After allowing 20 points or more in five of its first seven games, the No. 3-ranked Ohio State football team (9-0, 5-0) has buckled down in its last two contests, holding Penn State and Purdue to a combined 14 points.
OSU coach Urban Meyer said his defense has come a long way since the team’s 34-24 win over Iowa Oct. 19, the closest margin of victory the Buckeyes have held this season.
“The last few weeks is night and day (from) where it was earlier in the season,” Meyer said.
Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier said the young OSU defense contributed to the team get off to the slow start it did.
“We’ve just been working on our passing game a lot more lately. Everybody’s just starting to get on the same page,” Shazier said. “At first, we had a bunch of guys not used to working with each other.”
Sophomore defensive linemen Tommy Schutt said he doesn’t expect the defense to take any steps backward this weekend.
“We’re getting better every week, and it’s fun to watch us play right now,” Schutt said.
Although Illinois has yet to win a game in conference play, Meyer noted the Illini have been very close to pulling out wins in recent weeks.
Meyer said Illinois (3-6, 0-5) is “much better on offense” than earlier this season, and the unit should provide “a great test for (OSU’s defense).”
The Illini, who scored 35 points last Saturday against Indiana, are 24th in the FBS in passing yards per game (288.9).
Schutt said getting to Illinois redshirt-senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will be key to stopping the Illini’s passing attack.
“Every game, one of our goals is to have the quarterback under pressure, uncomfortable in the pocket and really disrupt his game,” Schutt said.
Meyer said although he isn’t afraid of the cold affecting his players, he has been checking the weather report for Saturday.
“We’re checking the wind in Champaign, Ill.,” Meyer said. “Wind and precipitation is something we always check.”
As of Wednesday night, the high for gameday at Memorial Stadium is predicted to be 58 degrees Fahrenheit with a low of 53 degrees Fahrenheit, a 50 percent chance of rain and winds at 17 mph, according to The Weather Channel.
Along with the weather elements, OSU has to adjust to a different time zone Saturday as well. The game is set to kick off in Champaign, Ill., at 11 a.m. local time, noon EST.
“We’ve got to get up an hour earlier than usual, so we got to get our mindset right,” junior quarterback Braxton Miller said.