On Wednesday evening, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett told reporters he would play on Saturday barring any big setback. Barrett sprained the MCL in his left knee during the second quarter of the Penn State game, but stayed in and helped the Buckeyes pull out a tough victory.
In doing so, Barrett earned mad respect from coach Urban Meyer, who after the game gave the quarterback special praise. There’s no doubt Barrett is a leader. He handles his business quietly and when situations become tough, he finds a way to make big plays for his team.
What will be interesting is how the coaching staff plans for Saturday’s game against Illinois. For starters, Illinois doesn’t have a formidable defense, as they are currently No. 112 in the FBS in total defense. This means the Buckeyes should be able to use their versatility to dominate the game. If they do this, they should reduce the likelihood Barrett will have to run to make plays.
Saturday’s game will be a unique balancing act because on one hand they need Barrett to receive as many reps as he can. This will help the offense build momentum; momentum they will need when they travel to East Lansing next week. On the other hand, it’s important they protect him from taking too many shots, as they need a healthy Barrett for Michigan State.
3 Things for Illinois
Illinois will enter this game on Saturday coming off their best victory of the season, as they beat Minnesota 28-24. That victory gives the Fighting Illini a huge boost of confidence they can use to try to pull the upset.
While the defense hasn’t been terrific, their passing offense hasn’t been bad, as they average 284 yards per game. Senior Reilly O’Toole has come on strong in his last two games where he’s thrown three touchdown passes and zero interceptions against Wisconsin and Minnesota. One thing that bodes well for Ohio State is that Illinois doesn’t have a consistent rushing attack. Therefore, if they can limit that, it should allow the Buckeyes to play more aggressively and force pressure on O’Toole.
Meanwhile, Ezekiel Elliott could have a huge performance against an Illinois defense that gives up 258 rushing yards per game. Coincidentally, all three of Ohio State’s top rushing performances: Eddie George (314; 1995), Keith Byers (274; 1984), Carlos Hyde (246; 2013), came against Illinois. Therefore, Elliott could earn his way onto this list with a big performance.
Lastly, how Ohio State starts this game will be a big indication as to whether they are looking ahead to Michigan State. If they come out fired up to play and take the game to Illinois, it shows this team has the right perspective and they should handle business.