Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
No James Laurinaitis? No Malcolm Jenkins? No problem for Ohio State's defense, which is showing that it reloads better than any single unit in the Big Ten year in and year out. The Buckeyes bullied USC's heralded offensive line during their Sept. 12 meeting and held the Trojans' offense in check most of the way. Ohio State followed up with a shutout of Toledo, which had scored 85 points in its first two games. Ohio State has risen to 24th nationally in points allowed (15 points per game) and 31st in total defense (288.3 yards per game).
The unit faces a tough test Saturday against Illinois, which has its full complement of weapons back and comes off a bye week. Senior linebacker Austin Spitler checked in to discuss the Buckeyes' progress and the challenges ahead.
Everyone talked about who you guys lost from last year's team. For yourself and other guys who were around and who are now in major roles game after game, are you feeling more comfortable?
Austin Spitler: We knew after last year we were going to lose a lot of big-name guys. Our defensive motto -- the seniors came up with it -- is, "No blame, no names, no worries." We knew coming into it those guys were gone and people had to step up. Guys have really taken off with that.
Is the motto relating to how sometimes star players leave and people want to assign blame if there's a drop-off?
AS: Without a doubt. The seniors sat down with the coaches and decided that fit our thoughts.
What's your take on Illinois so far? They lost Arrelious Benn for their first game, didn't have Juice [Williams] for their second game. Are they hard to scout because they haven't been together yet?
AS: We have a lot of film on them. These guys on their offense have been around for a long time now, so we've played them in the past couple years and we understand they have a lot of talent. They've ran the ball on us the past couple years, so we want to try and make them one-dimensional. We have a huge test this week because of all the athletes they do have on that offense.
Do you even watch tape from the 2007 game?
AS: We watch the '07 tape as well because you've got to think they're going to come back to what worked in '07 when they beat us. That's our thought process.
I know Illinois considers this a big rivalry. You guys obviously have Michigan, Penn State and some others. Where does this game rank as far as rivalries for Ohio State?
AS: With the whole Illibuck trophy deal, they came in and talked to us and I guess this used to be Ohio State's No. 1 rivalry before Michigan. I don't know if we consider it so much of a rivalry now, but just a big game because of what's happened in the past. It's been a hard-fought battle the last couple of years.
Are you guys aware of the history here? They've been the only team that has had some consistent success in Columbus, winning seven of the last 10 games there.
AS: Yeah, it's crazy. We looked at the stats today and in the past 20 years, 85 percent of the time the visitor has won the game, which is pretty crazy. It's a real statistic that we have to be aware of, but it doesn't matter if you go out and make stuff happen.
Juice mentioned the other day how he sees similarities between himself and Terrelle [Pryor] with some of the things they've dealt with: starting as freshmen, dealing with criticism, being highly recruited, style of play. As a defensive player, do you notice any similarities there?
AS: Yeah. Both have that dual threat, which makes it hard to defend. You want to make them one-dimensional, but they're great athletes and they can make plays happen. They're different players, but at the same time, they offer a lot of the same threats.
After the USC game, as a defense, was it important that you guys didn't get too down? You really did your job for most of that game.
AS: Our defensive coaches talked to us and we felt like we played good, not great. Obviously, we gave up more points, so we looked at it in that aspect and decided if we had done better, we would have won the game. I feel we've taken steps with the Toledo game. We're heading in the right direction.