Illinois hopes The Shoe fits again

September, 23, 2009
9/23/09
10:26
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Arrelious Benn has a selfish reason for wanting Illinois to win another game at Ohio Stadium.

When the Illini shocked the top-ranked Buckeyes in 2007, draining the final 8:09 off the clock, Benn was on the sideline, concussed after absorbing a hit.

"Man, I couldn't tell you what was going on," the Illini star wide receiver recalled this week. "I had no clue. I was knocked out, I was a bit woozy. But I looked at old clips and saw Juice [Williams] told [Ron] Zook to go for it on fourth down."
 
 Mark Cowan/Icon SMI
 Juice Williams had arguably his finest performance at Ohio State during the 2007 season.


Williams' plea to Zook led to one of the greatest wins in team history, as the Illini beat Ohio State 28-21 and went on to the Rose Bowl. The Ohio State win was the pinnacle for both Williams, who threw four touchdown passes in the game, and Zook, who overcame struggles in his first two years at Illinois to lead the program back to a BCS bowl.

Those are nice memories, but they won't help Illinois when it returns to Ohio State on Saturday afternoon (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

"We all realize we can’t live off that past experience," Williams said. "It’s two different teams."

Ohio State hasn't forgotten what happened in 2007, and Buckeyes players watched tape of the game this week to get a sense how Illinois will approach Saturday's contest. Though Williams and Illinois have had mixed results since their triumph in Columbus, the Buckeyes defense doesn't take the Illini lightly.

"Juice is a dual threat," Ohio State linebacker Austin Spitler said, "which makes it that much more difficult on defense because you have to defend the quarterback zone and trap and run as well as his arm. He's the same guy, but he's obviously more polished. He's a better passer now and he understands the scheme a lot better, which makes him that much more of a threat."

Illinois will finally have its full complement of offensive weapons on the field Saturday. Benn hurt his ankle on the third play of a season-opening loss to Missouri and didn't return, while Williams pulled a leg muscle on the first play the following week against Illinois State.

The Illini were also without running backs Jason Ford or Daniel Dufrene for the opener.

"Me and Juice have talked all the time about that," Benn said. "We’ll always say our season starts September 26 against Ohio State. If you look at it, we really haven’t had a chance to play."

Illinois' offense might be at full strength, but it faces a Buckeyes defense that is hitting its stride. After a somewhat shaky start against Navy, Ohio State's defensive front outplayed USC's heralded offensive line in an 18-15 loss.

The Buckeyes followed by shutting out Toledo 38-0 last Saturday, allowing just 13 rushing yards in the victory.

"We're definitely building some momentum on the defensive side," Spitler said. "From Game 1 to Game 3, we've made some big strides and we're heading in the right direction."

Illinois hopes it can say the same thing after a much-needed bye week.

At 1-1, the Illini can't afford a slow start to Big Ten play. It won't be easy as Illinois opens with Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State, the top three teams in the Big Ten's preseason rankings.

"Forget about Illinois State, forget about Missouri," Benn said. "We’re 0-0 right now, we’re starting Big Ten play, we’re going into a hostile environment and we’ve got to get it done.

"No ifs, ands or buts.”

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