Illinois Defense Presents Major Challenge for OSU Offensive Line
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State’s all-American senior Michael Brewster has had some tough games in his four-year career as the starting center.
There were quite a few of them his freshman year, and losses to Purdue (2009) and Michigan State (2011) come to mind, but none of them compare to last season’s trip to Champaign, Ill.
Boom Herron had a big game against Illinois last year.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The Buckeyes won the game thanks to some late heroics from Terrelle Pryor and Boom Herron, but it was a rough showing by Brewster and the offensive line.
“It was definitely the worst game I’ve ever played in my career, along with some other guys on the line,” Brewster said this week.
“We’re just using that as fuel, being a lot more prepared for the stuff I’m going to see.”
Brewster and the Buckeyes struggled to pick up Illinois’ late movement up front and it led to all kinds of miscommunication for Ohio State. They allowed only three sacks, but Pryor was intercepted twice and the Buckeyes led only 14-10 heading into the fourth quarter.
“I don’t think I was really prepared last year for what they were doing,” Brewster said.
“But this time I won’t be caught off guard and I’ll be ready to go.”
Fighting Illini Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning is considered one of the nation's top defensive coaches. In his first season at Illinois, Ron Zook’s team improved 53 spots in total defense and 48 spots in scoring defense.
They finished second in the Big Ten in sacks a year ago and fourth in rushing defense despite the fact they were a 6-6 football team. Now that they are undefeated at 6-0 and ranked No. 16 in the country, the Illini are even better.
Not only do they lead the Big Ten in sacks, but their 22 are the most by any team in the country through six games.
“They have a lot movement, blitzes. They always have some big athletic guys across the board,” Brewster said.
“We’re just really game planning and getting ready for all the different looks we could see.”
The Illini lost first-round draft pick Corey Liuget to the NFL, but junior defensive end Whitney Mercilus leads the nation in sacks (8.5) this season. He is second nationally in sacks per game (1.42) after racking up a career-high three sacks against Indiana.
He is also fifth in the country in tackles for loss (10.5) and tied for second with four forced fumbles this season. The Buckeyes will counter with all-Big Ten left tackle Mike Adams, who returned last week after sitting out the first five games of the season.
“It was great having Mike back. It really was like a piece to the puzzle we were missing,” Brewster said of his classmate and fellow senior.
“Being able to move the two younger guys between the three of us seniors was big and I think it really showed.”
The Buckeyes controlled Nebraska’s defensive line for most of the game, and the Cornhuskers even moved Jared Crick to the other side to get him away from Adams. That didn’t work either, as right tackle J.B. Shugarts held his own before Crick left the game with a torn pectoral muscle.
“I felt like we were prepared and we came ready to go and we were coming off the ball hard and doing well in pass protection,” Brewster said.
“The biggest thing is we can’t have a great game (last week) and have a letdown this week. We have to build off it and if we can continue to play at that level we give our team a chance to win.”
Ohio State’s offense has struggled through much of the early season. They had trouble moving the ball in their loss to Miami (Fla.), but both Toledo and Michigan State seemed to give the Buckeyes trouble up front.
Illinois is similar in some of the things they do. They like to bring pressure like the Spartans and they move people around the way the Rockets did, but they also do some of their own unique things defensively.
“They do some other things, but nothing too crazy we haven’t seen,” Brewster said.
“The biggest thing is just getting prepared for it. On certain plays, maybe without a call if they hit it on the run, just having guys be able to react. That’s what we were working on today. I think we’re going to be prepared for it and it really just comes down to execution.”
Outside of DeVier Posey, the Buckeyes will finally have their full arsenal of weapons available for the tip to Champaign.
They get tailback Boom Herron and offensive lineman Marcus Hall back from suspension this week, but they face a team that ranks among the best in the Big Ten in both total offense and total defense this season.
“We know we have another road game, another big game,” Brewster said.
“Illinois is undefeated so we know we have to bring our A-game.”
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