COLUMBUS OH - SEPTEMBER 25: Ross Homan #51 of the Ohio State Buckeyes tackles Dwayne Priest #22 of the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Ohio Stadium on September 25 2010 in Columbus Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Brandon Saine, Terrelle Pryor, and The Zooker are three of the five things to watch for when the Bucks take on the Illini.
1. The first road game. The Buckeyes are 2-1 in their first road games over the past three years, with the lone loss coming against USC in 2008. Obviously, the opponent is less difficult this weekend, but how a group of 18, 19, 20, and 21 year olds react to their first road experience of the year is still never predictable. From the flight into Champagne, Illinois, to the one hour time zone difference, to the night spent in a foreign hotel, the protocol is very much different than a typical home game. As an experienced group, the Buckeyes should not have as much trouble adapting to the new schedule, but the new experience is a good barometer for just how mature the team really is.
2. Where in the world is Brandon Saine? With Boom Herron's continued consistency and the young duo of Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry breathing on his back, Saine's role in this offense might be changing. He only received 3 carries last weekend against Eastern Michigan, and is looking to get back on track against the Illini. In last year's game between Ohio State and Illinois, Saine led the team with 81 yards on 13 carries, so there's certainly a history of success against the Illini to fall back on. His ability to catch passes and his tremendous straight line speed will always keep him as as a viable part of the offense, but the days of carrying the ball 15-20 times a game may be over.
3. The Zooker. Ron Zook's successful alter ego, The Zooker is a powerful force to be reckoned with when you are a highly ranked team. Ohio State fans need only look back to 2007 to recognize the baffling way in which Ron Zook works, earning victories where his teams seem highly outmatched, and generally frustrating anyone who has any vested interested in anything remotely impacted by The Zooker. Of course, Zook combines this incredible ability to defy the natural laws of college football with a tendency to lose to a MAC school the following week.
4. Illinois' Pistol Formation. While new offensive coordinator Paul Petrino does not use the Pistol formation as his entire offense, he has sprinkled it in here and there as an addendum to the Illini offensive structure. Look for a heavy dose of it this weekend as the Illini attempt to compensate for the athletic difference between the two teams. Young quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase resembles Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick- the maestro of Chris Ault's Nevada Pistol offense- and the option game is a way for an offense to bridge the athletic gap between themselves and a defense. For a look at what Illinois likes to do with the Pistol, see here.
5. Terrelle Pryor. Of course, no preview would be complete with a mention of the progress of Terrelle Pryor. Going into the Illinois game last season, he was struggling to complete even 50% of his passes. This year, he is completing 66.4% of his passes and he is only 61 yards away from reaching 1,000 passing yards on the season. How long did it take him to reach 1,000 last year? Week 7, against Purdue.