No. 3 Ohio State goes on the road to face revitalized Illini

No. 3 Ohio State (4-0, 4-0 Big Ten, No. 4 CFP) at Illinois (2-3, 2-3), Saturday at noon EST (FS1).

Line: Ohio State by 28.

Series record: Ohio State leads 68–30–4.

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Ohio State is putting up the points as expected but has shown some worrying vulnerability in closing out games. Last week, the Buckeyes had a comfortable four-touchdown lead early in the second half and had to survive an Indiana comeback to escape with a 42-35 win. In their previous game, the Buckeyes allowed Rutgers to score 24 in the second half. Meanwhile, the Illini have won two straight.

KEY MATCHUP

Illinois’ running backs vs. Ohio State’s defense. Backs Mike Epstein and Chase Brown each had more than 100 rushing yards last week, together accounting for 223 yards and three TDs. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes defense shut down Indiana’s running game, holding three Hoosiers backs to a combined 20 yards and zero touchdowns. However, the unit has been more vulnerable against the pass.

DAY SIDELINED

On Friday, the Buckeyes announced that head coach Ryan Day had tested postitive for COVID-19 and would not travel to Illinois for the game. Assistant head coach/defensive line coach Larry Johnson will serve as interim coach.

“I have spoken with Coach Day, and he is doing well physically,” athletic director Gene Smith said. “Our team wants to play this game, and we’re going to do everything we can to help make this happen. All of the decisions on the welfare of our student-athletes and staff members will continue to be guided by our medical staff.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ohio State: WR Garrett Wilson has 100-plus receiving yards in each of the first four games. Last week against Indiana, the sophomore caught seven for 169 yards and two touchdowns. He’s averaging 16 1/2 yards per catch.

Illinois: QB Brandon Peters threw for one touchdown and ran for another in his first game in nearly a month because of COVID-19. He was 18 of 25 for 205 yards and threw to seven different receivers.

FACTS & FIGURES

Ohio State has won the last eight games in the series. … The teams are playing for the Illibuck Trophy, the carved wooden turtle that has been awarded to the winner of the Ohio State/Illinois game since 1925. … Ohio State’s Justin Fields is fourth in the nation in quarterback efficiency. … Illinois’ defense had five takeaways at Nebraska (three interceptions, two fumbles). … The Illini started four different quarterbacks in their first four games. … Illinois LB Jake Hansen is one of the three players in the country with multiple interceptions, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. … Illinois leads the Big Ten in rushing yards (1,112) and ranks second in rushing yards per game (222.4), behind Ohio State (233.3). … Buckeyes RB Master Teague III is averaging 95 rushing yards per game and had 100-yard efforts against Penn State and Indiana. … The Illini are second in the nation in both turnover margin (+2.0) and fumble recoveries (10). … Peters and TE Griffin Moore were both sidelined for 21 days following positive COVID-19 tests on Oct. 29.

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