A grade card on Ohio State’s 28-3 win over Illinois before moving on to the two biggest games of the regular season against Michigan State this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Ohio Stadium and at Michigan the following Saturday at noon.
Ohio State and Ezekiel Elliott both always seem to start slowly. So far, no harm, no foul. But it could come back to bite the Buckeyes against a really good opponent.
OSU has scored on its first possession of the game only twice in 10 games this season. And something like Elliott finishing with 181 yards and getting 134 of those yards in the second half against Illinois has happened several times.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett was under pressure almost all day against Illinois. He hit 15 of 23 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown. But he had two turnovers – an interception when his arm was hit and a fumble. He also ran for 74 yards on 16 carries.
Michael Thomas had another outstanding catch for a touchdown. But with every game it becomes more apparent he is Ohio State’s only consistent threat at receiver with Noah Brown and Corey Smith out for the season with broken legs.
The offensive line blocked well enough in the running game but left something to be desired in pass protection.
A month ago, Ohio State’s defense was explaining why it couldn’t stop opponents from running the ball after allowing 169 yards, 176 yards and 253 yards on the ground against Western Michigan, Indiana and Maryland.
Apparently the Buckeyes have gotten that fixed. Illinois had 20 yards rushing and last week Minnesota gained only 33 yards rushing. OSU had 11 tackles for losses against Illinois, including three by Joey Bosa and two by Raekwon McMillan, who had 14 total tackles.
Even when Illinois did get into OSU territory, the Buckeyes shut them down. The Illini were inside Ohio State’s 30-yard line four times but got only a field goal out of it.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C+
It was business as usual for punter Cameron Johnston, which was good. It also was business as usual for Ohio State’s field goal kickers. And that was not so good.
Sean Nuernberger, who was OSU’s field goal kicker last season, replaced Jack Willoughby on Saturday. In his first action of the season, he missed a 24-yard attempt, the fourth miss in the last five field goal attempts by Ohio State kickers.
Trying to win a game with a field goal probably isn’t something Ohio State’s coaches want to think about right now.
Ohio State was good, not great against Illinois. After going up 7-0, five of the Buckeyes’ next six possessions ended with four punts and a fumble.
While it converted a fourth down and 11 yards to go situation, it was only 4 of 13 on third down conversions. It will have to do better than those numbers against Michigan State and Michigan.
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