The-Ozone Note and Quotebook - Illinois Edition
By Tony Gerdeman
Sometimes One Dimension Is All You need: Coming into this game, the Illinois schedule was littered with spread teams who ran the ball as a way of allowing them to throw it. On Saturday, they finally faced a team who ran the ball as a way of life—and they lost because of it.
Running back Carlos Hyde
picks up yardage against Illinois.
Photo by Dan Harker
The Buckeyes ran the ball 51 times and threw just four passes.
The Fighting Illini defense knew what Ohio State was going to do, and they still weren't able to stop it.
“We had a game plan going in,” said Buckeye coach Luke Fickell. “I don't think they had seen as much running in the entire first six games.”
Running the ball is just one key to these types of games. The other key is stopping the run, and the Buckeyes were just as stout up front on defense as they were on offense.
Illinois came into the game averaging 226.2 yards rushing per game. The Buckeyes held them to just 116 yards on the ground.
“A team is much better when they can run the football,” Fickell said.
“It makes it much easier to take their time throwing the ball as well. When we do a good job stopping the run it makes them a little more one-dimensional and probably made it a little more difficult.”
Though as the Illini showed, if you can't stop the run, it doesn't matter how one-dimensional you are.
Temple of Boom: The number one reason (pun intended) that the Buckeyes were able to run the ball so well on Saturday was the return of running back Boom Herron. Herron carried the ball 23 times for 114 yards and a touchdown. Illinois knew he was going to get the ball, and he was still able to make his mark on the game.
led the Buckeye rushing attack against Illinois.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“He was out there making plays,” said tight end Jake Stoneburner.
“He was a big boost to our offense. He was definitely excited. He just wanted the ball. We were able to feed him the ball and he was able to make some plays out there.
“We know what Boom means to this team, what he means in that locker room, what he means on that field, and that's a big part of our team,” Fickell said.
Herron got the start and set the tone for the game from the outset. Even with everybody fresh to start the game, it was easy to see who had the quickest step. Herron was dashing around defenders with precision, and he seemed to be doing it with a smile.
"I was definitely happy to be back on the field,” he said.
“Missing the first six games was definitely hard on me. I was very anxious to get back out there today.”
Given that this was the first he had played all season, it would have been understandable if he wasn't quite as patient as he normally would be. Herron has terrific vision, and the fact that he hadn't seen the field yet this season would be ample reason to think that there might be a little delay in his return to normalcy. But he was great right out of the chute.
“Just being patient,” Herron said, explaining why he was successful.
“Illinois' defense kind of blitzes a lot and they do a lot of different schemes. With the offensive line doing a great job blocking and opening up some seams, sometimes they opened up kind of slow so I just had to be patient and wait for it.
“The offensive line did a great job today. We didn't really pass the ball a lot and that's a big part of being patient and letting the game come to you.”
That patience also led to the Buckeyes' first touchdown on the game when Herron cut to the left side and zipped untouched into the endzone from twelve yards out.
“(Reid) Fragel and (Zach) Boren actually opened it up pretty well,” he said. “I kind of sunk it inside, but it opened up to the outside and I was free to go.
Making a Pass: The Buckeyes opened Saturday's game by running the ball 21 times before they finally threw their first pass midway through the second quarter. They didn't actually complete their first pass until the fourth quarter.
hauled in OSU only completion of the day for a touchdown.
Photo by Dan Harker
That pass was a 17-yard touchdown completion to Jake Stoneburner to make it 17-0 and effectively seal Illinois' fate.
“It was just a great ball by Braxton,” Stoneburner said of the touchdown pass.
“We had a different route called and they ended up calling a timeout and ended up putting on a double move. Braxton made a great throw. I'm just happy we won.
“We originally had a corner, comeback type of thing on. They had two guys over there when they lined up, so we were able to switch the route around and it worked out pretty well. We run that out route a lot and we switched it up. I'm glad we ran it. I knew that safety was going to bite my route and we ended up doing it. It was a corner post, fake to the corner and come back to the post, and he bit pretty bad and Braxton made a great throw.”
“It was a big one that he hit,” said offensive coordinator Jim Bollman.
“We changed the call a little bit. We changed his route after the timeout. Looking at the matchup that we had, we came out there and saw where we had a matchup that we wanted and changed the route up a little bit.”
The Buckeyes came in expecting to throw more than just four times, but they had to change their plan of attack when they arrived at the stadium.
“I think it was big,” said Bollman of the conditions. “Here, the wind is a factor.”
Illinois has the type of safeties that you attack down the field, but because of the wind, the Buckeyes had to scrap some of the things that they were planning on doing.
“Part of it for sure,” answered Bollman when asked if the game plan had to be adjusted.
“Some of the deep passing things, and it caused us to be conservative when we were coming out of the hole. If the situation doesn't demand it, we don't want to give the ball down there, that's for sure.”
As Bollman stated, it wasn't just the weather, it was also the situation. Against Nebraska, the Buckeyes enjoyed a field position advantage. Against Illinois, however, they didn't.
“I think field position had something to do with it,” said Bollman of the lack of passing.
“Weather had a lot do do with it. Those are probably the two immediate factors. There's no way I would go into a game and think we would complete one pass, throw for whatever we did, and win the game.
“Those things don't normally happen and it certainly wasn't the overall plan. I would say the overall plan coming into the game wasn't that much different (than Nebraska) but as you come in and you see some different coverages and you see how people are reacting, you see some different things and see how the game's evolving, and that's how it ended up.”
“On the sideline we were up 10-0 and we were like 'Man, we haven't completed a pass yet',” said Stoneburner.
“It's kind of funny, but as long as we win, who cares?”
Ankle's Aweigh: Not only were the Buckeyes burdened with an impassable wind and poor field position, but Braxton Miller was still dealing with the effects of a tweaked ankle from the week before. It wasn't until Tuesday that he finally knew that he would be able to play on the ankle.
Braxton Miller ran effectively despite his recent ankle injury.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“I kept rehabbing it all I could,” he said.
“I spent a lot of time in the training room. I had a bunch of tape on it. It was about 95 percent today. It will be 100 percent by Wisconsin.”
While he was healthy enough to play, not being 100% limited what he would be able to do on the ground, and it limited what the coaches asked him to do.
“You hoped that he didn't have to run the ball too much,” said Bollman.
“He was working hard during the week but you could see he wasn't really 100 percent, so you didn't really know how he was going to be until we got out here and the fur started flying.”
“As long as we win, that's all I care about,” Miller said.
John Simon and Tyler Moeller put the pressure on the Illinois quarterback.
Photo by Jim Davidson
The Defense Bests: While the offensive game plan had to change because of a few unforeseen factors, the game plan on defense never faltered and was never altered. The Buckeyes knew what type of offense they were going to be going against in the Illini, and they had prepared well for it.
“They're well-rounded,” said Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock.
“They've got the line, they've got the receivers, they've got the running backs, they've got the quarterback, so I think it was a good challenge for us.
“I think it's a credit to our kids that they battled, they never gave up. They came out here and gave an unbelievable effort. I think this week in practice typified what they're all about. They're going to play hard. They're going to continue to play hard regardless of what's going on. They're a good group. They're fun to be around.”
Seeing how well the defense was performing was yet another factor in the Buckeye offense being so conservative.
“Coming out the second half when we got the turnover right away and scored from the ten or eleven-yard line and went up ten, the way the game was going it was 'Don't turn the ball over, don't turn the ball over',” said Bollman.
“It's certainly a team outfit and the way the defense was playing commanded that we didn't want to turn the ball over for sure.”
Roby Talked Talk, Walked Walk: On Tuesday prior to the Illinois game, when Buckeye cornerback Bradley Roby was explaining how Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins was so successful, he explained the many different ways that their offense worked to get Jenkins the ball.
Bradley Roby pleads his case with the officials.
Photo by Jim Davidson
But then to sum it all up, however, he uttered these now-famous words: “From what I've seen so far, he's a decent receiver, but he's nothing special really.”
Jenkins finished the game with eight receptions for 80 yards. In his two games prior, he caught 14 passes for 450 yards and five touchdowns.
The Illinois receiver got the first laugh when he caught a sideline pass over Roby for 21 yards early on. He made sure to let Roby know all about it as well. There was also a pass deep to Jenkins that Roby got beaten on, so he wisely shoved Jenkins out of bounds for a 15-yard pass interference penalty.
Roby would get the last laugh with an interception that set up Ohio State's first touchdown, and he also had a pass breakup late in the game while in coverage on Jenkins.
“It's kind of funny because when we were in the locker room everybody kept coming up to me and saying 'I feel like you're going to get an interception. It's coming. It's coming.',” he said.
“It's crazy, because coming out of the half, I got one. I was in cover-three and I saw him do the curl. I was breaking on the curl and I saw the ball coming my way and I caught it.
“We really needed it because we scored the very next play. it was very critical for us to get into the endzone. That was the one thing really stressed this week was turnovers. I think we did a good job of that getting turnovers.”
“We Needed It”: While nobody wanted to admit thinking about it before the fact, the Buckeyes were facing a three-game losing streak if they didn't get a win in Champaign. Worse yet, they would have had to wait two weeks before getting back out on the field to get that taste out of their mouths.
“Definitely. It's big. It's huge,” Heacock said of getting a win prior to the bye week.
“We needed to win today. A three-game losing streak with a top-five team coming in wouldn't have been much fun.”
“We needed it,” said Stoneburner.
“Being 3-3, we needed a big-time win, and beating an undefeated Illinois team at their place is something that will give us confidence going into the bye week.”
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