Ohio State looks to win 22nd-straight game and wooden turtle as Buckeyes visit Illinois

On Saturday, No. 3 Ohio State travels to Champaign to take on Illinois. Kickoff at Memorial Stadium is scheduled for 12:00 noon ET, and the game will be televised on ESPN with Dave Pasch and Brian Griese in the booth and Tom Luginbill on the sidelines. As always, you can hear the contest on your radio dial all across Buckeyeland on the 64-station Ohio State IMG Sports Network with Paul Keels and Jim Lachey on the call.

Braxton Miller #5 of the Ohio State Buckeyes throws a pass downfield during the game against the Illinois Illini on November 3, 2012 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Miller had 226 passing yards against Illinois. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

Braxton Miller #5 of the Ohio State Buckeyes throws a pass downfield during the game against the Illinois Illini on November 3, 2012 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Miller had 226 passing yards against Illinois. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

The Buckeyes, who have won 21-straight games, are 9-0 overall and sit in first place of the Big Ten’s Leaders Divisions with a 5-0 record. The Fighting Illini enter Saturday’s game with an overall mark of 3-6, and are winless in five tries in conference action. Ohio State is currently third in the latest BCS standings and are also ranked third in both the Associated Press and USA Today top 25 college football polls. Illinois is not ranked.

According to SportsBettingOnline.ag, Ohio State is a 32-point favorite over Illinois, while Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor for The Sports Network is predicting that the Buckeyes will win 49-17.

Know the Foe:

After going 21-16 in three seasons at Toledo, Tim Beckman, a native of Berea, Ohio, was hired on December 9, 2011, by athletic director Mike Thomas and became the 23rd head coach in the history of Illinois football, replacing Ron Zook who was fired after seven years at the helm.

Prior to Illinois, Beckman led the Rockets to two bowl appearances and a Mid-American Conference West Division co-championship.

Beckman engineered an impressive turnaround at Toledo in his three years after inheriting a team that went 3-9 in 2008. The Rockets improved to 5-7 in 2009 before going 8-5 with a 7-1 record in the MAC and a berth in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2010. Toledo posted an 8-4 record in 2011, including another 7-1 MAC record, a share of the MAC West Division title and a berth in the Military Bowl. In his last two seasons, Beckman compiled a 14-2 record in MAC games, second best in the conference over that span.

But after a dreadful season where the Illini garnered just two victories and went winless in the Big Ten in 2012, things are still very bleak in Champaign.

Senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase leads the Big Ten and ranks in the top 25 nationally in completions per game (22.1) and passing yards per game (268.9). He also ranks second in the conference and 23rd nationally in total offense (285.7 ypg). On the year, Scheelhaase has completed 65.2 percent (199-305) of his passes for 2,420 yards with 15 TDs and eight INTs.

In Illinois’ 52-35 loss to Indiana last Saturday, Scheelhaase had a career-high 495 yards of total offense that included the third-best total in school history with 450 yards through the air.

Senior wide receiver Steve Hull, who spent the last three years as a starting safety, exploded for 224 yards receiving at Indiana. It was the second-best single-game total in school history and made him one of only three players in UI history to record 200-plus receiving yards in a game. For the season, Hull has 28 receptions for 564 yards and three touchdowns as the Illini’s top wideout.

Toting the rock, sophomore running back Josh Ferguson 485 yards on 92 carries and four TDs, while junior Donovann Young 330 yards on 79 attempts and three scores.

From the other side of the line of scrimmage, senior weakside linebacker Johnathan Browns leads the Illini with 88 total tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, and has one of the two interceptions recorded by the Illinois’ defense this season.

The Illibuck, a carved wooden turtle that serves as the trophy awarded to the winner of the Ohio State-Illinois game.

The Illibuck, a carved wooden turtle that serves as the trophy awarded to the winner of the Ohio State-Illinois game.

Scouting the Buckeyes:

Ohio State is led by junior quarterback Braxton Miller, who has thrown for 1,316 yards on 108-of-149 (72.5%) passing with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions in six-plus games. He’s also third on the team in rushing with 410 yards on 87 carries and two scores.

Carrying the mail, senior Carlos Hyde has gained 701 yards on 96 attempts with seven rushing touchdowns. Senior Jordan Hall is second with 79 carries for 519 yards and eight TDs.

The Buckeyes’ top two wide receivers are senior Philly Brown with 41 receptions for 547 yards and seven touchdowns, and junior Devin Smith, who has 38 catches for 542 yards and six TDs.

Defensively, junior linebacker Ryan Shazier leads the team with 73 total tackles and 12.0 tackles for loss. Junior linebacker Curtis Grant is second on Ohio State’s roster with 48 stops. Sophomore defensive end Noah Spence has a team-leading 6.0 sacks. Junior cornerback Doran Grant tops the roster with three interceptions.

Inside the Numbers:

Ohio State leads the Big Ten in scoring offense (48.2 ppg), total offense (530.9 ypg), and rushing offense (301.1 ypg). The Buckeyes are fifth in passing offense (229.8 ypg). Defensively, OSU is third in the Big Ten in scoring defense (17.0 ppg) and total defense (311.7 ypg), second in rushing defense (88.2 ypg), and sixth in pass defense (223.4 ypg).

Illinois is sixth in the conference is scoring offense (29.7 ppg) and total offense (425.3 ypg). The Illini are second in the Big Ten in passing offense (288.9 ypg), but just 10th in rushing offense (136.4). But Illinois has struggled on defense, giving up 34.7 points (10th in B1G) and 482.7 yards per game (11th in B1G).

Prediction: Ohio State 56, Illinois 10.