Buckeyes Rush to Win Over No. 16 Illinois
By John Porentas
CHAMPAIGN, Illinois - Never mind that the Buckeyes completed only one pass for 17 yards while taking 25 yards in sack losses.
Never mind that the Buckeyes got out-gained 285 yards to 228.
When the dust settled there were really only two stats that mattered in unranked Ohio State's 17-7 win over No. 16 Illinois in wind-swept Memorial Stadium.
The first one was 3-0, which was the finally tally on the turnovers.
The second one was the final score.
Windy weather conditions and poor field position dictated the game plan for OSU, particularly in the first and third quarters when the Buckeyes were heading into a stiff northwest wind that made passing the football an adventure at best. OSU answered by relying on the strong legs of running back Boom Herron who was playing in his first game of the season as a result of a six-game suspension for NCAA violations. Herron ran for a game-high 114 net yards on 23 carries. Quarterback Braxton Miller added 34 net yards, and running back Jordan Hall had 56 more on 12 carries.
OSU's first possession foreshadowed the way the game would be played. The Buckeyes drove 45 yards, all of them on the ground, to set up Drew Basil for a 43-yard field goal into the wind that made the score 3-0. The Buckeyes simply crammed the ball down the throats of the Illini, something they would do the rest of the day.
"We knew Ohio State was going to come in here and run the football. We knew it was going to be one of those kinds of games," said Illinois Head Coach Ron Zook.
"They have a pretty good offensive line and I think they were excited about having their number one back. He did a great job and you can see why he is one of the better backs in the Big Ten."
The rest of the half turned into an old fashion Big Ten slugfest. The Buckeyes sputtered some on offense, but the Illini sputtered more as both defenses dominated the game. Ohio State managed a total of 105 first-half yards, Illinois just 95.
It looked for all the world like this would be one of those 6-3 games unless somebody got a break. It didn't take long for that to happen. Illinois took possession of the second half kickoff on their own 29-yard line. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaause picked up 5 yards up the middle on first down, but on second down he was picked off by OSU cornerback Bradley Roby at the Illinois 48-yard line. Roby returned the interception 36 yards to the Illinois 12. It took one play for Herron to cover those 12 yards to put OSU up 10-0.
"This is a game of momentum, and i think that was probably the biggest thing about it," said OSU Head Coach Luke Fickell of Roby's interception.
"One thing we've lacked a little on defense is making some plays. To have a play start right there and then answer right away with the offense, that's what this game is all about.
"If you can get the momentum it's quite an assett."
With the momentum firmly in their corner the Buckeyes went into the protect the lead, run the clock mode. That worked, partly because of how well the OSU defense was playing, but also partly thanks to another devastating mistake by the Illini that led led directly to OSU's second touchdown.
Scheelhaase completed a pass to A. J. Jenkins for a nine yard gain that would have been a first down, but Jenkins fumbled when he was drilled by OSU linebacker Tyler Moeller. The ball was recovered by Buckeye linebacker Storm Klein at the Illinois 37 then was moved 15 yards closer to the gaol on a personal foul call on Illinois' Jack Cornell.
Herron moved the ball to to the 18-yard line on two carries. On third down Miller attempted his fourth pass of the day and found tight end Jake Stoneburner wide open on the post route. Miller fired a laser to Stoneburner who hauled in the football for a score to make it 17-0 Buckeyes. It was Miller's first and only completion of the day. The fact that it was Miller's only completion didn't seem to bother anybody in the OSU locker room after the game.
"It didn't really matter to me. The game plan was to win," said Fickell.
"That was the ultimate thing, however we had to do it, we were ready to do it."
That put the outcome of the game squarely in the hands of the OSU defense with 13:06 remaining on the fourth-quarter. A week ago in Lincoln, Nebraska, that same defense surrendered the same 17-point lead in a devastating loss. It didn't happen this time.
The Illini drove 80 yards on their next possession to a touchdown, but it was a touchdown that was surrendered begrudgingly. The drive took 16 plays and took 6:44 off the game clock, and that put the Illini in a bind. On their next possession, the pressure of that bind took its toll when on first down Scheelhaase tossed an interception to OSU corner Travis Howard with 3:43 remaining.
"Going into the game we knew it was going to be about turnovers, it was going to be about the rushing battle, and it was going to be about field position," said Fickell. "When you come over here you're always going to get some kind of weather condition of some sort."
The Illini didn't really have a chance after that, though following a Buckeye punt they drove to the OSU 17-yard line with just over a minute remaining in the game. On fourth and three, Illinois Head Coach Ron Zook decided to forego what was a very makable field goal and run another play in the hopes of converting the fourth down or scoring a touchdown. The play failed when Scheelhaase's pass fell incomplete. OSU took over on downs and ran out the clock for the win.