We're all shocked. Maybe upset. Maybe even a little bit of calling off work for three days and not shaving, but overall, I think Buckeye nation is taking this loss relatively well.
We were talking this morning about how the 98 loss and some of the Michigan losses hurt more because that was the team's best product on the field. Considering how young this team is, there's a great sense of optimism heading into the final two games and next season. 10-1 in a "rebuilding" year? We love it.
Besides, it's Michigan Week.
Beaten on the Field
Make no mistake about it, the Illini came to play and won the game on the field. It started when Illinois answered the Buckeyes opening touchdown drive with an 80 yard run up the middle on their first play of the game and they kept punching all night.
Just about every element of the Illini attack was flawless. From Juice Williams looking like Tommy Frazier, to the Illini offensive and defensive fronts dominating the line of scrimmage, they executed. One penalty. Zero turnovers. Ron Zook as Jimmy Johnson. Hats off.
Most of the nation will see the loss as an indictment of Ohio State's ability, but I see something entirely different. I see a young team that was slaughtered in the turnover battle, lost the line of scrimmage, was on the short end of the luck stick and saw their coach outcoached for one of the few times in his Buckeye career -- and they still nearly beat a very good team playing a perfect game.
Are there things to work on? Certainly. But there's this little event taking place at noon Saturday where a positive outcome could quickly lift the spirits of Buckeye Nation.
Leman Is Not Sucky
Every time the Illini defense needed a play, J Leman was there to deliver. His play was exemplified when the Buckeyes had a 2nd and goal from the Illini 8 on their opening drive of the 2nd half. The defense had just forced the Illinois offense to a three and out and the Buckeye offense was poised to score and tie the game. Boeckman throws a receiver screen to Hartline and Leman blows by Cordle's attempt at a block to drop Hartline for a 1 yard loss. The next play resulted in an interception in the end zone and that was the beginning of the end.
Leman finished with 12 tackles (8 solo) and 2.5 TFLs and his penchant for being there when his team needed him left little doubt as to who is the best linebacker in the conference. (Freeman showed up with 18 tackles - 10 solo and may in fact be the best backer on the Buckeyes.)
At any rate, we're glad Leman is a senior and will be playing in the NFL or selling solid flavor injectors instead of patrolling the sidelines of the Big Ten next season.
A Recurring Theme for the Defense
This is the 2nd straight season the Buckeye defense has risen to the top of the national rankings only to fizzle down the stretch. Last year, the defense fell off the map for the last two games, but it seems to be starting sooner this year.
It started with Penn State, who you could argue, would have put up some great offensive numbers had the Buckeye offense not been so exceptional in its own right. Wisconsin came to town last weekend on backup wideouts and with a 3rd string running back and got some and then Illinois did its thing yesterday. 80 yard runs up the middle on Illinois' first play from scrimmage? Juice and his staggering 13:46 possession time in the 4th quarter? Wow.
I know it's a young team -- especially on the defensive side of the ball -- and that could have something to do with the sudden collapse, but two years in a row?
Your Weekly Beanie Lovefest
It's a shame that Beanie was effectively kept out of the game in the 4th quarter. Being a physical back, that's usually his bread-and-butter quarter, and you could tell he was feeling it when his last two carries of the 3rd quarter were a 7 yard run over Leman for a first down, followed up by a 17 yard touchdown run.
The more I see of Beanie, the more I like. You can definitely see influences from close friend Jim Brown in him. Brown once famously said that he got up slow after every hit so defenders would never know if he was really hurting or not. I'm now convinced that Wells is faking injuries so defenders will focus on the pain-free parts of his body. He's like that.
More Wells, please. Oh, and anyone know what happened to Brandon Saine? He used to get snaps for the Buckeyes.
Boeckman Can Run
Yes, the interceptions, particularly the last two, were shank-in-the-stomach painful and sucked life out of the stadium. And yes, Boeckman needs to work on some things, namely "don't throw the ball if the defenders outnumber your receiver". But. There are things that I liked in the Illinois game. His running, for one.
Remember all the chatter during spring camp about how Boeckman was supposedly faster than Smith? I never really believed that, but Saturday has given me pause. He instinctively knows when running is a good option and when he had the space, he looked quick in the open field. That will be handy when he learns to throw the ball away.