Lessons from No. 3 Ohio State’s 60-35 road victory over Illinois on Saturday that kept the Buckeyes undefeated and tied the school record with their 22nd win in a row.
The defense needs healthy bodies: A lack of depth even at full strength has made it obvious from the start of the season that the defense didn’t have much of a safety net. In case proof was needed, the Buckeyes showed how little margin for error they have as injuries hit every level of the unit and Illinois strung together a handful of productive drives to put up 28 points and at least hang around deep into the second half. Linebackers Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry both missed the entire game, defensive end Joey Bosa had a breakout performance cut short by an injury and steadying safety Christian Bryant was already out thanks to his season-ending broken ankle, and Ohio State clearly suffered with so many backups forced into prominent roles. It needs to get healthy with another prolific offense on tap next week with Indiana coming to the Horseshoe.
Stick with what works: Whether it was the windy conditions, the absence of Jack Mewhort at times to hamper the pass protection or just an off day for quarterback Braxton Miller, throwing the football just wasn’t going to be a consistent answer for the Buckeyes. And while they certainly adjusted in the second half and put the game away with a ruthless rushing attack, if anything they didn’t feature Carlos Hyde and Miller enough on the ground. Perhaps that sounds a bit crazy considering the duo combined for 430 yards on 40 carries, but Illinois was helpless to slow them down with overwhelmed personnel, and Ohio State might have done even more damage just by focusing on what was working all along. Either way, the spread offense still rolled up 60 points, so Urban Meyer can surely live with the plan of attack.
Distractions will keep providing a challenge: The fight against complacency never stops, and Meyer might have some fresh evidence to show his team on film how important it is to stay locked in on the task at hand. He was clearly upset heading to the locker room at halftime about some missed opportunities on offense, a breakdown on special teams and a couple blown assignments on defense, and the Buckeyes didn’t exactly step on the throat of Illinois until late in the fourth quarter. The weather wasn’t great, the Illini were always going to be overmatched and the focus on style points has added pressure to blow out every opponent -- but the noise and scrutiny surrounding the Buckeyes isn’t going to go away. Meyer will undoubtedly be stressing the need for sharpened focus moving forward with just two games left in the regular season before a likely date in the Big Ten championship.