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Five storylines: Illinois at Ohio State

11/1/2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A look at the hot topics and pressing concerns as Ohio State prepares for a visit from struggling Illinois on Saturday (TV: ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET).

On the line: The Buckeyes are pushing for an undefeated season, have complete control of the Leaders Division and could clinch the only trophy Big Ten trophy they are eligible for as early as this week. The Illini are just trying to get a win in conference play and shift the attention away from the buyout figures in coach Tim Beckman's contract in his first year with the program. Obviously, the motivations are a bit different heading into the weekend, and Ohio State will enter it with much more to play for and more talent.

Losing formula: The Illini are last in the league in both scoring offense and defense, the worst possible combination a team could have and about as clear an explanation for their struggles as there could be. Neither area figures to improve much with the high-powered Ohio State offense rolling through with more weapons around quarterback Braxton Miller and its defense getting healthier while coming off two of its best outings of the season. With a bye week looming and a chance to finally focus again on some fundamentals with younger players, the Buckeyes are surely hoping for an opportunity to get a few freshmen more involved in the game.

Passing fancy: A few more plays were added to an already long highlight reel with the win over Penn State, but there were also some troubling things on film of Miller in his return after a trip to the hospital that have had coach Urban Meyer's attention. The sophomore completed just 7 of his 19 attempts and threw 1 interception against the Nittany Lions. He was wildly inaccurate with a few of those balls, which has had Meyer looking for opportunities to go back to the basics and clean up some technical issues with his delivery -- a process that always starts with footwork. The Buckeyes figure to have no problem rushing the ball against the Illini, but odds are they will be putting Miller in position to show improvement and build his confidence through the air.

Rude guests: The Illini don't traditionally have much success at home in the historic series with the Buckeyes, but they've been known to cause a few problems at Ohio Stadium. Illinois has won seven of the last 11 games in the Horseshoe and actually has a better winning percentage as a visitor (.408) than as the host (.260) heading into the 99th meeting between the programs, including a victory in 2007 when the Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Air patrol: The Illini haven't been particularly effective at rushing the ball or throwing it, though they've had more success with the latter. The problem for Beckman's offense? While it is picking up nearly 185 yards per game through the air, that approach has also come with 10 interceptions -- and nobody in the Big Ten has nabbed more passes than Ohio State's defense. The Illini might need to come up with a different plan of attack, particularly with cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Travis Howard more than living up to their preseason goal of forming the best tandem in the league.