Buckeye Title Hopes Go Up In Smoke

By Chris Lauderback on November 11, 2007 at 12:18a
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defeat.jpg A dejected Brian Robiskie walks off the field following the Buckeyes' upset loss (AP Photo: Amy Sancetta)

Where do I even begin?

I guess I should first give credit to Illinois for coming into the 'Shoe and punching the Buckeyes in the mouth. The Illini controlled both lines of scrimmage en route to a 28-21 upset victory over Ohio State knocking Jim Tressel's squad out of the national title picture.

The Buckeye defense, especially the front 7, had no answer for Juice Williams and the Illinois read option attack surrendering 260 yards on the ground and 400 total. The pass defense gave up only 140 yards but allowed 4 TD tosses, more than a few to wide open receivers.

Not to be outdone, the offense played just as poorly on the strengh of Todd Boeckman's horrific performance behind an offensive line that got pushed around for much of the game. On the rare occasions when Boeckman had time to throw he appeared unsettled in the pocket resulting in poor throws, poor decisions or both. Boeckman tied a career high with 3 INTs, two led directly to Illini TDs while the third set up the backbreaking Illinois drive running the last 8:09 off the clock.

And what about Tressel's performance today? I wouldn't trade him for any coach in the country but I think its fair to question why he didn't call timeout in the 1st quarter to give the replay booth more time to figure out Illini RB Daniel Defrene clearly fumbled at the end of an 80 yard run on a play that should have resulted in OSU taking possession at the 20 after recovering the fumble in the endzone. At the very least, maybe the OSU coaches see their own replay during the timeout allowing Tressel to challenge a call that would most certainly been overturned.

Even more questionable was his decision to call timeout as Illinois set up to punt on 4th and inches at their own 33 yard line with 6:53 to play. He commented afterward that he wished he hadn't called timeout but OSU was struggling to get players off the field. I want to buy that but it didn't appear Illinois was quite yet ready to snap the ball forcing OSU into a penalty. The TV view wasn't wide enough to see if the Buckeyes were going to be called for too many man on the field but why would Tressel say he wished he hadn't called timeout if it wasn't necessary to avoid a penalty and automatic first down?

That sequence of events proved fatal as Juice talked Ron Zook out of punting and easily converted a quarterback sneak into a first down before converting three straight 3rd down runs (12, 12, 3 yards) to run out the clock on the Buckeyes title hopes.

As a result, the experts are frothing at the mouth to get in their licks and "I told you so's" as the Buckeyes must now fall back on having a shot to win the Big Ten for the third straight year and capturing a likely trip to Pasadena in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.


OFFENSE:

The offense looked good early as OSU won the toss, elected to receive and scored in :23 thanks to a 65 yard Boeckman to Brian Hartline hookup on the first play from scrimmage followed by Beanie Wells' 11 yard TD run.

Following Illinois' own quick TD strike, Boeckman led the Buckeyes to a 14-7 lead keying a 9 play, 76 yard drive with a 23 yard scramble on 3rd and 7 before hitting Jake Ballard with a 22 yard pass on the next play setting up Mo Wells' 19 yard TD sprint.

int.jpg Boeckman's final INT sealed the deal

The wheels came off from there as the offense was held scoreless for six straight possessions with four punts sandwiched between two Boeckman INTs. The four straight punt possessions yielded a paltry 31 yards on 19 plays.

Ohio State trailed just 21-14 at the half and appeared poised to tie the game after the Buckeye defense forced a three and out to start the 3rd quarter but Boeckman forced a throw into the endzone that deflected directly to an Illinois DB for a touchback. The interception set up a gut wrenching 80 yard TD drive giving Illinois a 28-14 lead with 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.

The ghost of Beanie Wells made a guest appearance on the next drive as he converted a 4th and 1 before popping a 17 yard TD run to cut the lead to 28-21 with a quarter to go but the drive went for naught as Boeckman was picked off for the third and final time on a underthrown deep ball to Brian Robiskie at the Illinois 24 yard line with only 8 minutes left.

Beanie finished with 76 yards on 20 carries but was again bit by the injury bug as his ankle hampered his runs in addition to suffering a thumb injury that kept him on the sidelines for a short period. That said, Beanie's off day was more directly impacted by the fact the line couldn't consistenly handle the Illini front 7 keeping running lanes to a minimum. In fact, of the 180 yards rushing, 68 of those were the result of Boeckman scrambles.

It's very concerning that the offensive line has been pushed around for the better part of the last two games and Boeckman can't seem to avoid the big mistake in the face of pressure. Combine those facts with a hampered Beanie Wells and you've got yourself a sputtering offense that needs to regroup before heading to the Big House.


DEFENSE:

The Silver Bullets got off to another slow start allowing touchdowns on two of the first three Illini possessions. Frozen by the shotgun QB option runs and play action passes, the defensive front generated little pressure and most blitzes seemed to be unluckily called to the wrong side.

Illinois seemed to confuse the Buckeye secondary leading to some wide open receivers (save the pick play in the endzone) but to Juice's credit, when the Buckeyes did have tight coverage he still made some impressive throws with Chimdi Chekwa, among others, displaying poor ball skills to aid the Illini cause.

juice.jpg Juice killed OSU on 3rd down (AP LaPrete)

With the line struggling to get off blocks the linebackers made most of the tackles as the ball carriers got to the second line of the defense. Marcus Freeman finished with a career high 18 stops while James Laurinaitis logged 12.

The pass defense allowed only 12 completions but four went for TDs with two of them coming on 30+ yard strikes. A 31 yarder to Marques Wilkins gave Illinois a 28-14 lead capping off their second 80+ yard TD drive with 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. The Buckeyes had surrendered just five TD passes all season before today's collapse.

Meanwhile the Columbus Police have put out an APB on Malcolm Jenkins who finished with 1 assisted tackle.

The Buckeyes defense stopped Illinois on just 9 of 17 3rd downs and allowed two 4th down conversions, the biggest coming after the Tressel timeout. From there, Juice's three straight 3rd down conversions on runs up the gut fueled the 16 play possession that ran off the final 8 minutes of clock to secure the upset.


SPECIAL TEAMS:

I honestly don't even feel like writing about the special teams. This unit was the least of the Buckeyes problems today although the return units again failed to do anything of significance. Credit Illinois kicker Michael Cklamovski with some high kicks that enabled the coverage team to get downfield limiting space for Ray Small and Brandon Saine.


NOTES:

The Buckeyes scored on their opening drive for the 7th consecutive game...Today's crowd was the 5th largest in Ohio Stadium history (105,453)...Pepper Johnson served as honorary captain.

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