1. Will there be any letdown for Ohio State?
This looked before the season like a potential trap game with the Buckeyes coming off an evening game at Penn State and a week off lurking behind the game against Illinois.
The odds of Ohio State losing focus certainly seem to have grown with the type of season the Fighting Illini are having. At 2-6 overall and winless in the Big Ten, Illinois has lost five in a row. All of their defeats are by at least 14 points, and head coach Tim Beckman’s team has given up at least 31 in every game of the losing streak.
Meanwhile, the 9-0 Buckeyes have already shown a tendency to play up or down to their competition this season despite their perfect record.
2. Can Illinois force the Buckeyes to go to the air?
Ohio State enters the game second in the Big Ten and 21st in the nation in scoring (38.6 points per game), but the Buckeyes are a relatively one-dimensional offense at this point. While head coach Urban Meyer’s spread has cranked out 247.9 yards per game on the ground (second in the Big Ten and 10th nationally), the passing game has lagged at 183.9 (ninth and 102nd, respectively).
A smattering of long pass plays has helped the efficiency rating of 134.2 check in at fifth in the Big Ten and 57th nationally, but there is no doubt the Buckeyes are easier to stop by air than by land.
Defensively, Illinois has been better against the run than the pass so far in 2012.
3. Will either quarterback get into a rhythm?
To that end, both quarterbacks have had ups and downs throwing the ball this season.
Ohio State’s Braxton Miller is 112 for 198 passing (56.6 percent) for 1,527 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions while Nathan Scheelhaase of Illinois is 84 for 137 (61.3 percent) for 839 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions. He missed two games because of injury and has rarely appeared comfortable in the new spread offense being installed in Champaign.
Both quarterbacks are threats on the ground, particularly Miller. The Buckeyes’ sophomore signal caller enters the game leading the Big Ten in rushing (121.4 yards per game) and total offense (291.1 ypg.). Scheelhaase’s rushing numbers (26.8 yards per game) are pedestrian, but he has been hurt by a struggling offensive line.
4. Can Ohio State make it through a game without a special teams error?
Special teams are supposed to be Meyer’s baby, but they have left him frowning more than smiling so far this season.
Penn State’s blocked punt last week was the third of this season and the second to lead directly to a touchdown.
Even when Ben Buchanan manages to get a punt off, Meyer has not been thrilled with the results as the team ranks only 88th in the nation and ninth in the Big Ten with a net punting average of 35.5 yards.
The kickoff team was making the coaches proud early in the season, but it is decimated by injuries and gave up a 100-yarder for a touchdown two weeks ago.
On the bright side, Ohio State has blocked two punts, two point-after kicks and a field goal. On top of that, Illinois’ kick return and punt return units are among the worst in the nation.
5. Will Ohio State take care of the ball?
Illinois’ best chance to score an upset would seem to be by winning the turnover battle.
Ohio State is sixth in the Big Ten and tied for 62nd in turnover margin, but the Buckeyes saw just two weeks ago how turnovers can turn a game when they had four against heavy underdog Purdue the last time they played at Ohio Stadium.
The bad news for the Fighting Illini is they have been much worse in this department. Illinois is tied for last in the Big Ten and 120th in the country in giveaways with 20. On top of that, Illinois opponents have scored on 14 (or 70 percent) of those turnovers.
The Buckeyes and Illini are nearly even in takeaways with 15 and 14, respectively.