Urban Meyer pleaded with his team during the non-conference schedule to give him a full four quarters of football. Ohio State entered Saturday’s game against Illinois at 9-0, ranked sixth in the country and in first place alone in the Leaders Division. Still, though, it took the Buckeyes 10 games until they finally peaked for 60 minutes.
But when it finally did, Ohio State put on one of its top offensive and defensive displays of the season.
In a 52-22 win over Illinois, the Buckeyes churned out 567 yards – 330 on the ground – and punted just three times, while the defense limited the Fighting Illini to 170 total yards, an average of just 2.6 per play. On one defensive play, Illinois was able to go 77 yards for a touchdown, putting in perspective its offensive struggles.
“Our offense was too sporadic,” Illinois head coach Tim Beckman said. “We have got to be able to drive the ball down the field and put up seven points when we get in the red zone.”
During the week, Meyer touched on the need for quarterback Braxton Miller to improve his passing game. Despite being a Heisman Trophy candidate, Miller still isn’t a polished passer. Most of his production this season has come from his legs. If there was ever a game where he would break out, Saturday was it.
Illinois entered the game with the 109th passing efficiency defense in the nation. It had given up more than eight yards per attempt. Miller made those numbers even worse by completing 12 passes for 226 yards with two touchdowns. The highlight was a wheel route to running back Rod Smith that went for 51 yards all the way to the end zone.
Miller finished the day with 299 total yards – 73 rushing – and three touchdowns.
“Braxton Miller is a fantastic football player,” Beckman said. “He fuels this Ohio State team with his ability to make guys miss, and that is how he hurt us today. He also made big plays with his arm and exposed some coverage issues in our secondary.”
Carlos Hyde carried the football 18 times for 137 yards and three touchdowns. Corey Brown caught four passes for 79 yards and a touchdown and Smith had two receptions for 55 yards and a score.
“What I liked best about (the offense is) when you control the line of scrimmage,” Meyer said. “That offensive line, I keep talking about them. Just where they’ve come from. Think about it. It’s almost overwhelming if you think where they were first week of spring practice to where they are now.”
The Silver Bullets were led by linebacker Ryan Shazier and Zach Boren who combined for 21 tackles.
“The defense is getting better because of all of the criticism we have been receiving,” Shazier said. “We are trying and succeeding, slowly but surely, at becoming a better football team.”
Said John Simon: “Our guys always give great effort. That’s something we pride ourselves on as a defense – 11 Silver Bullets swarming to the ball every play.”
Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase completed 19 passes, but they only went for 96 yards. He threw zero touchdowns and one interception.
Ohio State is 10-0 for the 10th time in program history as it enters its bye week.
On a day when Meyer and the coaching staff were hoping to get the backups valuable playing time, they were able to do so. The final 15 minutes featured the second- and third-string offense and defense getting game reps that can’t be understated.
Bri’onte Dunn was Ohio State’s second-leading rusher on the day, gaining 73 yards on 13 fourth-quarter carries. In his first action since playing the role of hero against Purdue, Kenny Guiton ran for 16 yards and completed one pass for 11 yards.
Illinois started the scoring with a field goal in the first quarter, giving the appearance that just maybe Ohio State’s first-quarter blues would continue. But any glimmer of hope for the Illini was short-lived.
The Buckeyes used a 10-play, 79-yard drive on its next possession to assert themselves. Ohio State ran it right at Illinois on the drive, running the ball on nine of the 10 plays. But the lone pass was a big one – 24 yards to Jake Stoneburner. Hyde began his three-touchdown day with a three-yard run to the end zone.
The score would be 7-6 at the end of the first quarter after Nick Immekus made his second field goal. The second quarter would prove to be Illinois’ undoing.
Ohio State racked up 24 points and 220 yards in the quarter. Drew Basil kicked a field goal to give Ohio State a 10-6 lead, but from there on it would be touchdowns – in the quarter and the game.
Hyde scored two touchdowns that bookended Miller’s pass to Smith. Miller was 4 of 8 passing for 128 yards and a touchdown in the quarter.
“I run with passion, aggression and attitude,” Hyde said. “I feel like I can’t be brought down and I run with that in my mind, which allows me to run hard. It doesn’t matter who scores more running touchdowns between Braxton and me because I just want to help my team win in whatever way possible.”
The Buckeyes held a 31-6 lead at halftime and already had attained a game’s worth of yards for many teams – 310.
The only scoring from Ohio State in the third quarter came on a two-yard keeper from Miller. It ended an 11-play drive that again was heavy on the run. Nine of the 11 plays were rushes.
Illinois scored a touchdown after Smith’s fumble-itis made an appearance on the Buckeyes’ next possession. A two-point conversion made it 38-14.
All season long, Miller has made one spectacular play after another. But it became Corey Brown’s time early in the fourth quarter. After catching the ball just a few steps past the line of scrimmage, Brown weaved his way through the Illinois defense, making six different defenders miss, until reaching the end zone.
Brown had been chided by his head coach earlier this season when he caught 12 passes for 84 yards at Michigan State.
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“He’s allowed to make a guy miss once in a while and get more than eight yards,” Meyer said.
Illinois’ last touchdown came on a 77-yard fumble return after Kenny Guiton threw an option pitch to no one in particular. Defensive back Ashante Williams scooped it up and ran it the other way. The extra point provided the fans with more entertainment. After a botched snap, holder Tim Russell picked the ball up and eluded two would-be tacklers to the two points to make it 45-22.
It looked like an Indiana repeat might be in store for a moment, when Illinois recovered the ensuing onside kick. But the play was overturned due to illegal touching.
Ohio State ran Bri’onte Dunn seven consecutive times for 44 yards and a touchdown to close out of the game.