Final Word: Bob Davie impressed
Last time BOB DAVIE saw Illinois before Saturday, it went pretty well for RON ZOOK's team.
The former Notre Dame coach was part of the broadcast team that called last November's Illinois-Northwestern game at Wrigley Field. You might remember MIKEL LESHOURE setting a school record with 330 rushing yards in an Illinois romp.
Davie is back for Illinois-Ohio State, working in the booth with BOB WISCHUSEN and HEATHER COX. Though he hasn't been able to watch the Illini in person, Davie has been impressed with what he has seen on tape.
"I'm a little surprised, in a pleasant way, how well they're playing on defense is the first thing that jumps out," Davie said. "I knew they had lost some impact guys from last season defensively. They have really done a good job. I was really impressed watching them against Arizona State, in particular. VIC KOENNING has done a good job. You can tell they are comfortable in their scheme."
On offense, Davie sees a greater emphasis on passing. And it's working.
"I really liked NATHAN SCHEELHAASE last year," Davie said. "But it looks to me like he has improved in the passing game. He seems to have a quicker release."
Davie said the Texas Bowl win against Baylor kick- started the 2011 Illinois season.
"When you have a young team and you go through some growing pains, then you finish the season on a positive, that's tremendous momentum," Davie said. "There's a quarterback who went through some bumps and the team went through some bumps. But they hung in there and they finished really strong. I think that sets you up. You don't take anything for granted. You know how quickly it can turn if you don't play well because you've been through the negatives. Yet, you realize how good you can be if you do play well. I think you get the best of both worlds."
Ohio State has followed bowl success (winning in New Orleans against Arkansas) with a .500 start in 2011. Of course, there has been plenty of off-the-field turmoil, including the dismissal of coach JIM TRESSEL and the unexpected departure of quarterback TERRELLE PRYOR.
Illinois is the undefeated team, not the Buckeyes.
"Illinois certainly doesn't have to apologize for it, but they've had a very good schedule," Davie said. "That's why I'm sure they look at this game just like people on the outside look at this game. This one's about credibility. Even though it's Ohio State at 3-3 and Ohio State is fragile.
"I live out here in Phoenix. If you tell somebody you're doing the Ohio State-Illinois game this weekend, they still expect Ohio State to win. I think that's what Illinois is fighting right now. They have a great opportunity. The strength of schedule and all that stuff goes behind you if they beat Ohio State."
Ohio State has the talent to win, Davie said. But the Buckeyes surprised him defensively when they couldn't stop Nebraska in the second half last Saturday.
"They just caved in on defense after BRAXTON MILLER got hurt," Davie said. "They're good on defense, but they're young on defense, too. That showed against Nebraska when the quarterback went down."
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The Ohio State travel party arrived at Memorial Stadium at 3:40 Friday afternoon. The team was about 30 minutes early after the short flight from Columbus and spent about 15 minutes in the building. The Buckeyes spent Friday night at Urbana's Holiday Inn.
Ohio State coach LUKE FICKELL went 2-0 at Memorial Stadium as a player, including a 48-0 win his senior season in 1996.
"It's a little warmer than I can ever remember," Fickell said. "A lot of great memories. A lot of great games. There have been some battles here in the last few years."
The Buckeyes will play without backup cornerback DOMINIC CLARKE, who was suspended for a violation of team rules.
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Former Illini great DANA HOWARD, who once guaranteed a win against Ohio State and delivered, was a popular speaker at Friday's Quarterback Club luncheon in Champaign.
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Representatives from the Capital One Bowl will be at the game.
The Orlando, Fla., bowl, scheduled for Jan. 2, gets the first pick of Big Ten schools after the BCS teams are determined. The Capital One matches the Big Ten school against a team from the SEC.
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A ring ceremony for the defending Big Ten champion Illinois baseball team will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center in Urbana. The team also will be recognized at Memorial Stadium during one of the early timeouts.