The Buckeyes are coming off the hardest-fought win of their season so far against formerly 9th-ranked Indiana. That’s in the rearview mirror.
On the road ahead is the Buckeyes yearly contest with the Wolverines, set for Dec. 12 (with an away game against the Spartans in East Lansing Dec. 5). Even though the team from the state up north has disappointed across the board this season, anything can happen during rivalry week.
There’s no science behind it, but these are the ingredients of a trap game if I’ve ever seen one.
On paper, the Buckeyes should be able to handle Lovie Smith and the 2-3 Illini. They’re currently 28.5-point favorites–although this is down from 30 points earlier in the week. But with a big game behind them and another highly-anticipated matchup brewing in the near future, will they be able to maintain the focus required to play up to their potential, especially during a holiday week? Only time will tell.
Buckeyes head coach Ryan Day stressed how unique the season is and, ultimately, the kind of impact it could have on his players.
“They’re not playing in front of 100,000 people; they’re not getting to see their families after the games; they’re not getting that instant feedback. That matters. It just does,” he said during a Nov. 24 press conference.
To beat Illinois this weekend, the Buckeyes will have to work to minimize the big plays their defense has been giving up, Day stressed.
“One of the glaring issues were the big plays, and one of the things about this defense is it’s designed to avoid big plays. So if we can get back to that, and really the idea of this defense, to make you work your way down the field,” he said.
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The Ohio State coach also noted that the team has had some difficulty in closing out games–they were up by three touchdowns late in the fourth quarter against the Hoosiers and couldn’t find a way to put the game out of reach–and discussed how that might be addressed this week, should the Buckeyes get out to a big lead against the Illini.
“I think anytime you can get your guys reps it makes us stronger, so you definitely want to get those [younger players] in there [in games where the Buckeyes hold a large lead late], but you don’t want to put anything at risk,” Day said. “This year there’s just so many crazy things that have gone on, we’ve been a little more hesitant there, and for good reason. Because we didn’t really close the teams the last couple weeks like we wanted to.”