The Ohio State Buckeyes will host the Illinois Fighting Illini this weekend in the final game at Ohio Stadium this season. The Bucks haven’t lost to Illinois since 2007 when Juice Williams came to Columbus and defeated then #1 Ohio State. It’s safe to say times have changed for the 2-8 Illini. Here are six players who will make an impact on this game:
Mike Weber, Running Back
Now that’s the Mike Weber we all remember from last year.
Last week against Michigan State, Mike Weber rushed for 162 yards on nine carries with a pair of touchdowns, in what was by far his most productive game of the season. After overcoming early-season injuries, Weber showed a burst last weekend that fans haven’t seen in a long time. In a game that should be well in hand by half time, look for Mike Weber to take advantage of the carries he’ll get early on.
Jeff George, Jr., Quarterback
The sophomore QB from Indianapolis is still looking to get in the win column as a starter this year.
Junior Chayce Crouch began the season atop the depth chart at QB for the Illini before being supplanted by George, Jr. Freshman Cam Thomas, who’s a dual-threat quarterback, is likely going to miss the game due to a concussion. That leaves Jeff George, Jr. as the guy at the helm of the offense. In parts of seven games this season, George, Jr. has thrown for over 1,200 yards with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He’s coming off a 261 yard, two-TD game against Indiana a week ago, so look for Jeff George, Jr. to keep flinging it around this weekend.
Nick Bosa, Defensive End
Nick Bosa’s going to wreak havoc this weekend against Illinois.
Against a quarterback who’s shown the propensity to throw interceptions, don’t be surprised if the Ohio State defense cranks up the pressure to try to force a few mistakes. Bosa leads the team in sacks and tackles for loss, and is top-ten in the Big Ten in both categories as well. Against the 13th ranked offense in the conference, expect Nick Bosa to have another great game.
Ricky Smalling, Receiver
Despite only averaging 2.8 receptions per game, Ricky Smalling makes the most of his limited opportunities.
Smalling has racked up 488 yards on the year, which leads all Illini receivers. He ranks second in the Big Ten in average reception with 17.43 yards per catch this season. The freshman has only found the endzone twice this year, but with a reception in every game but his first, expect Ricky Smalling to make a big play or two in the Horseshoe this Saturday.
J.T. Barrett, Quarterback
Although the Buckeye running game now seems to be getting the attention it deserves, this offense still runs through J.T. Barrett.
Ohio State fans got to see Barrett get his season back on the right track against sub-par competition earlier this year. This weekend’s game against Illinois is a rare late-season opportunity to do that again. Although last week’s matchup with the Spartans went about as good as it could for the Buckeyes, J.T. Barrett threw two more interceptions, making it six in his last two games. The Illini rank 10th in the Big Ten in interceptions, so hopefully Barrett gets his act together in preparation for his team’s visit to Ann Arbor next weekend.
James Crawford, Defensive End
On a defense that ranks 12th in the Big Ten in points allowed, James Crawford stands out.
Senior defensive end James Crawford has registered four sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss through seven games this season. He’s tied for first in the conference and seventh nationally in forced fumbles, so don’t be surprised if you hear Crawford’s name called on the telecast if Buckeye ball-carriers are being careless with the football on Saturday.