Buckeyes don't believe Illini have their number

Buckeyes don't believe Illini have their number

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Andrew Norwell has firsthand knowledge of Illinois' surprising success at Ohio Stadium over the past 20 or so years.

He vividly remembers one historic game in particular.

The year was 2007 and Norwell was in middle school. His brother Chris was a four-year starter on the defensive line for the Illini, who on that day sprung a stunning 28-21 upset on the top-ranked and unbeaten Buckeyes.

``I was here in orange and blue,'' Ohio State's starting left guard said. ``I was pretty fired up. I was sitting in the Illinois section. That last drive is what I remember most.''

Against a Buckeyes team that had dominated all season, the Illini, behind quarterback Isiah ``Juice'' Williams, played keep-away with the ball for the final 8:09 to hang on for the win.

Now the teams meet again. It might surprise many to know that Illinois has won three of the last five meetings in Ohio Stadium, and seven of 11 dating to 1988.

Even though Ohio State is again unbeaten and Illinois is struggling, the Illini have some history of playing over their heads in the Horseshoe. But Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer doesn't believe a team has another's ``number.''

``I don't really buy into that,'' he said.

Right now, the Illini are plumbing the depths of the Big Ten standings (2-6, 0-4) and Ohio State (9-0, 5-0) is alone atop the Leaders Division. Despite NCAA sanctions that prevent the Buckeyes from playing in the Big Ten title game or a bowl, they are still permitted to win their division and get a trophy. A win over the Illini, coupled with a Penn State loss at Purdue, and Ohio State will win a share of the division crown.

Even though the teams' current status would point to the game being a blowout - the Buckeyes are favored by 27.5 points - the ledger in recent years isn't nearly so definitive.

Ohio State has frequently spun its wheels against mediocre teams this season, saving its best for the strongest teams. Linebacker Zach Boren doesn't know why.

``If I knew the answer, in my career we wouldn't be 2-2 against Purdue and we wouldn't have our hands full against a team like Illinois,'' he said.

Over the 11 official games Illinois has played at Ohio Stadium since 1988, the Illini have beaten six ranked Ohio State teams, including three wins when Illinois was unranked and the Buckeyes were in the AP Top 25. In 1992, Illinois beat No. 21 Ohio State 18-16; in 1994, it was the Illini winning 24-10 over the 17th-ranked Buckeyes; and then there was the 2007 stunner.

A year ago, Illinois was 6-0 coming into the game at its Memorial Stadium against an Ohio State team that was 3-3 and on the way to a woeful 6-7 season. The Buckeyes won 17-7, starting the Illini on a six-game losing skid that resulted in coach Ron Zook losing his job. He was replaced by Tim Beckman, a former assistant to Meyer at Bowling Green and the head coach at Toledo the past three years.

Since that 2011 game, Ohio State has gone 12-4 and Illinois 3-12 with a 10-game Big Ten losing skid.

Meyer says Illinois won't slip up on his team.

``These players know Illinois,'' he said. ``They've won seven of 11 in Ohio Stadium, so I'll bring that up. But at the end of the day they'll look at me and say, `Move on, Coach, let's go.' The thing is us getting better.''

So Ohio State won't emphasize the big picture over the past two decades, but rather how things are going right now for both teams. And there's a clear divide from that perspective.

``They've struggled, obviously,'' Buckeyes cornerback Bradley Roby said. ``But any team can win any Saturday; you see it all the time. So you can't take anybody lightly.''


Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter:

Quick Links

Not everyone thinks the Redskins need to invest more at wide receiver

USA TODAY Sports Images

Not everyone thinks the Redskins need to invest more at wide receiver

While the rumors about the Redskins potentially trading for Marvin Jones from over the weekend were total nonsense, a reason they resonated so much with fans is because many believe Washington needs major help at wide receiver.

But during a segment of Monday's Redskins 100 show, analyst Trevor Matich assessed the position group and actually thinks that, as a whole, the team should be relatively pleased with the talent it has outside.

"I like it better than I have in recent years, especially if Paul Richardson stays healthy," Matich said.

His "especially" qualifier is a common one, and that's because Richardson is the most established wideout currently on the roster — and he still has just 1,564 career receiving yards to his name. However, a healthy Richardson (which the 'Skins never really saw in his first year, considering he got injured early in training camp and was never the same) provides Jay Gruden the field stretcher he loves to have.

Richardson isn't the only player Matich is anxious to see, though.

"Terry McLaurin, their draft choice from Ohio State, is legitimately a 4.3 guy," he said. "He gets deep down the field and catches the ball in space."

One of the biggest issues for the 2018 Redskins was a lack of speed at every single spot. In Richardson and McLaurin, the Burgundy and Gold now have a pair of pass catchers who can fly past corners, do damage 30-plus yards down the sideline and open things up for other targets as well.

Overall, in reacting to the Jones storyline, Matich really doesn't see a huge need for the organization to make any additions to that collection of pieces. 

"I think that when you take a look at all the other guys, Trey Quinn in the slot, things like that, this receiving corps is fine," he said. "It's not desperate. They don't need to invest resources to bring extra people in."

Now, is "fine" and "not desperate" the level the front office and coaches want their receivers to be? Of course not. But Matich's stance is intriguing, because he's content with who'll be lining up there while plenty of others absolutely don't see it that way and feel a trade would be prudent.

If you're in that second group, recent history indicates this is the dead zone for NFL deals. So try not to waste your time refreshing Twitter over and over and over.

Perhaps Washington gets to Richmond and, after a few weeks of practices and a couple of exhibition contests, realizes their depth chart could use another name. Or maybe an injury happens and forces their hand. But according to Matich, as of now, the offense can function with the parts it has in place.


Quick Links

Ryan Zimmerman is ready to rejoin Nationals, but in what capacity?

USA Today Sports Images

Ryan Zimmerman is ready to rejoin Nationals, but in what capacity?

Key for Ryan Zimmerman was the simplistic act of staying on his grumpy feet for nine innings. The idea had been elusive for weeks. Zimmerman last played a full baseball game on April 27. Plantar fasciitis sent him to this fate, and each time he progressed, an ache pulled him back.

Monday, Zimmerman played nine innings for Double-A Harrisburg. He picked up two hits, but more vital was the ability to play a full game his third time on the field in four days. Zimmerman played Friday and Saturday before taking Sunday off. Tuesday becomes decision day: is Zimmerman ready to join the team Wednesday or does he have to wait?

There's a benefit to waiting. Washington goes to Detroit for interleague play this weekend. That affords them a chance to use the designated hitter and a window to play both Howie Kendrick and Zimmerman throughout the series without greatly taxing either.

Bringing Zimmerman back sooner also has the benefit of putting his glove on the field and expanding bench options for manager Davey Martinez. The veteran can be protected in a rotation at first base. The Nationals have Brian Dozier hitting and fielding well. Kendrick hits line drives whenever he is in the lineup. Matt Adams provides a powerful matchup option. This is how things were supposed to work from the start of the season. But, they did not come to order until late June.

Zimmerman's injury has also decided the fate of his $18 million club option for next season. It has graduated from unlikely to no chance. Though, he appears open to coming back at a much lower price. Zimmerman's body has forced him into a position of being a part-time player only, at this stage. He said last week his body "felt great" outside of the plantar fasciitis issue in his foot. Don't be surprised if he and the Nationals work something out for one more season.

For now, the club has to decide when Zimmerman will be back on the field. If he felt good Tuesday following his rehabilitation game, he could be ready as soon as Wednesday. Which prompts another decision: Do they release spirit animal Gerardo Parra to make space? Would they entertain a change for Michael A. Taylor? Something has to give if Zimmerman is finally ready.