The 2011 season has been nothing short of a severe disappointment for the Ohio State Buckeyes, one that fans would soon like to forget.
For everything that happened off the field, Ohio State has been almost equally as bad on the field, ranking near the bottom of the nation in almost every offensive category. The Buckeyes are only averaging about 24 points and 315 total yards of offense per game, numbers that are going to have to significantly improve if they are going to be able to beat conference foe Illinois on their home turf.
Illinois, conversely, is having a heck of a season right now. They are led by sophomore sensation quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, one of the best and most underrated dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. Scheelhaase ignited the Fighting Illini last season and has taken on a leadership role with guys like Mikel LeShoure and Corey Liuget moved on to the NFL.
He has also proven that he is more than just a scrambler, and has built some kind of chemistry with senior wide receiver A.J. Jenkins, who is an emerging NFL wide receiver prospect. Jenkins and Scheelhaase have hooked up 46 times already this season for 815 yards and a whopping seven touchdowns.
Scheelhaase has 14 total touchdowns this season, and is proving that he can dominate opposing defenses. His team is ranked 16th in the country and undefeated as a result, and even though Ohio State is 3-3 this season, beating the Buckeyes is always a quality notch on your belt.
If Ohio State is going to beat Illinois, they are going to have to overcome the home crowd behind the play of freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, who is back after being injured a week ago.
Miller's play is going to be absolutely key, because unless he is in the lineup, the Buckeyes' offense is extremely limited.
He's going to have to have a big game because the Illinois defense is playing lights out right now, only allowing 17.8 points per game with a 21 game streak of forcing a turnover, the longest in the country.
Head coach Luke Fickell talked about the team's debacle against Nebraska and what they had to do to avoid another incident like that:
"We've got to get a few stops on defense," coach Luke Fickell said. "That's what it comes down to. We've just got to do a better job. I'm sure there are lessons out there. We've got to figure out what they are and grow from them. That's part of football, part of life."
One piece of good news? The Buckeyes are getting back running back Daniel "Boom" Herron this week, and according to ESPN Stats, Ohio State is 18-1 when Herron runs for more than 55 yards.
Herron rushed for 1,555 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, production that has been sorely missed even with the solid performance of Carlos Hyde, who has 400 yards and five touchdowns so far this year.
This will be a tough game for the Buckeyes, but with Herron back and Braxton Miller healthy enough to play, they might be a dark-horse upset candidate on the road against a solid Illinois team.