Sims.

Defensive Tackle -

I think everyone knows the struggles the Buckeyes have had at defensive tackle this season. There already are two commitments from Adam Bellamy and Johnny Simon, but there is still a need for another. Unfortunately I have not gotten up to see Simon play, but there have been numerous reports that he has been disappointing this season. Simon like Buckeye Mike Kudla is an absolute beast in the weight room, but it has yet to be seen how well that translates to the field. In fact, Kudla was quite disappointing himself until his senior season.

This makes it important that the Buckeyes try and nab Corey Adams from Scottsdale, Arizona. Adams has quite a bit more weight on his frame, and I feel could have a more immediate impact. Pulling him away from a Pac-10 school is going to be tough, even though Adams likes the Buckeyes. There is a lot of time left though, and the Buckeyes still have a real shot!

Other big acquisition names: S Frankie Telfort; WR Marlon Brown

Quarterback Concerns:

After the transfers from Schoenhoft and Henton, and the departure of Todd Boeckman this year, the Buckeyes are going to be super thin at quarterback next season. Having just two scholarship quarterbacks (Pryor and Bauserman) just does not seem as if it will be enough. I personally feel the Buckeyes need to grab someone in the 2009 class. Obviously it would be awesome if Kevin Newsome was that someone, but it looks as if his ship might have sailed. I am not saying that there is not a chance, but his backing out of the visit this last weekend might be an indicator. 

Outside of Newsome the Buckeyes will probably have to settle for someone, rather than get a futher starter. The most obvious guys to keep an eye on if this happens are Terrance Owens and Devontae Payne. Of the two it will probably be Owens that gets an offer first because of his speed and the fact he comes from Glenville. I really honestly could see Owens slipping in as one of the last commitments in this class if Newsome does indeed look elsewhere.

Filling up the scholarships:

Tressel and the staff have been great at filling the last few spots in classes with quality players. The staff was criticized for a lot of these players by fans, but many of them have turned out to be real stars. Guys like Donald Washington, Brian Robiskie, and Jermale Hines were late pick ups by the Buckeyes. So if the Buckeyes miss on some of the bigger names on their radar (which is a real possibility), who then gets the offered?

Well, first hopefully is cornerback Mike Edwards. The Glenville native has some incredible speed, and I really hope the staff offers soon rather than later. He already has offers from Michigan, Michigan State, and West Virginia just to name a few.

Outside of Edwards your guess is as good as mine. Last year no one thought guys like Zach Domicone or Orhian Johnson would ever be wearing scarlet and gray. So I can pretty much guarantee that someone will suprise us in the class!

 
 

Dave Thurman (1:15 pm)

What a strange year 2008 has been for the Buckeye faithful. As I look back over this past season, there are a number of things that rate as strange, shocking or absurd:

1) 10-2 with a historic, one sided victory over Michigan still being considered disappointing due to preseason rankings and expectations.

2) True-freshman Terrelle Pryor totally unseating 6th-year senior and returning all-Big Ten quarterback Todd Boeckman...and, receiving snaps from another true freshman, Mike Brewster.

3) Three games without a single offensive touchdown!

4) Struggling to score at home against weak teams such as Purdue and Ohio, but putting up over 40 on the road against decent teams like Michigan State and Northwestern.

5) Statistical oddities like: 272 yards of total offense against Ohio, 49 yards passing against Illinois; 10th in Big Ten in passing yards; 24 total sacks on the entire year (with only one coming from Lawerence Wilson, the tabbed replacement for Vern Gholston); and, 65 total rushing yards from Brandon Saine, considered a budding superstar at tailback.

6) Although a vertern unit averaged only 340 yards per game on offense (about 60 per game less than the '06 and '07 teams did during the regular season), suprisingly they committed less turnovers (only 13) and had less penalty yards (41.7 per game) than the pervious two squads. Go figure!

As Johnny Carson used to say, "That's weird, wacky stuff."

So, how can we summarize 2008, and what does it tell us about the future?

First of all, it ended up being a decent season when it could have been an unmitigated disaster. We saw a senior laden Michigan team basically tank it last year, at least until their bowl game when they won one for departing coach Lloyd Carr. After the USC humiliation, with media and fans totally down on the Buckeyes, and some players disgruntled with the quaterback change, this team could have lost 4-5 games. The win at Wisconsin was huge, and while the season was disappoiting in lieu of the lofty expectations, 10-2 with revenge against Illinois, and a fifth straight victory over "that school up north" can't be considered a terrible season. A share of the Big Ten title means four in a row, and that is not to be taken lightly.

While I believe we should have defeated Penn State, it may be a blessing in disguise that we didn't, because I don't think this team is ready to play a top 5 squad in a bowl game. What Buckeye Nation didn't need was another one-sided loss in a big BCS bowl game.

So, while the 2008 will not go down as one of Tressel's best, it proved again that good defense and special teams allow a team to stay in most every game and keep upsets at a minimum.

As far as the future: Although the bowl game may have some impact on 2009, I think we can get a pretty good idea about next season from looking back on the past 12 games. Actually next season should be very interesting as there will be a lot of young talent on the field. It may be one of the fastest Buckeye squads ever, and if a few key vacancies are filled, it could be an excellent team. However, a great deal rests on who calls next year's plays and whether or not Bollman is demoted or asked to leave altogether.

Later this week I'll take a look at a projected roster and a way-too-early prediction on next season's record. Before then, enjoy some turkey and mashed potatoes, lift up a word of thanks, and be glad you aren't a Michigan or Notre Dame fan!

 
 

Drew Thurman (9:19 pm)

Going into halftime the Buckeyes had a slim 14-7 lead, but the second half brought a much different outcome. After a huge defensive stop and two big runs by Beanie and Boom, the Buckeyes took at 21-7 lead and never looked back. The victory was the fifth straight for the Buckeyes against the Wolverines, something they had never before. There are a lot of things I noticed in the game, but here are a few:

Wolverine Killer: Playing great against Michigan ensures that you will go down in Buckeye history forever, and Beanie played great against "the school up north" for a third straight season. His 59 yard touchdown run not only got the Buckeyes going, but showed yet again that Beanie is a "Wolverine killer." He seems to have a big run against them every year, and that has to put a smile on your face.

Pryor's Performance: Pryor came out and threw one of the worst interceptions you will ever see. I give him credit though because he never gave up on the play, and without his tackle this game could have had a much different feel. Outside of that play Pryor's game was very hit or miss. He had some ugly throws and took some bad sacks, but overall made some crucial plays. For his game to go to the next level he needs to develop a intermediate passing game, and not just throwing it long. With that said, Pryor came away with his first win against Michigan.

Coaches vs. Players: What in the world was going on between the Michigan players and coaches on the sideline. In the first quarter during a Wolverine timeout, ABC caught the players screaming and getting in their coaches faces. This to me showed a real issue with Rich Rodriguez's leadership, and why they went 3-8. I know there was a new system in Ann Arbor, but the Wolverines didn't look like they respected the leadership!  

Here comes "The Boom": After a big touchdown run last week against the Illini, Boom Herron came up huge again this week. He had eight carries for 80 yards with two touchdowns, and had his coming out party in the biggest game of his young career. Everyone is talking about Jamaal Berry and Carlos Hyde coming in next year, but as Lee Corso would say, "not so fast my friend!" Herron is a serious talent who hits the hole as fast as anyone I have seen. The one criticism of him is that he could not break the long run, but that does not seem to be an issue any longer!

Hartline and Small: I along with many Buckeye fans have been very hard on these two young men this season. Hartline had been rumored to be a cancer in the locker room, and of course we all know the many troubles surrounding Ray Small. Both had great games on Saturday, and I was glad to see both guys were a big part of the team again. Especially for Ray Small, who I still feel can get his act together. It was great to see Chris Carter coaching and encouraging Small on the sideline, and I think that had a big part to play in Small's 110 punt return yards!

Boeckman and the seniors: Tressel and the coaches could not have scripted this game any better for the seniors. A ton of them got game action, but the story of the day had to be Todd Boeckman. He had 64 yards on three throws, the best being his pass to Brian Hartline for a touchdown. Boeckman has been a class act all the way this season, and I was glad to see he got his moment on senior day. He embodies what you want from a Buckeye player, and we all know he bleeds scarlet and gray!

 
 

Dave and Drew Thurman (12:54 pm)

Mascot: Wolverines

Stadium: Michigan Stadium (106,201)

Coach: Rich Rodriguez (16 years overall 108-70-2)

2007 Record: 9-4 (Defeated Florida 41-35 in Capitol One Bowl)

2008 Record: 3-8

Base Offense: Ace (3 wide receivers)

Base Defense: 4-3

Letterman: Returning - 45; Lost - 23

Returning Starters: Offense - 3; Defense - 7; Specialists - 2

Returning Stars: WR Greg Mathews; LB Obi Ezeh

Notable Alumni:

- Ann Coulter: Conservative political commentator and author
- Mike Wallace: Longtime host of 60 Minutes
- William James Mayo: Co-founder of Mayo Clinic
- Dan Dierdorf: Pro football hall of famer/ MNF Commentator
- Jim Abbot: One-handed MLB pitcher
- Gilda Radner: Actress best known for work on Saturday Night Live
- Edward Wright: Astronaut; first American to walk in space
- Michael Phelps: Olympic swimmer with 14 career gold medals
- Gerald Ford (Pictured Below): 38th President of the United States
- Theodore Kaczynski: The Unabomber

Michigan Overview:

Offense:

The Wolverine offense has struggled in almost everyway possible this season averaging just 21.5 points and 299 yards a game. What has hurt them the most though has been the passing game averaging just 148 yards per game. A lot of this has been the poor play the Wolverines have received from their quarterbacks. For the majority of the season that man was Steven Threet. On the season Threet has 1,105 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions, but this would obviously prove not to be enough for Michigan. 

Two games ago against Minnesota, sophomore Nick Sheridan became the starter at quarterback. Sheridan's numbers have been even less impressive (526 yards, 2 TD, 5 INT), but he did lead the Wolverines past the Gophers 29-6 with 206 passing yards and one touchdown. He will also be the starter when Michigan takes the field at Ohio Stadium on Saturday. Sheridan is only completing 48 percent of his passes, and his accuracy will have to improve if the Wolverines want a victory.

Due to the poor play at quarterback, the wideouts have been used a lot less than in normal years. With that said, they still have two very dangerous weapons for Sheridan to throw to. The first has to be junior Greg Mathews who is listed at 6-3, 207 pounds. Mathews has used that large frame to bring in 409 receiving yards and two touchdowns, which both lead the team. The other man to keep a close eye on is freshman Martavious Odoms. He leads the team with 44 receptions, and has 406 receiving yards. Besides these two young men, the Wolverines do not have many primary targets in the passing game. In this game you can almost guarantee they will use a lot of quick hitting passes and throw to the running backs a ton.

The running back position is also a very interesting one for the Wolverines. The two main ball carriers have been Sam McGuffie (486 yards, 3 TD) and Brandon Minor (466 yards, 8 TD). McGuffie who leads the team with 118 carries may not even play on Saturday though. In Rodriguez's press conference this week he made it clear the McGuffie may be missing Saturday due to a death in the family. Besides these two young men, the Wolverines also like to use Michael Shaw (174 yards, 0 TD) and Carlos Brown (119 yards, 0 TD). Brown actually picked up 23 of 26 rushing attempts on the season last week against Northwestern, and gained 115 yards in the game.

Defense:

The Michigan defense has not been any better than the offense for most of the season. They have given up more than 35 points five times this season, and opponents are averaging 27.7 points a game. They also have given up 362 yards a game, with 234 yards of that coming through the passing game. Yes, it has been a big struggle for the Wolverine secondary.

The man to watch on defense is linebacker Obi Ezeh. He has done a little bit of everything for Michigan this season with 96 total tackles, seven tackles for loss, and a interception. Besides him the only other guy to keep an eye on is junior defensive end Brandon Graham. He has caused all sorts of problems for opposing offensive linemen with 43 total tackles, 18 tackles for loss, and nine sacks.

How it will Go:

Throw the record book out, it is the Ohio State-Michigan game. Even with a 3-8 record overall, you better believe the Wolverines are going to come out with a lot of pride on Saturday. That kind of emotion though can end very suddenly if Ohio State comes out and puts together some quality drives.

On offense expect to see a lot of running. Typically Tressel comes out with a lot of new plays against Michigan, but this year is a little different. Tressel knows the Buckeyes are far superior in the trenches, and like many times this season he is going to use that to his advantage. Sure there will be a few new looks from the Buckeyes, but don't think the run will not come first against the Wolverines. With this established, expect some big throws down the field. Pryor could very easily have a game like he did against Northwestern where the big pass play is available. Robiskie, Hartline, and Sanzenbacher will all have their fair share of balls on Saturday.

On defense, the Buckeyes will probably shut down the passing game of the Wolverines. The Buckeyes back seven should have complete command against Sheridan and the wideouts. On the other hand, the Buckeyes could struggle with the rushing attack of Michigan. As they showed against Illinois, when spread out the defense can get gashed by quarterback reads and running back draws. The Buckeyes will have to adjust, but making the Wolverines one diminsional should help this.

Father vs. Son Prediction Battle:

Dave has it: Ohio State 27 Michigan 13
Drew has it: Ohio State 34 Michigan 14

 
 

Dave Thurman (2:23 pm)

The national media isn't too hyped about the OSU-Michigan game this year, and there will not be the kind of nationwide coverage or exposure we are used to, but there is still plenty of great reasons to tune in and be pumped about this contest. Since Ohio State is going for an unprecedented fifth straight win against "that school up north," I have chosen my Top 5 reasons to get excited about the 2008 edition of "the Game."

1) It is the greatest rivalry in sports: It doesn't matter where "The Game" is played, what time kick-off is scheduled, or how good the teams are perceived to be, the fact is when these two teams go at it you are watching the most storied rivalry in all of sports. But don't just take my word for it. In balloting conducted by ESPN.com, the annual Ohio State-Michigan football game was named as the greatest sports rivalry of the 20th century. That's right, better than Yankees-Red Sox, North Carolina-Duke, or Cowboys-Redskins. Count on hard hits, memorable plays, and all out effort when these two lace up the cleats!

2) Upsets happen!: I shutter as I write this since the Bucks will be huge favorites this year, but there have been some memorable upsets, just as you would expect in this kind of rivalry. Here's three that stick out in my mind:

- 1969: Michigan 24, Ohio State 12 - A year after winning the national title and riding a 22 game win streak the Buckeyes were confident and nobody gave Michigan much of a chance. However Bo got the best of his mentor this day which still ranks as one of the greatest upsets in Big Ten history.

- 1987: Ohio State 23, Michigan 20 - a 5-4-1 Buckeye squad came limping into Ann Arbor after three straight losses that cost Earl Bruce his job, but sent the head coach out with a suprise win.

- 2001: Ohio State 26, Michigan 20 - Jim Tressel's first team was given little chance of beating the 11th ranked Wolverines on their home turf, but just as JT has promised 310 days before in Value City Arena, the Scarlet and Gray made their fans proud with a big upset victory.

Anyways, realizing that the underdog often plays pver their heads in this rivalry, it is worth tuning in. 

3) A chance to see if we can stop the spread - even a bad spread!: I have yet to see Ohio State look good against the spread offense. In fact I was in Champaign on Saturday, and watched the Illini chew up huge chunks of turf, moving the ball easily most of the day. Thanks to turnovers and a blocked punt, the Bucks controlled the game, but once again, looked very shaky against the spread. Michigan doesn't have the athletes to run this offense well, but you still have to be a little nervous considering Heacock's track record against the spread.

4) A Big Ten title on the line: Lest we forget, this game gives the Bucks a chance to claim four straight Big 10 titles (two shared and two outright). That's nothing to sneeze at, and if you know anything about Ohio State football tradition, winning the Big Ten is always priority number one. That was true of Woody and Earl, and it's now true of Tressel. The ball has to bounce right to win a national championship, but a Big Ten title can be earned on the field, and that is what the Buckeyes are playing for this Saturday.

5) The chance to see Rodriguez get it handed to him: Be honest, you'd love to see "Dick Rod" humbled in his first appearance in this storied rivalry. Other than "Chuck Wagon" Charlie Weis, I can think of no coach I'd rather see on the opposite sideline at the end of a one-sided Buckeye victory. Considering Tressel's penchant for keeping blowouts from getting out of hand, and the fact that rivalry games are usually hard fought, I doubt this will be a lopsided contest, but we can wish, and tune in with the fervor of a small child on Christmas morning.

Anyways I can't wait for kickoff this Saturday at noon and whether the nation is watching or not, it's still "The Game," and there's nothing that compares with it anywhere else in the world!

 
 

Drew Thurman (8:07 pm)

Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes made the end of Lloyd Carr's coaching career pretty miserable. It would be nice to start Rich Rodriguez's Michigan career the same way. The Wolverine fans are already in dispair about the 3-8 season thus far, so let's hope the Buckeyes add some salt to those wounds. Go Bucks! Here are some highlights from last season:

 
 

Drew Thurman (12:56 pm)

The rain and snow didn't show up in Champaign as predicted, but the Buckeyes rushing attack sure did. The game was an old fashion Big Ten showdown that included cold weather, a loud crowd, and a lot of running. Here were a few of the things I saw:

Turnovers/ Mistakes: Illinois showed how turnover prone they are in yet another game this season. On the Illini's second drive Juice cough up a fumble that would get the Buckeyes going on offense. Later in the first quarter Malcolm Jenkins would block a punt that would lead to not only a safety, but a Buckeye scoring drive. The Illini then put together an impressive drive that would be stopped short by a Kurt Coleman interception on the 12 yard line. That interception led to another Buckeye touchdown, helping to open up a 23-7 lead. These three plays would be the turning point in the game that allowed the Buckeyes to play more conservative in the second half.

Running Frenzy: The Illini and Buckeyes combined for an amazing 519 rushing yards in the game. Dufrene, Williams, and Ford looked good for the Illini, but they were no match for Beanie and Pryor. Beanie had a solid 24 carries for 143 yards and a touchdown, and gave ESPN the highlight of the game when he leaped over an Illini defender. Pryor was also superb on the ground with 110 yards and a touchdown.

Referees: Somehow the refs keeping adding to the drama in these Big Ten games. There were several questionable spots and calls throughout the game going both ways. First, I was shocked they did not review Beanie's fumble. I am not sure the angles they gave on the television, but the one we got in the stadium made it look as if he was down. They also had a questionable personal foul call on the only pass Ohio State threw in the entire second half. That call kept the Buckeye drive alive, and helped produce the "boo birds" for the next eight or ten plays. The Illini fans were ticked!

Unlikely Heroes: The Buckeyes had a few guys that came up big on Saturday. The first had to be Tyler Moeller who replace the injured Jermale Hines. I was very worried about losing Hines because he is the best player the Buckeyes have against the spread, but Moeller looked very good in his absense. I am guessing he earns so more PT after that performance. The other man was Boom Herron. His statistics were not mind blowing because of some garbage carries late when they knew the Buckeyes were running, but I really like how quick he hit the hole. His touchdown run was a thing of beauty!  

Defense???: It was a very weird game for the Buckeye defense. Giving up 455 yards will give Tressel and Heacock something to chew the team out about, but I really was not to disappointed with the way they looked. First, they forced turnovers in key situations. Our defense in years past has been bad in the turnover department, but this defense has forced a ton of them this season. I also liked our strategy on Juice. Last year the defense sat back on its heels, but on Saturday they kept Juice off balance all day. They blitzed him a ton, and had Marcus Freeman spying him at linebacker. I still get frustrated with how the spread rips up the defense at times, but on Saturday they did enough for the victory.

Trenches: The Bucks beat the Illini in the trenches all day long. Neither of the lines have been spectacular this season, but the last four or five games they really have fought hard. The defensive line got lots of pressure on the quarterback, and the offensive line blocked well even when the Illini knew the run was coming (the whole 2nd half). I got to give these guys some props for fighting hard on Saturday!

MICHIGAN WEEK: As soon as Carmen Ohio was finished in the corner of Memorial Stadium everyone's focus headed to "The Game" this weekend. In fact a guy right in front of me said "It's officially Michigan week," as soon as he finished the O-hi-o. For many around the nation the Michigan-Ohio State game might not mean as much this season, but we as fans know it means just as much. It's time for "Dick Rod" and the boys to get beat down in the Horseshoe this Saturday!

Some Good Links:

Eleven Warriors- Hitting Rewind: Offense vs. Illinois

ESPN - Ohio State finds identity in final act

 
 

Dave and Drew Thurman (11:10 am)

Mascot: Fighting Illini

Stadium: Memorial Stadium (65,000)

Coach: Ron Zook (41-42; 5th year at Illinois, 18-28)

2007 Record: 9-4, lost Rose Bowl 49-17 to USC

2008 Record: 5-5 (3-3)

Base Offense: Ace (3 wide receivers)

Base Defense: 4-3

Lettermen: Returning - 44; Lost - 24

Returning Starters: Offense - 7; Defense - 6; Specialist - 1

Returning Stars: QB Juice Williams, CB Vontae Davis


Notable Alumni:

Rober Ebert - Film Critc
George Will - Columnist and author
Gene Hackman - Actor
Lou Boudreu - Hall of Fame baseball shortstop
Neal Doughty - Founding member of REO Speedwagon
Jesse Jackson - Civil rights leader (expelled before graduation)
Red Grange - Charter member of Pro Football Hall of Fame
Dick Butkus (Pictured below) - Hall of Fame linebacker

Illinois Overview:

Offense

After a Rose Bowl trip just a season ago, the Illini have struggled to put it all together this season. They have struggled to be consistent week in and week out, and this was very evident in last Saturday's lost to Western Michigan 23-17. Still though the Illini pose a much bigger threat than their 5-5 (3-3) record would show. Most of this comes because they are led by Juice Williams at quarterback. Williams defines what a dual-threat quarterback looks like, and has 2769 passing yards with 20 touchdowns along with 728 rushing yards and five touchdowns. For the past few seasons people have wanted Williams to show that he has a consistent arm to along with his running ability, and this season he is finally proving that with 276.9 passing yards a game. The only knock on him is that he like the Illini, is very turnover prone. Williams has 14 interceptions on the season, and in the two games he did not throw a pick the Illini won big.

Williams has several targets he likes to go to at the wideout position. His favorite wideout with out a doubt is sophomore sensation Arrelious Benn. He has an incredible 60 catches so far this season, which have led to 947 yards receiving with three touchdowns. The number of touchdown receptions might seem small in comaparison to his 60 catches, but that is because Williams has thrown touchdown passes to nine different receivers this season. Several of these young men will be important to watch on Saturday like Will Judson (401 yards, 2 TD), Jeff Cumberland (270 yards, 3 TD), and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (278 yards, 2 TD). All three of these targets have seen the ball in their hands a lot this season, but the Buckeyes might have to watch most for a wideout that goes under the radar. A.J. Jenkins only has eight receptions all season long, but he is averaging 29.9 yards per reception and has three touchdowns.

The rushing attack has been a real issue for the Illini all season. They lost Rashard Mendenhall to the NFL after last season, and replacing his 1681 yards and 17 touchdowns has been difficult. Daniel Dufrene has seen the most snaps at running back this season, and though he has 575 yards rushing this season, he has yet to find the endzone. A lot of this is becuase Dufrene is a speed runner rather than a power back, and becuase of that he now shares the backfield with two freshmen. Jason Ford (239 yards, 7 TD) and Mikel LeShoure (140 yards, 1 TD) will probably carry the load against the Buckeyes because unlike Dufrene they are both big physical runners. Neither has totally proven themselves yet, but with Juice Williams averaging 57.7 rushing yards per game there is still time.

Defense

Like a few positions on the offense, the Illini are really missing some key defensive players that left after last season. Lucky for this defense that their offensive unit has put up so many points because they are giving up 26.2 points a game with 351 total offensive yards per game. The Illini defense has been gashed in many ways, but nothing has hurt them more than through the air. They give up 210 yards a game passing, and have let opponents score 15 touchdowns through the air. On top of that, they have only been able to force five interceptions!

With all that said, they have been led by a very good linebacker. Brit Miller has stepped in nicely for J Lehmen at middle linebacker this season, and has 110 total tackles to go along with 15.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. He truely has done a little bit of everything for the Illini defense. The other three young men to keep your eye on are linebacker Martez Wilson (69 tackles, 5.5 TFL), cornerback Vontae Davis (64 tackles, 6 TFL, 3 FF), and defensive end David Lindquist (37 tackles, 4 sacks).  

How it will go:

The weather in Champaign on Saturday looks pretty ugly! There will be a high of 38 degrees with rain or snow showers to go along with some extremely windy conditions (21 mph). This could actually play into the Buckeyes hands because they have the better running attack and defense. So expect when Ohio State has the ball that they will try to run, run, and run so more. Tressel has shown that he wants to come out and pound it up the middle until it is obviously not working any more. Beanie and Boom should have their fair share of carries in this game. Also watch for Pryor to have a big day running. Many times in these bad conditions broken plays can lead to the biggest gains of the game. Two years ago Tressel played a very conservative game in Champaign, and if the weather is as bad as it look it will be, expect it again.

When Illinois has the ball obviously watch Juice. The weather might totally neutralize him throwing down the field, but the Buckeyes will still have to worry about him thowing short passes and running with the ball. The Illini's lack of a power rushing game really might come back to haunt them in this game. They will have to find inventive ways to continually move the ball because it does not appear as if they will be able to run up the middle on the Buckeyes. Turnovers should also play a big part in this game. Illinois has killed themselves with turnovers this season, and unlike last year in Columbus, expect a couple.

So get ready for bad weather, prepare for lots of defense, and anticipate an ugly game. The Illini play the Buckeyes tough every year, and it looks like that might happen again this season. This one is a battle the entire way...

Father vs. Son Prediction Battle:

Dave has it: Ohio State 24 Illinois 17

Drew has it: Ohio State 20 Illinois 10

 
 

Drew Thurman (8:33 am)

With the Illinois/Ohio State game approaching this Saturday, we wanted to get the opinion of an Illinois fan and blogger on what to expect. We caught up with Dan O'Brien of Illinoisloyalty.com, and this is what he had to say...

1) After a Rose Bowl trip last season, the Illini are 5-5 (3-3) this season. What do you feel has caused the step back?

"Inexperience at safety and linebacker (besides Miller), plus not-so-great play from the offensive line has not helped matters on the field when Illinois is consistently getting opponents' A-game this season.

That plus the 2008 Illini are not morning people. Illinois is 1-3 on 11:00 am kickoffs, the lone win coming at home against Louisiana Lafayette 20-17."

2) Who has impressed you the most on the Illinois team so far this season?

"Brit Miller has had a fantastic year, filling in for J Lehmen at the mike. Brit leads the conference in tackles per game (11.0), and is about the only guy on the D who has consistently shown up each game"

3) The Illini have played the Buckeyes tough under Zook, do you feel there is a reason for this?

"For some reason, the Buckeyes always get the Illini's best game in the recent history of the series (the Buckeyes hold a slight 12-11 advantage since 1983). The 3 games in Champaign this decade have all gone down to the final minute or gone to OT. I attribute this closeness to the historical interconnectedness of the two rivals, each being #2 on their list of most games played versus a team."

4) After the loss last weekend to Western Michigan, what do expect from the Illini on Saturday?

"A loss. See 11:00 am kickoff."

5) Who or what do you think the Buckeyes need to watch out for this weekend?

"I don't see Illinois running on the Buckeyes, so cover the receivers starting with Arrelious Benn, AJ Jenkins, Jeff Cumberland, and the big TE we call 'Uh Oh' because his full name is too tough to spell or pronounce. That, and blitz Juice."

6) Any other thoughts:

" Final Score: Ohio State 31 Illinois 24."