Eight Quarters. 120 minutes. That's how much game time the Ohio State defense has gone without allowing so much as a single field goal. In a game many thought given recent history would be a one to two score victory at best, the Buckeyes brought the heat all afternoon en route to making a real statement to the rest of the conference.
Perhaps the only real negative to take away from the game is the increasing tragedy of dropping the Southern Cal contest, a game that more and more feels stolen by the team that wasn't really the best one on the field that evening.
On an afternoon in which one historical conference power needed multiple come backs (and some incredibly fortuitous officiating) in order to escape their double digit underdog, Ohio State allowed no such sloppiness to creep into their execution. Aaron Pettrey's field goal 7 minutes into the game would be the only offense Ohio State would need. For the second straight week the dominant defensive stylings of 2006 were back in full force, this week to such an extent Ohio State didn't even need a completed pass until the ballgame's second half.
While Terrelle Pryor's passing got off to a spotty start, the true sophomore signal caller eventually settled into a comfort zone on a day when the elements weren't particularly conducive to the passing game. Pryor completed 8/13 of his passes for a meager 82 yards, but added a late strike to security blanket Dane Sanzenbacher on a 4th-and-goal where Pryor and the Buckeye faithful alike pleaded with Tressel to go for it.
Pryor's primary limitation as a passer, somewhat ironically, seems to be be his reluctance to tuck the rock and let his superhuman feet take over and do the rest. In one series of events, Pryor locked in on the Z receiver, rolled right, never made any effort to check to down, and attempted to force the pass literally through a defender. Conveniently enough, the throw would go on to harmlessly ricochette off the as-surprised-as-you-and-I defender. This sort of decision making can only come with time, and as I imagine, a few particularly choice words directed his way when studying the game tape with the coaching staff.
While Pryor's passing will naturally get some of the discussion this week, the Ohio State offensive line can't get enough praise for their 3rd straight impressive performance. Mike Adams made his inaugural start of the '09 season and the added depth of being to able to move Andrew Miller around in relief showed. The Ohio State running game was the primary benefactor, averaging a staggering 5.1 yard per carry on 46 attempts for a total of 236 yards. After averaging just 2.8 a week prior, that sort of monumental jump can't get enough attention. Brandon Saine also looked particularly impressive exploding on one choice touch for 19 yards. The game was so comfortably in hand by the fourth quarter that we even had a chance to check out fellow Jeannette product Jordan Hall for a second straight weekend.
On the defensive side of the ball, we could spend all day waxing poetic about what color commentator Ed Cunningham accurately called the best defensive line in the country, but to see the sort of impact those 4 future professionals had you need not look any further than Illinois' box score. Juice Williams was limited to just 13/25 attempts for 77 yards, 0 TDs, and 2 INTs, on on a tip drill effort by sixteenth year senior Lawrence Wilson, and the other by 11W valentine Brian Rolle (We choo-choo-choose you, sir). Starting free safety Jermale Hines added a third pick on backup Eddie McGee's first attempt during garbage time.
The Illinois rushing attack was also virtually nonexistent in the face of pressure from the scary good d-line. Sophomore Mikel LeShoure (who?) was the leading rusher with just 25 yards, whereas former Buckeye killer Daniel Dufrene was limited to just 14 on 6 carries. Juice himself became very acquainted with the defense finishing with just 18 yards on the ground on fifteen carries.
In wrapping up 7 tackles, Thaddeus Gibson became so intimately involved with the Illinois backfield it was a surprise he wasn't playing fullback. Senior Kurt Coleman, in spite of a very suspect hit that could cost him his eligibility for playing against the Hoosiers next week, accrued a career best 9 tackles and seemed to be in on each of the 13 Juice Williams completions. Brian Rolle added eight tackles as well, and Doug Worthington tacked on a career-high seven as well. The defense as a whole had eight tackles for a loss, a complete testament to the state of fear Williams had to have been in the entire afternoon.
The defensive line doesn't deserve the bulk of all the praise, however. Ohio State's secondary played excellent man coverage on the Illini receivers all afternoon. Aside from one notable pass interference call on Chimdi Chewka, Regis Benn was made a total non-factor held to just 44 yards receiving. Devon Torrence had a dropped interception chance as did Coleman at one point during the game. Even Anderson Russell seemed to be settled in, who could be looking at a chance for redemption in the starting lineup should Coleman's helmet-to-helmet hit result in him missing the IU game.
Can't give Aaron Pettrey's rather bizarre follow through enough credit: the senior kicker nailed all 3 of his field goal attempts including a behemoth 50 yarded that would've likely been true from 55. Jon Thoma returned from the flu in uninspiring fashion, averaging just a little over 38 yards an attempt on his admittedly few 3 punt attempts. Thoma was helped in no part by one hideously ugly attempt that went off the side of his foot and barely went 30 yards. Another week's practices and more repetitions will hopefully get the senior punter back on track.
All in all, the play calling fit the environmental conditions the Buckeyes faced. Pryor still unquestionably has some maturing to do from a deacons making stand point, but the extra repetitions he received even up comfortably late in the 4th will hopefully help expedite the process. With a night game against the Hoosiers looming in what can only be better weather-wise, Pryor's passing will be a must if Ohio State wants to beat a Hoosier bunch who suddenly look far more capable than any of us were willing to give them credit for going into the season. And did I mention we're having the pleasure of watching a once in generational NFL quality d-line make every single one of their defensive teammates better snap after snap?