COLUMBUS - The Illinois football team that No. 2 Ohio State will face on Saturday in Champaign has won two straight games after losing its season-opener to Missouri. History tells the Buckeyes the Illini will be primed for a good scrum whenever Ohio State comes to town.
Although Ohio State has won nine Big Ten titles since 1988, and Illinois just one, the Illini have been a persistent thorn in the side of the Buckeyes. Ohio State is just 11-9 against Illinois over that time span.
"It seems like they've played us tough every time," Ohio State senior defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said as the Buckeyes looked toward opening Big Ten play against the Illini. "Us older guys, we remember what happened three years ago. We expect another tough battle with Illinois."
That particularly sore spot for the Buckeyes that Heyward referenced was the 2007 meeting with Illinois, in which the Illini stunned No.1 ranked and previously unbeaten Ohio State 28-21 in Ohio Stadium. That stopped a 29-game regular season winning streak by the Buckeyes, and their 21-game Big Ten winning streak.
"We've had some wild games (with Illinois)," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said Tuesday. "Illinois is going to be good, and the facts prove that."
Going back to 1988, only Michigan has a better conference record against Ohio State (11-10-1) and more wins over the Buckeyes than the nine Illinois has in that period.
"So in our guys' lifetimes, they've known full well that the Ohio State-Illinois game is a big deal and there have been battles," Tressel said. "They know we're heading on the road. They know we have to get to work to prepare."
The Buckeyes won a 30-20 slugfest against the Illini in Champaign two years ago. Junior wide receiver DeVier Posey remembers a lively environment that day and a very physical game, and expects the same on this road trip.
"They always play with high energy," Posey said about the Illini. "They have athletes who can run around and hit you in the mouth. When you play them, you have to match their energy."
The Buckeyes had a nightmare Big Ten road trip just about a year ago, suffering a 26-18 upset at Purdue. Tressel said he thinks his players don't need to be reminded about that disappointing performance as they play their first away game of 2010.
"We won't talk about Purdue. You would hope those that boarded a bus and headed to the airport (that day) would still have the understanding very deep in their soul that you better be prepared when you're on the road," Tressel said.
"But our focus will be simply on 'here's what we think Illinois' going to do ... you're going to have some adversity, you're not going to have that crowd there to help you through it, so you better play as well or better than you've ever played this year if you want to be successful."
In the last three meetings between Ohio State and Illinois, the Illini have averaged 185.3 yards rushing per game against the Buckeyes. In the two most recent matchups, Illinois has held Ohio State to less than 100 passing yards each time. Tressel said his team is aware of the trial ahead.
"It's exciting to go on the road," he said. "We lose many of the advantages we've had for the last four games with the home crowd and our band being with us and the comforts of home, but our guys like challenges and I think they're anxious to get on the road."
RECEIVER AWARD: Ohio State senior wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher was named the offensive player of the week for the Buckeyes after his four touchdown performance against Eastern Michigan. Sanzenbacher tied an OSU record with his four touchdown receptions.
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