Illinois looks to carry the confidence from two straight victories into its home game against a seemingly vulnerable No. 3 Ohio State on Saturday.
Illinois (2-3 Big Ten and overall) forced five Nebraska turnovers in a 41-23 Illini win last Saturday to improve to 7-2 in the past two seasons when winning the turnover margin, and coach Lovie Smith sees an opportunity to measure his team against the Buckeyes (4-0, 4-0).
"We played our best ball the last time out, and we're are excited about playing one of the best teams in college football," he said Monday. "We set the bar last week. Let's see where we can go from here."
Ohio State looked shaky Saturday against Indiana, almost giving up a 28-point, third-quarter lead before prevailing 42-35.
Indiana's relentless blitzing pressured Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields into throwing his first three interceptions of the season, doubling his career total in two seasons with the Buckeyes and sacking him five times.
"We certainly could have put him in some better spots coaching-wise," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. "He also could have made some better decisions throwing the ball away in danger."
Of concern for the Buckeyes is their inability to close out games. On Nov. 7 they led Rutgers 35-3 at halftime but were outscored 24-14 in the second half for a 49-27 win.
The Hoosiers trailed 35-7 three minutes into the third quarter but rallied with Michael Penix Jr. shredding the unproven Ohio State secondary for 491 passing yards and five touchdowns, including four plays of 50-plus yards.
"The glaring issue was the big plays, and this defense was designed not to give up big plays," Day said Tuesday. "The issues are correctable."
Illinois likely will try a different route to defeat the Buckeyes for the first time in 10 tries.
Quarterback Brandon Peters returned from missing three games due to testing positive for COVID-19 and was 18 for 25 for 205 yards and a touchdown but also ran for a score as part of the Illini's 285 rushing yards and four TDs on the ground against Nebraska.
"Brandon played well, played good football, and that's what we expected from him," Smith said.
The Illini average 222.4 rushing yards per game, second in the Big Ten to the Buckeyes' 233.3 average.
"They have two extremely good backs. They both run very hard. The offensive line, they move well," Ohio State linebacker Tuf Borland said. "They have different schemes we don't see every day, so we have our work cut out for us."
Chase Brown (26 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown) surpassed 100 yards for the second straight game, and Mike Epstein tied his career rushing high with 113 yards, but getting yardage might be harder because Ohio State yielded minus-1 yard rushing on 16 carries by the Hoosiers.
Ohio State will counter with Master Teague III, who rushed for a career-high 169 yards on 26 attempts vs. the Hoosiers.
--Field Level Media
--Field Level Media