Turnovers were the story of the day for the Illini. Juice’s first play from the Illini’s first drive from scrimmage resulted in a fumble and Terrelle Pryor rushing touchdown. Later, Malcolm Jenkins blocked his second punt of the season, which was good for a safety and 9-7 lead. The ensuing short kickoff set up the Buckeyes at the Illini’s 3 yard line and the Buckeyes made good for yet another score — this one on the ground by Beanie. Later, a certain scoring drive for the Illini was ended by a Kurt Coleman interception. The ensuing Ohio State drive ended with a Dane Sanzenbacher touchdown. After taking a 23-7 lead (later a 23-13 halftime lead), the Illini were unable to play catchup.
But controlling for those mistakes, our defense was absolutely torched by big plays in this game. Juice Williams had 193 yards throwing and two TDs (1 INT), though more than one of those TDs and 50 of those yards came on Ohio State’s obligatory garbage time touchdown drive on defense. The Illini’s production on the ground was even more embarrassing. The Illini used a balanced rushing attack from Juice and the two tailbacks (Dufrene and Ford) to rack up 214 yards rushing. In total, the Illini outgained the Buckeyes 455 to 354. Still, the Buckeyes won were it counted most, I guess.
Of course, there’s not a lot to read into the Buckeye passing game because the Buckeyes ran 52 times, allowing Pryor only 10 passing plays. The casual Buckeye fan would see that disparity and assume only the most banal, stubborn playcalling — an observation without a lot of validity. What made the rushing game work was some creative misdirection and playcalling by the coaching staff. The second down call near the goal line on the Buckeyes’ first scoring drive was a shotgun QB off-tackle run with Beanie as lead blocker. The eventual touchdown was a misdirection fake dive to Boom Herron (I believe) that set up Pryor’s bootleg and walk into the end zone. Further, the QB draws were an uncommon wrinkle in the Buckeyes’ rushing attack and we saw them a lot this game. The end result: a lot of rushing plays that worked precisely because the Illini hadn’t seen them before. It doesn’t hurt to have a guy who runs like a gazelle for a tailback and a guy who runs like an armoured personnel carrier for a tailback.
Also helping the Buckeye rushing attack: the offensive line. The offensive line didn’t dominate this game, but it did much more than it did against Northwestern the week earlier. Instead of piling up yards in spite of the offensive line, Beanie was the beneficiary of some blocking up front with Alex Boone looking to be most productive member of that unit. The running lanes were definitely there, but I still saw some things that worried me. For the first game this season (perhaps with Penn State as an exception), it seems Michael Brewster was pushed around a lot this game by the Illini’s tackles. Brewster had been a reliable and consistent performer on the line this season after having been thrown into the mix following the USC game. He is a freshman and I’m sure that it’ll be learning experience in the long run. But for this game, it seems like players like fellow freshman Corey Liuget got the better of him. Steve Rehring has also been slow to pull on plays.
Pryor completed 6 of what was only 10 passing attempts on the game, good for 49 yards. Ergo, there’s not a lot of superlative to hand out to the receivers. Hartline was the busiest when his end-arounds are also considered. He did have a drop, though. Dane Sanzenbacher led all receivers with 2 catches for 22 yards and a touchdown. 20 of those 22 came on the touchdown reception. He also took more shots this game, and I’m sure he can’t wait until the Michigan game is over in order to use the month-long layoff to unscramble his brains.
There had to have been over 20 missed tackles by the Buckeyes this game, and a lot of that was responsible for extended Illinois drives and even touchdowns. It was far and away the most frustrating element to the defensive performance this game because there was still pressure exerted on Juice Williams (or the backup McGee) by the defensive line. Yet, the defensive line itself appears to be a mixed bag. I think they did a great job in getting penetration to take away the interior on rushing plays. Where rushing yards were piled up on the read option from the snap — and there were lots of them — the responsibility mostly appeared to be missed tackles or over pursuit by the linebackers and defensive backs. Further, some of the bigger plays by Dufrene, the Illini’s leading rusher on the game, came in the first drive where the Buckeyes looked totally confused (sigh…) by the no-huddle hurry-up stuff by the Illini. In terms of Xs and Os, the interior of that line did its job in defending the read option and forcing Juice to keep it. Heyward led all players in that unit with 7 tackles (2 solo). Nader Abdallah didn’t have a huge game, but I thought he played well (2 asst tackles and a fumble recovery).
That said, pass rushing still leaves a lot to be desired and that’s where I think the defensive line struggled the most this game. Juice Williams was sacked only twice, with one of those being a split sack by Worthington and Laurinaitis. In passing situations, the defensive line was unable to get to Juice with a 4 man rush. Where they were able to get to him or force him out of the pocket, they were unable to tackle him. I hate to say it, but in these situations, the defensive line looked… yes… slow.
The secondary certainly got a workout with all the missed tackles. Kurt Coleman, strong safety, led all defenders with 11 tackles (6 solo) and came up with the fortuitous interception to end what was otherwise a very promising drive for the Illini. Tyler Moeller certainly caught the eye filling in for the injured Jermale Hines at nickelback. His 7 tackles (5 solo) were good for 4th best on the day for the defense. Further, he came on more than a few blitzes, finishing with two TFLs. Moreover, while Freeman actually jarred the ball loose, Moeller gets the stat for the forced fumble in the first quarter (see above picture). Elsewhere, Malcolm Jenkins showed that, in spite of just 2 tackles on the day, his 3 pass breakups and blocked punt will underscore why he probably won’t regret coming back for his senior year.
- I hate Michigan. I hate Michigan with every aching muscle in this tired body of mine. That is the real enemy; this is the primary objective. With Illinois out of the way, I now have 6.5 days left in this all too short week to explore the depths of my soul and fully grasp, as a guy who now owns a blog, the menacing specter that the very existence of this haunting, holistic apparition that we label “Michigan” poses to my very essence… to my very being.
- It’s odd that we haven’t called on Nathan Williams or Thaddeus Gibson much the past two games. Instead, Abdallah, Heyward and even Worthington have been getting the recognition in that unit.
- For the second straight week, the Pasch-Ware coverage of an Ohio State game has been somewhat frustrating. Most importantly, I don’t care to watch some low income nobody among the Illini fanbase cooking some kind of “food” contraption while a costly holding penalty gets called on an Ohio State lineman and I don’t get to hear who it was.
- On the topic of Ware, his “Ware It Out” segment on the BCS was also cause for consternation… at least when you consider how he comes off in his comments to be overly critical of Ohio State getting any kind of perceived preferential treatment over Utah or Boise State in at-large selections. True, it would not be fair for Ohio State to get any kind preferential treatment by virtue of marquee value or travel considerations because that would corroborate my observation that the BCS is a glorified country club. But in the same breath, while Andre Ware doesn’t want Ohio State getting that preferential treatment, he also wants the Big 12 and the SEC to get 3 teams in each? He did say that. There’s two ways to interpret that, and Andre Ware is free to own up to any one of them: A) Andre Ware is against Ohio State getting an at-large bid [fair enough] and is couching this viewpoint in an inconsistent logic or B) Andre Ware is an idiot.
- We’ll all have to watch to see what comes from the Beanie and Abdallah injuries. We’ll watch with baited breath if Beanie pulled a hammie while I think Abdallah went down with a cramp. His injury didn’t look too serious.
- The Illini certainly were chippy this game. More importantly, they still lost. Suck it, Vontae Davis.
- On Beanie, part of me really wishes he would go pro after this season. It’s not for fear that his injury problems might hurt us next year and throw off our offense, just that with how fragile the big backs are in the NFL, I’d hate to think him feeling he had to come back would result in another injury that could compromise his draft stock or, worse yet, his career. If he decides to go pro after this season and secure his money, I don’t think any Buckeye fan would blame him. I certainly wouldn’t. Instead, I’d fondly remember one of the best tailbacks of my generation and one of the all-time greats in Ohio State history.
- I’m hoping the Illini were taking notes on how the game ended. More importantly, an important conference road win doesn’t have to be celebrated with by a flag-planting ceremony at midfield. Did you see that, Ron Zook? I’m hoping you did.
- With Penn State winning today against Indiana, the Buckeyes can hope for no greater than a shared conference crown. Either Penn State or Michigan State will finish the season with only one conference loss.
- Illinois finishes up next week at Evanston… a game that Mike Kafka may not make on account of a concussion suffered against Michigan today. A loss would make them bowl ineligible.
- More news and notes to be found here. Such as: Dane Sanzenbacher’s TD catch was the first of the season and only the second of his career. The first of his career came against Youngstown State last year, his first career game.