Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Pick
Ohio State Buckeyes (4-0 SU, 2-2 ATS) vs. Illinois Fighting Illini (2-3 SU, 3-2 ATS)
When: Saturday, November 28, Noon
Where: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Ill.
Point Spread: OHST -28/ILL +28 (Bovada - BEST live betting platform online! 50% real cash bonus! Rebates on ALL your bets! FAST hassle-free payouts!)
Total: O/U 70.5
The road to Indianapolis couldn’t be more simple for Ohio State now that the Buckeyes have survived nearly throwing away their lead in the Big Ten East. The Buckeyes had both the win and the cover well in hand against Indiana but forgot to show up for the fourth quarter and let the Hoosiers back into the game, only barely surviving when Indiana couldn’t even the score on its final drive. But outside of that nearly-fatal fourth quarter, Ohio State has looked dominant all season long, and the reality is that with Michigan State and Michigan (the Buckeyes’ two remaining opponents after this game) looking like they want to do anything but play football in 2020, Illinois might actually be the BEST opponent left on the Buckeyes’ schedule until the conference title game.
That’s faint praise for the Illini, who are at least moving in the right direction. Illinois started the year with two disastrous losses and a credible effort in defeat against Purdue, but the Illini really picked up their play over the past two weeks in wins over Rutgers and Nebraska. However, there’s a far cry between facing those teams and facing the likes of Ohio State, which has looked virtually unbeatable for most of the season. That’s especially been the case when the Buckeyes have made the trip to Champaign, which has been their home away from home in this “rivalry.” The last time Illinois actually beat Ohio State in Champaign was 1991, a streak of 11 consecutive times that the Buckeyes have come to eastern Illinois and left with the wooden turtle trophy known as Illibuck.
How the Public is Betting the Ohio State/Illinois Game
The public is going to jump on Ohio State no matter how high the line is, as 61 percent of tickets have come in on the Buckeyes. But sharps seem a bit spooked by Ohio State nearly letting Indiana steal a win last week, as they’ve backed the Illini enough to push the line down from +28.5 to +28. The total, however, has only risen, jumping from 68 to 70.5.
Cornerback Cameron Brown (Achilles) and safety Kourt Williams (knee) are out for the season. Quarterback Daniel Vanatsky (undisclosed), defensive tackle Jaden McKenzie (undisclosed), cornerback Lejon Cavazos (knee), wide receiver Alec Taylor (undisclosed), defensive lineman Jacolbe Cowan (undisclosed), long snapper Roen McCullough (undisclosed), linebacker Tommy Eichenberg (undisclosed), wide receiver Jaylen Harris (undisclosed), tight end Patrick Gurd (undisclosed), kicker Blake Haubeil (groin), cornerback Lloyd McFarquhar (undisclosed), running back Marcus Crowley (undisclosed), tight end Jake Hausmann (undisclosed) and defensive end Tyreke Smith (undisclosed) are questionable.
Defensive back Khmari Thompson is ineligible. Wide receiver Trevon Sidney (leg) is out indefinitely. Linebacker Milo Eifler (undisclosed), defensive lineman Marc Mondesir (undisclosed), offensive lineman Alex Palczewski (leg), offensive lineman Moses Okpala (illness), quarterback Matt Robinson (lower body), and offensive lineman Brevyn Jones (eligibility issues) are questionable.
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When Ohio State Has the Ball
For the first time in his college career, there’s a genuine question about Justin Fields and his accuracy. The normally accurate dual-threat quarterback had some serious issues against Indiana with three interceptions. If not for the Hoosiers gifting the Buckeyes 14 points off turnovers and Master Teague’s strong performance on the ground, Ohio State probably would have lost that game.
The question for this game is whether Ohio State chooses to play more conservatively after Fields’ first real brush with adversity and make Teague a bigger part of the game plan or let Fields keep playing with freedom. Most likely, the Buckeyes will chalk it up as one bad day and let Fields continue to do what he’s done well so far, but if Illinois can force an early turnover, it might cause a shift in Ryan Day’s strategy.
This would be the right game to try it, as Illinois really hasn’t done well at stopping the ground game. The Illini give up just under 200 yards a game on the ground, and with the exception of Wisconsin, Illinois hasn’t exactly faced a boatload of tough offenses. If the Buckeyes do feature a lot of Teague in this one, they’ll probably have a lot of success. However, my guess is that he’ll remain the second option in the offense behind Fields.
When Illinois Has the Ball
Starting three different quarterbacks in a span of five games isn’t a great way to build consistency, but Illinois finally seems to be healthy enough to get back on the same page with Brandon Peters under center. It looked like Peters had never been away last week when he dissected Nebraska for 205 yards and a touchdown, throwing just seven incompletions in the entire contest.
That’s a big plus for the Illini, but as always, the key for Illinois will be its ability to move the ball on the ground. First, Illinois is a team built around its ground game, which gained 285 yards against the Huskers and scored four touchdowns behind the double-headed attack of Mike Epstein and Chase Brown. Second, Illinois doesn’t have the horses to keep up with Ohio State unless one of two things happens: Fields turns the ball over as he did against Indiana, or Illinois keeps Ohio State’s offense off the field by going on long, productive drives.
At first glance, it would seem that Illinois is going right at Ohio State’s defensive strength, as the Buckeyes only give up 98 yards a game on the ground and held Indiana to negative-1 rushing yards last week. But Indiana has an extremely weak ground game that barely gets work under the best of circumstances. The 491 yards Indiana threw for against Ohio State were 111 more yards than the Hoosiers have gained on the ground all season. Illinois is a team that knows how to run and run it well, so taking the run straight at the Buckeyes isn’t near the gamble it appears to be.
Everyone seems to underestimate Illinois, and if you’re a gambler who’s been doing so, it tends to backfire. The Illini have managed to cover in nine of their past 12 conference games, including four of their past five against a team with a winning record. Plus, Illinois has been excellent at covering as an underdog, doing so in eight of their past 11 games in that situation.
Ohio State has been solid in conference games, covering in 11 of its past 16, but the Buckeyes are facing what has historically been the month where something tends to go wrong for them. Ohio State has covered in just one of its past five games in November, as the Buckeyes get everyone’s best shot in the Big Ten and are usually beaten down by playing the favorite every single week. In those situations, it’s the defense that lets down, as the over has hit in seven of the Buckeyes’ past eight November games. The over hitting would be in line with how this series usually goes; the over has cashed in four of the past five meetings.
It’ll be clear and cool in Champaign, with temperatures in the mid-40s and winds blowing west-southwest at around six miles per hour.
Dan’s Pick to Cover the Spread
I think Ohio State lost a bit of its aura of invincibility last week, and Illinois is actually building some positive momentum here and playing with confidence. Does that mean Illinois wins this game? Absolutely not; Ohio State is the much better team and should have no problem earning a comfortable victory. However, this spread is a couple of points too high, especially with the Illini coming off back-to-back wins.
I expect Illinois to play Ohio State tough for about 2½ quarters before fading away and taking a defeat. That should be enough to allow the Illini to earn the cover, so I’ll take Illinois and the points. Need a boost to your bankroll? You can deposit anywhere from $100 to $1000 and they’ll give you a 100% bonus at BetNow Sportsbook!