We asked Cleveland.com beat writer and Salt Fork alum Nathan Baird for his thoughts on the Buckeyes going into Saturday’s Illinois-Ohio State game at Memorial Stadium.
Was the comeback by Indiana more a credit to the Hoosiers or a sign of trouble?
I hate to give you the cop-out answer, but both. Ohio State kept bringing pressure, and Michael Penix stepped up and made some tough throws. Ty Fryfogle is a legit playmaker and IU did a good job setting up its weapons going back to the first half and playing off some of those concepts after halftime. Having said that, OSU experienced several breakdowns, either miscommunications when passing receivers off for help or just blowing one-on-one coverages. OSU came into the season with limited veteran personnel options in the secondary but may soon have to try some younger players.
How has the team played compared to what you thought it would look like?
I expected the offense to be explosive, and OSU has actually exceeded those expectations. I won’t say no one can cover Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, but no one is doing it consistently right now. Prior to the Indiana game, Justin Fields had been almost perfect. I had questions about the back end of the defense in particular, and those questions have either lingered or been magnified. Shaun Wade was tremendous as the starting slot corner last season and is still adapting to an outside spot. OSU has some problems right now at safety and slot cornerback and only a few weeks to get them corrected.
Who is one under the radar Ohio State player Illinois fans should keep an eye?
I’ll give you two at the same position. Starting defensive tackles Tommy Togiai (nose) and Haskell Garrett (3 technique) have both been tremendous as first-time starters. They create a lot of interior pressure in passing situations and are the foundation of a run defense that has been better than I expected. Ohio State graduated three defensive tackles last season and two of them were NFL draft picks. I expected their absence to be noticeable, and thanks to Togiai and Garrett, that has not happened.
After two lackluster second halves — though the Rutgers trick-play bonanza was not really indicative of a trend — Ohio State likely comes into this game feeling the need to make a statement. You also cannot beat OSU with mediocre QB play, regardless of how well you think you can run the ball. I expect something in the neighborhood of OSU 51, Illinois 13.