The Air Up There

By Ramzy Nasrallah on November 13, 2013 at 11:15a
Just spooning. NBD.

The last time the Buckeyes visited Champaign they were underdogs.

Ohio State entered the 2011 game with more players serving NCAA suspensions than wins, so understandably Vegas gave the 6-0 home team a four-point edge. Regardless, Ron Zook's 16th-ranked Illini were still targeting the struggling Buckeyes as a signature win but instead they ended up losing 17-7 to a team that completed one pass on four attempts.

Luke Fickell's guys gave Illinois its very first loss - a conference loss - of 2011. Eighteen more have followed in succession, but this isn't a story about the Illini or their hideous losing streak.

It's about the strange hex that Champaign - seemingly a benign, planate expanse of unending depression - has held over Ohio State's passing offense this century, and why this weekend's gaudy point spread doesn't truly identify the real underdog in this game.

There's a messy, implausible trail of evidence demonstrating how visiting Illinois does weird things to Ohio State: Let's begin with Jim Tressel's first trip in 2002 when the Buckeyes completed 10 passes against the bowl-less Illini in a win which required an overtime period.

Only the Washington State game produced fewer completions (four) (!) during that magical season, but only because Maurice Clarett decided to be unstoppable that day. More damning, Illinois' other FBS opponents who visited Memorial Stadium in 2002 completed 27, 23, 26 and 26 passes.

Even first-year FBS opponent Arkansas State completed 14. Everyone threw all over the Illini in their house in 2002. Except, you know, the eventual BCS champions.

The following trip came in 2006, when Troy Smith completed just 13 passes for 108 yards and no touchdowns. Two weeks later he would complete 29 for 316 yards and four scores against #2 Michigan.

Illinois went 2-10 that season, and no team passed for fewer yards in Champaign than the BCS runners-up led by, you know, its outstanding Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who threw for 2542 yards and 30 touchdowns.

The story the following day was that the last-place Illini simply ran out of time against the top-ranked Buckeyes. Ran out of time.

In 2008 the Buckeyes returned to Champaign and completed a total of six passes. Keeping with our theme - yes, of course that was their fewest of the season, and the 5-7 Illini's second-best defensive effort at home against FBS competition yielded double the completions Ohio State had that day.

Two years later we had Tressel's 2010 team featuring the most (only?) prolific offense of his Ohio State coaching career. That unit piled up 5832 yards and finished 12-1.

However, when that vaunted offense visited Champaign it racked up 10 completions for 77 total yards. Southern Illinois, which went 5-6 in the FCS that season, more than doubled Ohio State's output at Memorial Stadium.

Following the game Tressel said he came into Champaign fearing the wind. The always risk-averse Senator's offense was grounded before it even arrived. Because of air.

And that brings us back to that most recent trip in 2011, when those scrappy Tatgate refugees led by Jim Bollman calling plays based off the shapes of clouds he was staring at plundered both Illinois' season and Zook's coaching career.

Miss you, schnuckumsWind, schmind. As if Dane Sanzenbacher was affected by air.

The common denominator in that historical thread? It's also the punch line of this decade-long joke: Ohio State won all of those games.

Your Buckeyes haven't lost in Champaign since Carlos Hyde was a month old. Numerous theories have been proposed as to why the Buckeyes take the air out of the ball specifically when they visit Champaign, because strangely unsatisfying wins over mostly-mediocre teams beg for reasons why.

One is the common explanation for much of the weirdness that takes place in every part of Illinois not named Chicago: The stadium was built on a sacred burial ground whose dead were violated in some way by the ancestors of present-day Ohioans.

Look at what's happened to Ohio State's offense repeatedly on trips to Champaign and that almost seems plausible. The second theory is more tangible and encapsulated by that familiar, agonizing and mostly efficacious offensive philosophy: Tresselball.

After all, the pre-Tresselball 2000 Buckeyes under John Cooper started the enigmatic Steve Bellisari at Illinois. He threw 23 completions on 38 attempts in Champaign - an statistical afternoon that no Tressel quarterback ever came close to reaching in that stadium.

Bellisari finished that mediocre season with 13 TDs to go with 12 interceptions, but he threw all day at Illinois.

But Tresselball still doesn't explain why the diminished passing attempts and statistics were so much more pronounced at Champaign than anywhere else; both for the Buckeyes and by the Illini at home.

The third is that pesky wind, which - as we've seen in every one of Ohio State's visits to Champaign - only seems to be a real factor when Buckeyes visit. Hello, sacred burial ground.

There is no fourth theory - and it doesn't matter if there were a dozen more - because the era of just winning the game at Ohio State is dead. If it's not dead, it's sleeping and won't wake up for several years.

The Buckeyes aren't allowed to be skittish about wind and play it safe, because an unnecessarily close win against a bad team is especially unhelpful for this program.

Unlike Urban Meyer, Brady Hoke is focused on winning Big Ten titles - so once Michigan finally rediscovers how to gain positive yardage on the ground again, Ann Arbor can be cool with grinding out wins the way Tressel teams did.

Ohio State very recently exited that brand of football on account of the Big Ten's perception. As recently as the Wisconsin game - a 31-24 win that shouldn't have been that close - the Buckeyes ran clock for two quarters instead of continuing to pick apart the Badgers' defense.

They're done running clock. Ohio State is now a score-on-every-possession team because it has to be.

Michigan State won in Champaign last month by 39. Ohio State has scored over 30 points in Champaign only twice since 1979 and Vegas has installed the Buckeyes as 33-point favorites. Blaming Tresselball - and wind - has its limits.

The Chase, which Ohio State thrust itself into immediately after swallowing its postseason suspension in 2012 is now somehow handicapped against a program on a 21-game win streak that has won more BCS bowls than any other team.

You can whine about it, but college football isn't supposed to be fair. It's part of the charm. You've known this for years.

That said, changing its 2013 postseason fortunes will require some luck, four more wins and - of equal importance to winning - all the gruesome victory trimmings the Buckeyes failed to deliver in their previous Champaign visits this century.

Ohio State has scored more than 30 points in Champaign only twice since 1979. Blaming Tresselball and wind has its limits.

Voters don't care about wind. Computers don't care about Tim Beckman's friendship with Meyer or potential empathy for his shaky job security at Illinois. Optics fail to account for anything other than highlights, utter domination and margin of victory. That's why they're called optics.

Ohio State isn't playing Illinois on Saturday where The Chase is concerned. It is playing a losing battle against expectations for what it is believed to be capable of inflicting on Illinois; expectations - and this is cruel irony - only that pitiful 2011 team has exceeded recently when it pulled the upset over Zook's favored Illini.

In lieu of the luck that would come via an Alabama, Florida State or Baylor setback, Ohio State will need to be emphatic in victory just to hold serve.

Hoping for anything less than domination explicitly reflected on the scoreboard is only slightly better than hoping for a loss in the final season of the BCS. It's unfair, unsolicited and unfortunately for Ohio State, reality.

Yes, the last time the Buckeyes visited Champaign they were underdogs. Two years later, they are again.


Comments Show All Comments

Buckforlife's picture

Over 30 twice since '79?  I can see 30 being broken in the first quarter. 

No relation to OSUFORLIFE...

Doc's picture

We exercized the demons in West Laughayette.  The Bucks will do the same in Champain/Urbanama.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

cinserious's picture

Its a much colder/windier climate in Champagne in November.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

acBuckeye's picture

The saddest thought on all of this: If this was 2002, based on the B1G's current perception, that team would likely be outside the Top 5 of the current BCS standings. What a shame.

XUbuckeye's picture

I knew we threw the ball less in Champaign, but I never realized it was that much less. I remember the 2011 game and laughed at the diversified offense that the Walrus called and the fact the Illini still couldn't stop what they knew was coming.

"So when you get knocked on your butt, get up, get over it, and then next time, kick their ass." - Woody Hayes 

bigbadbuck's picture

To: The good folks in Champagne, Illinois
From: The men in Scarlet and Grey
When: Saturday Nov. 16th
This is your only notice. Prepare to witness   a football beat down of the likes which hasn't been seen in your parts for a long long time. Run like you stole something, before the Buckeye point scoring barrage hits your town.
Don't say you weren't warned.

Gentlemen, you can't fight in here, its a war room

I_Run_The_Dave's picture

Hide yo' wife!  Hide yo' kids!

Spider1944's picture

HYde yo' wife! HYde yo' kids!
GO BUCKS!!! Bring on the Illini!! 

"There are 3 things that can happen and 2 of them are bad" - the Curse of Woody Hayes

Maestro's picture

The link to Clarett's big day against WSU has a pick of Lydell Ross.  Not the same thing.

vacuuming sucks

stittracer99's picture

led by Jim Bollman calling plays based off the shapes of clouds he was staring at

That's gold, Ramzy! Gold!

Idaho Helga's picture

This was very creative, yet I thought to myself: All those clouds must have looked pretty much alike.

Spider1944's picture

It was overcast. Low cirrus!

"There are 3 things that can happen and 2 of them are bad" - the Curse of Woody Hayes

causeicouldntgo43's picture

Ohio State is a "score on every possession team" - God I like how that sounds.
The curse in Champaign has to be real. Perhaps The owner of the Billy Goat tavern in Chicago made a stop down-state during an Ohio State game. Perhaps he was asked to remove his goat from the game there similar to the Wrigley Field incident. Perhaps it was windy that day. Perhaps some bad juju may be swirling in the wind, just not enough to concentrate all in one area as it has at Wrigley.
Urban will be doing Beckman a favor by pasting the Illini and helping his old friend to get a job elsewhere.

I_Run_The_Dave's picture

We already broke the curse of Ross-Ade stadium in laughable fashion this year.  If the weather forces us into more of a ground game, then lol.  I feel bad for the Illini defense as Braxton, Hyde, and then Guiton and EZE begin to steamroll.

osubuck57's picture

Different team, different stakes!! Urban will not allow any let-downs!! Illinois may not cross the 50 yard line the whole game!!


wojodta's picture

Illinois actually has a decent offense so I wouldn't be surprised if they put up some points.

Seattle Linga's picture

Defensively they are terrible but offensively they are average. Hopefully we can hold them to just a few field goals

fear_the_nut70's picture

I agree that our passing statistics have been odd in that stadium.  Luckily for us, we can probably run all over them if wind curtails some of the passing this weekend.

dwcbuckeye's picture

Great write-up.  The last time OSU lost at Illinois was when Hyde was one month old?  Incredible.

fanatibuck's picture

WOW!!!! What a ultra dramatic write-up. That said, I don't believe Urban will mis-calculate and put the O in "burn the clock mode" any more this season. The strategy vs Wisky and his other coaching buddy was a mistake that won't be repeated again I would hope. The Bucks have to lay the wood the rest of the season. I'm sure Urb's is learning that nice guys have to prove just a little bit more than their counterparts. GO BUCKS!!!!


mshaf's picture

I see 600 + yards of offense again this weekend by the Buckeyes.

Davep160's picture

or  at least 500

buckeyepastor's picture

Knew it was bad.  Didn't know it was that bad.  I realize that the 30-point statistic goes all the way back to 1979 so it's clearly not all about Tressel, but at least in the late '80s and early '90s the Illini had some good defenses that were part of the story.   I know that Coop seemed to struggle against the Illini both home and away, with the exception of Eddie George's magical, record-setting day against them in 1995.   
That 2002 game was so stinking bizarre.   To this day, when I see replays of that one, I think "How did that almost happen?"   Because it didn't seem like the team was playing poorly or came out flat.  In fact, they came out that day red hot.   In fact, that was a day when more than the others we just looked jinxed or hexed.   

"Woody would have wanted it that way" 

Firmthyfriendship's picture

He was Guapo then, and he is Guapo now!
It is write ups like these that just tell me, a win is a win. For whatever strange reason certain teams struggle at times against teams they are supposed to handle with ease. I hate the beauty test, but as you said it's not always supposed to be fair. I am sure Stanford feels that way about Utah...for some strange reason they failed to meet expectations. But, that's why you play the games.


I chalk up this voodoo to overlooking Illinois because most years they stink. It's also who the Buckeyes usually play a week or two before TTUN so sometimes their minds aren't in the right place. That's coaching. Considering that Meyer got Mickey on their tails before the Purdue game leads me to believe that won't be an issue this time.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

InHartWeTrust's picture

Bollman isn't calling the plays for us this year in Champaign, so I'm not worried about only completing a few passes.

Earle's picture


"Should we run Dave?"

Snarkies gonna snark. 

RedStorm45's picture

Two years later we had Tressel's 2010 team featuring the most (only?) prolific offense of his Ohio State coaching career.

'05 - 5,068 yards.  33 points per game.
'06 - 5,000 yards.  36 points per game. (not counting the 14 point output against UF)
'07 - 5,117 yards.  32 points per game.  (not counting the 24 against LSU)
'10 - 5,831 yards.  39 points per game (not counting the bowl game, which would reduce it, actually) - 36/game if you take out the 73 against a putrid 2-10 Eastern Michigan team, not to mention the 645 yards of offense that game.
For "Tresselball" - those years produced 5000+ yards of offense and all over 32 points a game.  '10 was boosted by the EMU game and wasn't all that more prolific than the other years, in my opinion.

Ramzy Nasrallah's picture

Points per game is misleading, especially when your defense/ST is called the "score team." Also, removing bad performances to prove a point - and then removing a strong performance to bolster that point isn't all that helpful.

NCAA rank in total offense:

2010: 20th

2007: 62nd

2006: 26th

2005: 32nd

Average total offense ranking for Tresselball from 2004 (i.e. all Tressel players) through 2011: 61st.

That's the bottom half of the FBS. At Ohio State.

jedkat's picture

BOOM. You got Ramzy'd Son!

"Can we please stop the message board fighting? I really can't stand the message board fighting..."

"No. You're an idiot, and your posts are terrible."

RedStorm45's picture

20th and 26th aren't that far off.  I figured '06 would be up there with '10 in total offense.

Spider1944's picture

thank you Ramzy! What's that saying about Liars and Statistics?
Man just let the stats tell the story. Don't doctor them to make "your" point. 

"There are 3 things that can happen and 2 of them are bad" - the Curse of Woody Hayes

Maestro's picture

When I woke up this morning I had an uneasy feeling.  I started to think about the fact that it was Illinois week and all I could think of was Juice Williams converting 3rd downs with his legs.  Get off a block LB's!!!!!!
OK, back to 2013.  This Buckeye team is going to break the trend and destroy Illinois.

vacuuming sucks

Blackbeards Delight's picture

Wait, wait, wait! Wtf. While reading this exquisite piece of literature I had a revelation. In an attempt to be  ("Subjective")I realized that a "bad win" is worse than a bad loss. Ramzy I applaud you and am forever in your debt. With this knowledge I will now be on the PlayOff Selection Committee. And as far as that Indian burial ground is concerned current Illini players could take the bodies of former great players to the fifty yard line of Memorial Stadium. Cover the severely decayed corpse's with stones polished by the cold waters of lake Meeechigan. Sing the Team America World Police theme song and pour out some of that luke warm colt 45 for your homie. This should resurrect them like at that indian burial ground in pet cemetery? It worked for Lee Corso and Joan Rivers. This recipe is per Chief Osceola. 

"Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23yr, it's what's for breakfast"

- Me


Breakawayspeed's picture

And I thought I was going to be able to sit back, relax and enjoy the slaughter.  Now my undies are all bunched up!
Damn the burial grounds! 
Damn you Ramzy!

nm_buck's picture

How many times has an Urban Meyer team played in Champagne?  I am guessing this 'trend' ended November 28th 2011.

"The future is bright at Ohio State."  - Urban Meyer 1/1/15

Seattle Linga's picture

Maybe I am alone here but I didn't really follow you on this question NM

Haybucks's picture

Linga, I think NM is saying the trend ended when Meyer was named HC. Of course the trend can't technically end until we play the game on Saturday, but the groundwork has been laid. With strength and skill sets being equal, the team with the most consistent execution will win. Coach Meyer has steadily developed the team's mental attitude to prevent a lapse of concentration which increases the chances of flawless execution.

John McKay, the late, great coach of USC Trojans and NFL's Tampa Buccaneers was an adamant supporter of proper execution.  When asked about his 0-14 Tampa Buccaneer's execution, McKay said, “I’m in favor of it.”

If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later. -  Mark Twain


The Buck Guy's picture

As a history teacher, this post may be too long for many of you. But if you read it, you'll come away with something worthwhile.
I believe that the hex on the Buckeyes versus the Illini is real. Not only the fact that the Buckeyes have problems scoring in Champaign since 1979; but also during that same span the Buckeyes are just 9-7 versus the Illini in Columbus.
I believe that this hex is a result of a lack of respect for this rivalry match-up. Remember, the Illini are the Buckeyes' original and oldest rivalry (which began with a 0-0 tie in 1902). They were the final game of the season during the early days in the conference, until after 1933 (and the Illini led in wins in the series at that time 11-9-2). It was a competitive series until after Woody's 3rd season (from 1954 through 1982 the Illini only won three games).
I remember in the 60s when my Gramps and Pop would talk about how happy they were that the Buckeyes finally seemed to have gotten over the Illini hump (but they won back to back just prior to Woody's boys dominating since 1968, winning 15 straight). But then the Illini became competitive again (going 8-4 vs the Buckeyes from 1983-1994). Since then, the rivalry has slacked off as the Illini have only had 3 wins (but, consider also, that team up north has only managed 7 wins during the same span). Their 2007 win nearly cost the Buckeyes a chance to play in the national title game.
That brings us upto now. Most Buckeyes fans disrespect the history of this match-up. The school's junior honor societies no longer smoke the peace pipe during half-time ceremonies. Heck, I doubt that most Buckeyes fans even know who the Bucket and Dipper Society is. And there's also the fact that the two teams didn't even meet in 2003 and 2004 (the only break in the series since 1913). For all of this, it is why I think the hex is happening. Call it whatever you wish, a hex, bad karma, whatever, but it is real. Sure, in the wins column the Buckeyes have dominated; but they have rarely ever dominate on the field or the scoreboard. Maybe ole Chief Illiniwek is haunting the rivalry games?

~ The Buck Guy
Go Bucks!!!!

woodcocklives@osu's picture

"Most Buckeyes fans disrespect the history of this match-up."

Most Buckeye fans disrespect Buckeye history, in general. See this article we're commenting on.....

The Buck Guy's picture

Bad JuJu

~ The Buck Guy
Go Bucks!!!!