Never sleep on Illinois' passing game
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio State learned a lesson in not preparing for every possible offensive attack it would face when the team traveled to Iowa City.
The players and coaches are not about to let another slip-up happen again.
Tuesday, following practice, Damon Webb was asked what he saw from the Fighting Illini offense and how he felt the Buckeyes matched up. Even though Illinois is ranked seventh in the Big Ten and sit 89th in the nation in yards passing per game (194.3), Webb felt confident in saying there is no reason to believe Lovie Smith's team is not a threat through the air.
"We see a lot of talent on their offense," Webb said. "Their o-line is pretty young. I know their receiver No. 4 is pretty talented and they've got a big, talented tight end. So, they've got some talent on offense. But we're going to be ready."
The wide receiver Webb is referred to is Ricky Smalling, a 6-foot-1 freshman from Chicago. He is leading the team in both receptions and yards, making him the clear-cut go-to target for Illinois.
As for the tight end, the Fighting Illini have had great success with Louis Dorsey, another freshman who has led Illinois to this point in yards per reception and touchdowns. Although the talent aspect of Saturday's game clearly leans towards Ohio State, the presence of two young playmakers on the offense will be a key factor in the game plan this week for the Buckeyes.
After being torched by the tight end position against Iowa, Dorsey will undoubtedly be one of the primary focuses for the Ohio State linebackers and secondary. Defensive coordinator Greg Schiano liked what he saw last weekend from his linebacking group, but was reluctant to say all issues within the group in terms of coverage and missed tackles have been resolved, as well as other defensive mistakes.
"I thought we played good, solid football," Schiano said. "We have a long way to go to be what we what envision ourselves being. I thought (for) some guys who hadn't played a ton to step in and do that (start), that was important. Moving forward, we have to make improvement(s) this week. Not only at linebacker, but at every position."
Ohio State's secondary could be without one of its key contributors this week, as Damon Arnette missed a large chunk of the game against Michigan State after needing assistance off the field. He was later carted to the locker room, but Urban Meyer announced there were no structural issues with his No. 2 corner and he was instead dealing with a thigh bruise.
Schiano did not make any definite statements in regards to Arnette's availability for the Illinois game, even though Meyer gave a "probable" designation Monday.
"He's doing stuff (in practice)," Schiano said. "It's up to doctors, what he can and cannot do. He's doing stuff, so hopefully (he can play)."
An aspect of Illinois as a team that is making game preparation difficult this week is the constant merry-go-round the quarterback position has gone through this season. Smith did not know which of his quarterbacks — Jeff George Jr., Chayce Crouch or Cam Thomas — will be starting Saturday.
Even more frustrating for Ohio State is the fact all three quarterbacks possess very different qualities.
"They have two quarterbacks ... they've actually played three. They have two that are uniquely different," Schiano said. "One is a drop-back passer (George Jr.) and one is a very mobile, athletic quarterback who can also pass (Thomas). I don't know who's going to play.
Thomas has been bothered by an injury, which kept him out of Illinois last contest, but he might be available to play against Ohio State. In order to account for the speed Ohio State might face, Schiano said Tate Martell has been taking some scout team snaps, since he is the most mobile quarterback on the Buckeyes' roster.
Although Martell is the more similar quarterback to Thomas, Schiano also said there is another quarterback who has been working against the Ohio State defense, but did not specify which one.
Regardless of which quarterback is under center Saturday, Ohio State is treating Illinois like any other Big Ten opponent. Even though the stats do not necessarily convey a stout passing attack, the Buckeyes' defense is not taking another chance on having an embarrassment like Iowa.