One week after a meltdown for the ages, Ohio State used the return of Boom Herron, the leg of Ben Buchanan and a defense that refused to fizzle to give Illinois its first defeat of the season.
The Buckeyes left Champaign with a 17-7 victory that included exactly one completed pass; a strike from Braxton Miller to TE Jake Stoneburner with less than a quarter left to play. Aside from that aberration, the rest of Ohio State's offense - a meager 228 yards in total - all came on the ground.
Ohio State's comical futility through the air almost overshadowed the victory itself, which belonged to a Buckeye defense that had Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase on the run all afternoon and kept the Illini off the scoreboard until only six minutes remained in the game.
The game began with a 33mph wind blowing the ball off the tee, forcing Illinois to have a special teamer hold it down for the opening kickoff. Ohio State had that wind in its face for the first and third quarters, so it was especially crucial to keep the Illini out of field goal range in both of those periods.
The Buckeyes immediately exploited the fresh legs of Boom Herron to drive down the field. He gained almost eight yards per carry on the opening possession, his first action of the season coming off of his extended Tatgate suspension.
Ohio State capitalized by scoring on a remarkable 42-yard Drew Basil field goal, which he hit by deliberately kicking it wide right and allowing the wind to drive it back inside the uprights.
Illinois went three-and-out on its first drive, aided by a nice pass break-up by Tyler Moeller on third down to force the punt.
The Buckeyes went three-and-out on the following drive, with Miller getting sacked on third down. Buchanan tilted the field in the Buckeyes' direction with a 53-yard punt and put the Illini back on their side of the field, with the wind.
Illinois' second drive was highlighted by a decleating sack on Nathan Scheelhaase by John Simon on second down. The subsequent obvious passing situation on third down drew a blitz from defensive coordinator Jim Heacock and Illinios' fourth down punt sailed into the end zone.
Ohio State's third drive began with a mix-up in the backfield with Miller and Herron colliding, resulting in a five-yard loss. Herron compensated on the next play, juking around Illini defenders for nine yards and putting the Buckeyes in a third and short situation.
Jim Bollman telegraphed the next play right into the teeth of the Illinois defense and the Buckeyes were forced to punt.
Buchanan then launched another terrific punt and gunner Zach Domicone ensured that Illinois would begin its third drive where the punt was fielded.
The first quarter ended with the Buckeyes up 3-0, holding a 50-30 yardage advantage and holding the ball for almost ten and a half minutes.
Illinois' first drive of the second quarter produced a nine-play sequence that concluded with Illinois punting into the wind from the Ohio State 34. The 26-yard punt "worked" and the Buckeyes got the ball on their own eight. It was the first of several curious Ron Zook coaching decisions.
After a Corey Linsley false start put the Buckeyes on their own four, Bollman deployed a classic walrusball strategy with three consecutive telegraphed inside handoffs that failed to put more space between the goal line and the offense or accomplish anything of consequence.
This forced Buchanan to punt from the end zone. Once again, Ohio State's MVP absolutely crushed the ball, putting Illinois back inside its own 41.
After forcing another three-and-out, the Buckeyes dove right back into Bollman's bread and butter of plays that contradict the most basic tenets of football, running draw plays despite not having completed a single pass and running play-action on third and five.
This nonsensical sequence caused ESPN analyst Bob Davie - who despite his broadcasting and head coaching faults, was once a fine defensive coordinator - to wonder incredulously at what Bollman was trying to do. It made no sense and served no purpose, which is at least consistent with Bollman's playcalling catalog.
Incredibly, Ohio State went into the locker room at halftime having slightly outgained Illinois 105-95, holding a six-minute time of posession advantage and with two more first downs.
As predictable as the Buckeyes were, the offensive line - when it wasn't committing penalties - was getting a nice push and the defense was getting Scheelhaase and the Illini off the field quickly.
As was the case last Saturday in Lincoln, the second half began in great fashion for the Buckeyes: A Scheelhaase pass floated into the arms of Bradley Roby, who made some nifty moves to get to the Illinois 12.
On the very next play, Herron read his blocks, bounced outside and waltzed into the endzone for his first score of the season.
Down 10-0, Illinois responded with what was its best drive of the game to that point. They marched down the field, following Nebraska's recipe of picking on the middle of the field and exploiting Etienne Sabino in space.
However, that drive petered out on the cusp of field goal range once again, and the Illini punted to the OSU 12.
The Buckeyes drove the ball all the way to inside the Illinois 40, but were undone by another false start penalty and were forced to punt, forgoing what would have been 48-yard field goal into the wind (a significantly less controversial decision than what similarly occured last week at Nebraska).
The battle of punts entered the fourth quarter with Illinois having squandered both quarters of its wind advantage. That's when a sense of finality began to exert its grip on Memorial Stadium: Moeller forced Illini receiver AJ Jenkins to fumble and Storm Klein recovered.
The Buckeyes took advantage, with Miller hitting Jake Stoneburner for a touchdown on what was Ohio State's only completed pass of the game. Ohio State was now up by three scores after halftime on the road against a ranked opponent, which presented a similar circumstance to the catastrophe that transpired a week ago.
With Illinois running out of opportunities and time, Scheelhaase led the Illini down the field on a 16-play, 80-yard drive that produced their first points of the game and took seven minutes to complete.
The Buckeyes engaged clock-killing mode in predictably ineffective walrusball fashion, promptly going three-and-out and giving the Illini the ball back almost immediately, and with a short field.
But on the first play from scrimmage, Travis Howard jumped a Scheelhaase pass and picked it off to give Ohio State the ball right back.
However, three plays and minus 12 yards later, the Buckeyes were punting to Illinois again after having barely burned a minute off the clock.
Illinois' final drive of the game began at the Ohio State 47-yard line with a little more than two minutes to work with, and Scheelhaase wasted no time in flinging the ball all over the field, hitting four different receivers on four straight plays in quickly getting the Illini into field goal range.
Refusing to yield to yet another comeback, the Buckeye defense dug in and forced a fourth down from the Ohio State 17 yard-line. Zook sent his field goal unit onto the field to cut the game to seven and set up the play of the game, an onside kick to...
HA HA JUST KIDDING. In what was 12th dumbest coaching decision behind 11 criminally stupid calls that Bollman had made earlier, Zook eschewed the needed scoring opportunity and took on the completely unnecessary risk of going for it on fourth down.
Scheelhaase's pass to Jenkins landed incomplete, and not even the least competent flavor of walrusball imaginable could rip victory from the Buckeyes' clenches. Ohio State finished the game in victory formation and the 17-7 win was sealed.
The win came in what is the 20th anniversary season of Illinois' most recent home victory over the Buckeyes, who have not lost in Memorial Stadium since 1991 when Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell was a senior at St. Francis DeSales high school.
With today's victory and Indiana's loss at Wisconsin, Ohio State has broken out of the Leaders Division basement and is now only two wins away from being in range of a Little Caesars Pizza Pizza Bowl bid.
However, if the stout Buckeye defense continues to deliver victories on behalf of the offense, the TicketCity, Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas and Insight Bowls may also come into play as possible postseason destinations.
Obviously the sky is no longer the limit for this team, but considering Denard Robinson had as many touchdown passes against Michigan State as Joe Bauserman did, there is still plenty to play for in 2011. Who knows, maybe the Buckeyes could put together two completions against Wisconsin in a couple of weeks.