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Ohio State Buckeyes keeping focus on Illinois with No. 8 Michigan State looming

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Senior tight end Jeff Heuerman (5), senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett (63) and senior linebacker Curtis Grant (14) emerge from the locker room for a game against Penn State  on Oct. 25 in State College, Pa. OSU won, 31-24, in double overtime.  Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

Senior tight end Jeff Heuerman (5), senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett (63) and senior linebacker Curtis Grant (14) emerge from the locker room for a game against Penn State on Oct. 25 in State College, Pa. OSU won, 31-24, in double overtime.
Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editor

There is a lot going on within the Ohio State football program .

Within 48 hours, OSU dismissed redshirt-senior running back Rod Smith for a violation of team rules and dropped in the first ever College Football Playoff rankings three spots from its Associated Press ranking. All this while preparing for a game against Illinois, without looking forward to its matchup against No. 8 Michigan State next week. 

But OSU coach Urban Meyer said Wednesday that he is not worried about motivating his players for the game against Big Ten bottom dweller Illinois (4-4, 1-3). 

“It depends who you are playing. If they are a really, really bad team or on video tape they are awful, then you’ve got to be creative and I’ve done that where we didn’t even show film. You just kinda chew them out or something like that and coach them real hard,” Meyer said. “This (Illinois) returner (junior cornerback V’Angelo Bentley) put it to us last year. The issue is not talent at Illinois. They have guys who can play and you can see that on videotape.”

Junior offensive lineman Taylor Decker said he has looked at that videotape and has been intrigued by what he saw. 

“Watching their film, I was very impressed with the athletes they have. They got good players all over the place. It’s definitely going to be a good challenge for us,” Decker said Wednesday. “They are just coming off a big win against Minnesota so they probably got some momentum going.”

The Fighting Illini pulled off the upset of the Golden Gophers, 28-24, Oct. 25 behind 177 total yards and two scores from backup senior quarterback Reilly O’Toole. 

O’Toole took over full time for injured sophomore starter Wes Lunt in a 38-27 loss to Purdue on Oct. 4 and earned praise from OSU junior defensive lineman Adolphus Washington, who said the Buckeye defense will have to worry about O’Toole’s dual threat abilities. 

“That quarterback is a lot more of a runner than the starter was for what I have heard,” Washington said. “We just got to contain him. I heard that he can run and throw the ball a little bit so just got to try and contain him and keep him in the pocket.”

Even with the preparations looming for Illinois, Washington added it is hard not to think about the matchup with the Spartans on the horizon Nov. 8. 

“We obviously worry about Michigan State but right now we just got to focus on Illinois,” he said.

Decker added that there should be no reason for the Buckeyes to look ahead because of how they performed against Penn State in their previous game.

“A lot of people probably thought we were going to in there and blow out Penn State and that didn’t happen,” Decker said. “We obviously have a lot to work on and I don’t think there is any chance you can look forward to a game when you have a lot to work on yourself.”

Decker said if the Buckeyes want to win, they cannot let what happened to the Golden Gophers happen to them.

“Minnesota is a good team, a really good team, and probably surprised some people this year coming out and playing like they have,” he said. “Illinois is coming off a big win against them, probably caught them sleeping. We don’t want the same thing to happen to us.”

Heading into the game against Illinois, their eighth of the season, the Buckeyes are ranked No. 16 in the first ever College Football Playoff rankings.

Meyer said he briefly addressed his team on the Buckeyes’ new ranking but added the goals OSU has set out to achieve are still achievable despite the lower ranking.

“The ultimate objective is to be competing for championships in November and when you look on the calendar, that’s really close to now,” Meyer said. “We had a little extra motivation for Wednesday practice in late October so I just talk about those kind of things.”

Washington said he wasn’t even aware of the rankings until Meyer talked to the team.

“I honestly didn’t watch it, I didn’t hear about it until coach Meyer said something about it,” Washington said. “He said as long as we keep doing what we are doing we will move up and everything will be fine.”

As for what most are calling the game of the year in the Big Ten looms, Decker said Illinois remains the top priority.

“There is no chance we could ever overlook anything because if we are looking forward to that (Michigan State game), and we lose this game, it doesn’t even matter,” he said.

The Buckeyes and Fighting Illini are scheduled to kickoff at 8 p.m. Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

 

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