Buckeyes run all over Illini
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – They scored 60 points.
They tied the school record for most consecutive football wins at 22.
They came within one more first down of rolling up 600 yards of offense for the fifth time this season.
And yet Ohio State wasn’t satisfied with its 60-35 win over Illinois on Saturday.
Not even close.
Neither was coach Urban Meyer.
“We won 60-35 and everybody had their heads down like we just let one go,” senior wide receiver Corey Brown said.
“No one was happy with that win. We could have played way better. It was a sloppy game. The score didn’t look as close as the game was. We know we can get a lot better.”
No. 3 Ohio State (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) appeared light years better than Illinois (3-7, 0-6 Big Ten) when it jumped out to a 28-0 lead early in the second quarter.
But when Illinois, which has lost 20 Big Ten games in a row, cut the lead to 35-21 three minutes into the second half, OSU felt the game change. If there were any thoughts about style points, they abruptly disappeared.
“We came out strong and then we hit a wall,” running back Carlos Hyde said. “Late in the game we started clicking, but we can’t hit that wall.
“A win is a win but I’m not pleased with the way we performed today. We need to play our game no matter who our opponent is.”
The final brick Illinois was able to put in the wall was a 4-yard touchdown run by Josh Ferguson that got the Illini to within 12 points, 47-35, 8:49 left in the game.
But Hyde delivered two knockout punches in less than two minutes late in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
Hyde led Ohio State with 246 yards on 24 carries and scored five touchdowns, including a receiving TD. Two of those scores and 106 of his rushing yards came on his final two carries.
He went 51 yards for a touchdown with 4:03 to play, then came back with a 55-yard run with 2:09 to play to give OSU a 60-35 lead.
Quarterback Braxton Miller added 184 yards rushing on 16 carries on a day when he struggled passing the ball (13 of 29 for 150 yards, 2 TDs).
“We went back to the basics a little bit because our passing game wasn’t really working,” Miller said. “It wasn’t one of our pretty games but we got done with it.”
Going back to the basics produced 441 yards rushing for the Buckeyes, which probably shouldn’t be a surprise since Illinois’ defense surrendered 371 yards rushing to Indiana last week and 250 to Penn State the game before that.
Ohio State was at less than full strength offensively and defensively.
Offensive tackle Jack Mewhort was in and out of the lineup because of a hyper-extended knee he suffered during practice on Wednesday.
Two of the starting linebackers – Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry – were also not in uniform because of injuries. Grant had a sprained ankle and a lower back problem and Perry slipped on some ice and hit his head on Tuesday.
And after freshman defensive lineman Joey Bosa had 2 sacks in the first half, he had to leave the game early in the third quarter with a neck sprain.
Meyer said his strongest message this week will be that OSU needs to focus on what it is doing and not worry about outside things.
“We have to make sure our focus is on getting better each week instead of all the national stuff,” he said. “I think I’m learning a lesson to just shut my mouth and quit worrying about this and that.”
It looked like Ohio State would have few worries when it scored on a 70-yard run by Miller, an 18-yard touchdown pass from Miller to Carlos Hyde and a 63-yard pass interception return by Bradley Roby in the game’s first 11 minutes, then got an 11-yard touchdown pass from Miller to Brown.
Even the Illinois radio announcers remarked that V’Angelo Bentley’s 67-yard punt return that cut OSU’s lead to 28-7 was the first thing all day to give Illini fans something to cheer about.
But quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase (33 of 50 for 288 yards and two touchdowns), wide receiver Steve Hull (8 catches, 105 yards) and running back Josh Ferguson (15 carries, 69 yards) gave them much more to cheer about.
The Buckeyes converting only 4 of 13 third-down situations and matching their season high in punts with six also helped Illinois climb back into the game.
“I’m a big fan of No. 2 (Scheelhaase). I told him after the game he’s a great player. He was hard to defend today,” Meyer said. “We were playing a quarterback that is creating plays on you. Offensively, we had too many three-and-outs.
“I can’t wait to get back to work tomorrow. There’s a lot to work on.”