|Buckeyes, Illini both have something to play for|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 14 November 2008 13:17|
Iowa's upset of Penn State renewed Ohio State's hopes for winning the Big Ten and reaching the Rose Bowl.
``We were riding the bus home from the airport when the Iowa kicker kicked it through and you could see that peaked interest,'' Tressel said.
No. 10 Ohio State (8-2, 5-1) can earn a share of the Big Ten title and maybe even a Rose Bowl bid if it wins its last two games, starting Saturday against Illinois, a team that nearly knocked the Buckeyes out of national championship contention last season.
's up to us.''
A year after the Illini upset then-No. 1 Ohio State to earn a trip to the Rose Bowl, they don't have nearly as much to play for.
At 5-5 and 3-3 in the Big Ten, they're just hoping to get the sixth win that'll open the door to a bowl bid - any bowl bid.
``The best thing we can do is get ready to play a great football team that has a chip on their shoulder and they're going to come in here and we're going to get their best shot,'' Illinois coach Ron Zook said. ``There's no use feeling sorry for ourselves because no one cares. That's the nature of the game.''
The Illini started the season in the Top 25, but capped off a string of disappointments with last week's loss to the Mid-American Conference's Western Michigan.
Through those bad times, including losses to underdogs Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Illini have struggled to run the ball. They've rushed for more than 100 yards just twice in the past five games, going 2-3.
That's left Illinois' fate on the arm of junior quarterback Juice Williams, the Big Ten's top passer with 276.9 yards a game, 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
But Williams has been inconsistent. He's turned the ball over at the worst times and been inclined to force the ball into the hands of his top receiver, Aurrelious Benn.
``You go back and look at every interception and you say, `Why wasn't he accurate?' Sometimes he's not as accurate as you need to be,'' Zook said. ``But we have to do a better job protecting. It's hard to be accurate when you're getting the crap knocked out of you.''
Williams has been sacked 11 times in the past five games.
That kind of pressure, Buckeye linebacker James Laurinaitis said, is the key to containing Williams.
``If there's a guy like that, you've got to be relentless and you've got to be in hard pursuit and hopefully you can put some pressure on him,'' said Laurinaitis, Ohio State's leading tackler. ``If he has all day to throw, then it's going to be a long day for us.''
If the Ohio State defense can't stop Illinois' passing game, the weather might.
Champaign's Saturday forecast calls for wind, 35 degrees and a chance of snow flurries.
Illinois has run the ball by committee this season, using four different backs, none of whom has more than Williams' 577 yards (57.7 a game).
While Williams carries the running load for Illinois, his counterpart, Ohio State freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor supplements the work of running back Beanie Wells.
``They're not asking him to win the game,'' Zook said of Pryor. ``They're just letting him play. He's got obviously enough of a supporting cast that he's able to do that.''
Wells has 814 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
The Illini will count heavily on senior linebacker Brit Miller, the Big Ten's leading tackler with 110, to slow both Wells and Pryor.
A year ago, Williams and the Illini drained the last 8:09 off the clock with one drive that preserved Illinois' 28-21 lead and ended Ohio State's perfect season.
Laurinaitis remembers the frustration, the inability to make the one stop that would get the Buckeye defense off the field.
But he insists that drive and that loss don't give him any extra incentive this week.
``We remember what happened,'' he said. ``But it's over with, it's past. And we've moved on.''
Zook, on the other hand, wouldn't mind conjuring up a little of the magic of that improbable win in Columbus.
``Like I told our guys, it's not so unlike a year ago when there was not one person in the world who gave us the opportunity to win the game,'' Zook said. ``That doesn't mean we're going to win this week, but I think our guys will come out and play the way that we all want them to play.''
Associated Press sports writer Rusty Miller contributed to this report from Columbus, Ohio.