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Buckeyes entertain Illinois

November 2, 2012
By SETH STASKEY - Buckeye Blitz ( , Times Leader

The Ohio State Buckeyes just keep on keeping on.

As the calendar turns to November and the season heads for the homestretch, the Buckeyes find themselves as one of only a handful of undefeated teams in America and the only team in the country with nine victories to its credit.

As Urban Meyer has pointed out all season, the best thing about his Buckeyes being 9-0 is they have the chance to go 10-0 this week and are a heavy favorite to do so as they prepare to play their next-to-last home game of the season against struggling Illinois and rookie head coach Tim Beckman, who worked under Meyer at Bowling Green State University.

Though the Illini have struggled to a 2-6 record and 0-4 mark in the Big Ten, motivation or over confidence won't be an issue for the Buckeyes.

"These players know Illinois," Meyer said during his weekly press conference. "Illinois has had more draft picks than Ohio State the last few years and certainly more first rounders. They've won seven of 11 in Ohio Stadium, so I'll certainly bring that up. But, the thing is about us getting better. There's no issue getting these guys ready. We have a lot of respect for Illinois."

After Saturday's game, the Buckeyes get their much-needed and only bye week of the season. The players will practice through much of the week, but head home on the weekend and the coaches will hit the road recruiting.

The Buckeyes return home this week after going to State College last weekend and posting a hard-earned 35-23 victory in which they overcame a sluggish offense in the first half, but received arguably their best defensive performance for the entire season.

"Overall, it was a very good team win," Meyer said. "It was probably, actually not probably, it was our best team win we've had. It was in a very tough situation, our defense continues to improve."

The Buckeyes' defense has been much maligned this season and it even got to the point where Meyer openly said after the win at Indiana that he would get more involved with the defensive meetings during the course of the week.

Injuries have taken a toll to the point where Zach Boren was shifted to linebacker, but as guys' health continues to improve, he's played well enough to where he isn't going to return to fullback just yet.

"We've been much better fundamentally, tackling and leveraging the ball," Meyer said. "We blitzed more (against Penn State). We had more pressure and we played more man coverage than we have all year. So, that's telling us something that we need to do more of that."

The Buckeyes bent several times, but didn't break. Ryan Shazier turned in a brilliant performance as he wore No. 48 to honor a high school friend who passed away from muscular dystrophy earlier this year. Shazier stepped in front of a Matt McGloin pass and returned it for a touchdown. All told, he had eight tackles, three assists, two tackles for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble and the score.

In the way Meyer and the defensive staff grades the tape, that equaled out to a champions' performance and co-player of the game honors along with sophomore defensive back Bradley Robey, who continues to make big plays on the perimeter.

While the defense hung in long enough, the Ohio State offense continues to persevere and eventually break a few plays.

Sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller started and played the entire game even after leaving the overtime win against Purdue with a neck injury. He practiced all week and was highly productive again. He even had one of the most exciting 1-yard touchdown runs you'll ever find when he stutter-stepped a Nittany Lions' defender and then dove over the goal line.

Miller ran for better than 100 yards again and is now standing at 1,093 yards and 12 touchdowns for the season as he continues to etch his name into the Heisman Trophy discussion. He's thrown for 1,527 yards and 12 more touchdowns.

Miller turned it on in the second half last week, which was especially pleasing for Meyer to see.

"I saw a much more confident player (in the second half)," Meyer said. "I think it was a rather traumatic experience he went through to get back out there. He just progressed the entire week."

The former Huber Heights Wayne standout has been so good that Meyer even disclosed this week that he believes Miller is a legitimate Heisman candidate for this season and not next year when many believe he could be the pre-season favorite for college football's most prolific award.

"Do I believe (Miller) is a Heisman candidate? I do. I didn't say that before," Meyer said. "But, I do believe he's a Heisman candidate. He has to play much better. However, from just a sheer production standpoint from a team that's 9-0, it puts him in that category, and that's without knowing all of the other candidates."

The Buckeyes' also received sparkling play last week from Jake Stoneburner and junior running back Carlos Hyde and sophomore Rod Smith continue to play well in the absence of Jordan Hall.

Hyde has ran for 600 yards and 10 touchdowns. Stoneburner caught a 72-yard touchdown last week and Meyer believes he's playing the best he's ever played in his time at OSU.

The Buckeyes won the game despite Philly Brown not catching a pass and Devin Smith's biggest impact came on special teams with the punt coverage unit where he graded out a champion.

With just three games to play, the talk is certainly picking up of an undefeated season, but there are so many moments in games where the Buckeyes look nothing more than medicore, but they just keep finding a way.

"I try to live in the moment," Meyer said. "We better fight our tails off or we'll lose the game. When you're dealing with 18, 19 and 20 year olds, momentum is everything. You don't look past this week and we're not playing for next year. We're trying to get as many wins as we can. This whole thing is about getting win number 10."



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