Yeesh. That was ugly. But who are we to ask for aesthetically pleasing football when we’re short on victories this season? Ugly wins are still wins and so it was for Ohio State, with a 17-7 decision over Illinois at the wind tunnel in Champaign. The Buckeyes ran the football well early and still managed to make a few plays when the Illini stacked the box. The defense dominated and held up down the stretch, despite being worn down. They refused to give in to the triple-reverse Zookening that could have happened. Ohio State stops the bleeding and enters the bye week at 4-3, and with Indiana, Purdue, Penn State and Michigan still on the schedule, a bowl game appearance is still in play.
The key talking point in this game will be that Ohio State completed one pass, but at least it was a 17-yard touchdown to Jake Stoneburner. Braxton Miller unleashed only four passes in the blustery conditions, with just the one completion. Windy weather was part of that, but some of it was protection breakdown and the other ongoing problems in the passing game (covered receivers, long-developing routes and a young, indecisive quarterback that is trying to limit mistakes, as well as a stubborn refusal of the coaching staff to call the kinds of easy passes that complement the running game and skill sets of guys like Jordan Hall). Give credit to Miller for not turning over the ball. Give credit also to the success of the running game, particularly Boom Herron, who rushed for more than 100 yards and a touchdown in his long-overdue return from NCAA jail. Boom showed why he is so valuable, showing great vision and an ability to turn nothing into something with a bounce to the outside.
The defense didn’t surrender a point until late in the fourth quarter. John Simon was outstanding, as was Hungry Hungry Hankins. Illinois was not able to get its zone-read running game untracked and its best plays were Nathan Scheelhaase scrambles. Bradley Roby and Travis Howard picked off Scheelhaase and mostly limited the damage of A.J. Jenkins. The Illini senior did catch eight balls for 80 yards, but most of it was underneath and he didn’t produce any truly explosive plays. Jason Ford ran six times for 30 yards before leaving with an injury. Ohio State limited Illinois to 114 yards rushing and 49 of that was Scheelhaase on mostly scrambles. Storm Klein forced one fumble and recovered another.
The opening drive was promising. A long, rush-filled OSU drive ended with a 43-yard field goal into the wind by Drew Basil, who apparently has seen Bend it Like Beckham. That was the lone score of a very dire first half that consisted of mostly punts and wind. The Illini started the second half with a Nathan Scheelhaase armpunt to Roby, which set up Boom’s 12-yard run. Miller added the pass to Stoneburner in the fourth quarter to make it 17-0 and then the defense forced Illinois to take a long, long time to answer on a 3-yard pass from Scheelhaase to Evan Wilson. That didn’t leave a lot of time for Ron Zook’s bunch to try a comeback. Ohio State did go three-and-out, but Howard’s pick seemed to settle things. The bad thing was that Howard left with an injury after the play and was later replaced by Pittsburgh Brown. The Illini did threaten again late, but they got Zook’d when their coach elected not to kick a field goal on fourth down, needing two scores with less than two minutes to play. Scheelhaase threw incomplete and Ohio State ran out the clock. It was nice having the more effective head coach on the sideline.
Buckeye fans will enjoy the bye week, knowing their team won’t be oh-for-October. Soak up every bit of the next two weeks. That’s when the Badgers come to Columbus.