Ohio St.-Illinois Preview

After enjoying its most prolific scoring performance in 60

years, Ohio State knows the path toward a BCS title will get a

little tougher beginning Saturday.

That’s when the No. 2 Buckeyes head out on the road for the

first time this season with their Big Ten opener against

Illinois.

Ohio State (4-0) travels to Champaign following a 73-20 rout of

Eastern Michigan, the most points scored by the Buckeyes since an

83-21 victory over Iowa in 1950.

Terrelle Pryor had a hand in six of his team’s 10 touchdowns,

including a 20-yard reception from former high school teammate

Jordan Hall. Pryor also threw four TDs to Dane Sanzenbacher and

rushed for a 53-yard score.

Pryor was still in high school when the Buckeyes lost at home to

Illinois after starting 10-0 in 2007, but he likely remembers last

season’s 26-18 upset loss at Purdue which effectively ended the

team’s hopes of reaching the BCS championship game.

“It’s a whole different world when you go into conference play,”

coach Jim Tressel said. “It’s more heavyweight bout than it is a

style show.”

As they attempt to win a record-tying sixth consecutive Big Ten

title, the Buckeyes will face four of the Big Ten’s six teams that

are currently in the Top 25. Ohio State won six straight conference

crowns from 1972-77.

Their first fight will come against an Illinois team that’s

looking to relieve some pressure on beleaguered coach Ron Zook by

avoiding its third consecutive losing campaign.

The Illini (2-1) didn’t get that quest off to a strong start

with a 23-13 loss to Missouri in St. Louis but recorded consecutive

wins over a pair of in-state schools. After knocking off Southern

Illinois, they held on for a 28-22 win over Northern Illinois on

Sept. 18. NIU upset Minnesota this past week.

Under first-year defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, Illinois

(2-1) has given up 16.0 points per game after allowing an average

of 30.2 last season. Junior running back Mikel Leshoure has thrived

in new offensive coordinator’s Paul Petrino’s system by topping 100

yards in each game – including a season-best 180 against Northern

Illinois – and is seventh in rushing in the FBS (132.7 ypg).

“He’s really kind of matured,” said Zook, an Ohio native and

former defensive backs coach under John Cooper at Ohio State from

1989-90. “We saw it coming with him through spring football, this

summer. He had a great offseason. … He’s got the ability, we felt

like, to be a big-time back.”

Illinois, though, has lost seven in a row at home to Ohio State

since its last win in 1991. The Illini have also dropped seven

straight to ranked opponents since beating the Buckeyes, including

last season’s 30-0 defeat in Columbus.

The Buckeyes rushed for 236 yards in that game and had 305 on

the ground in their 30-20 victory at Illinois in 2008. Pryor ran

for 110 yards and a touchdown in that win, and was one of three

players with at least 50 yards in last season’s matchup.

Brandon Saine had a team-best 81, and Dan Herron had 75 yards

while scoring a pair of touchdowns. Their combined output nearly

matched Illinois’ 170 yards on offense.

In this game, the Illini could be without starting guard Hugh

Thornton, who was arrested this weekend following a fight at a bar.

The 19-year-old sophomore from Oberlin, Ohio, was not charged in

the fight but admitted to using someone’s else ID to get

inside.

Thornton is still practicing, but Zook has not decided if he

will play.

Champaign County attorney Julia Rietz has reportedly filed

paperwork to revoke Thornton’s court supervision from a 2009 arrest

for unlawful consumption of alcohol by a minor. Rietz said Thornton

could be sentenced to up to a year in jail for the earlier

misdemeanor offense.

Ohio State, which has won five of six overall against Illinois,

leads the series 62-30-4 and is 33-12 in Champaign.