The current state of the BCS, as well as this specific year of college football, requires that teams not only win, but impress when they do. Florida State can't just beat Syracuse, it must humiliate the Orange. Alabama isn't successful if it beats Mississippi State, only if it wins by an uber-convincing margin.
The Ohio State Buckeyes, sitting in third place in the BCS, and looking up at two unbeatens, could not afford to simply win the 2013 Illibuck, but needed to humiliate Tim Beckman and the Illinois Fighting Illini on their own field. Humiliation was not in the cards for the Buckeyes until late, battling all day with a never-say-die opponent, and eventually outlasting the Illini, 60-35 on the strength of a career day by Carlos Hyde.
Illinois posed an interesting threat to the Buckeyes as the game opened, with Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback, and Bill Cubit calling the plays on offense. But the Illini defense left much to be desired. Ohio State began the day with the ball and before most Illini fans could find their seats, Ohio State's Braxton Miller showed that he has clearly upgraded from XBrax 360 to XBrax One, going 70 yards almost untouched up the middle to put the Buckeyes on the board, 7-0, before a minute of game time expired.
A key for Illinois (and for any Ohio State opponent, really) was to get on the board early and try to keep pace with Urban Meyer's Buckeyes. Scheelhaase, coming off of an almost 500-yard game last week against Indiana, was Cubit's weapon of choice, but in the first quarter did his team no favors, moving the ball to midfield on passes, before throwing a jump-ball to C.J. Barnett in coverage, and giving the ball back to the Buckeyes.
But Miller and the offense couldn't capitalize on the reversed field after the interception. A loss of yardage on a fumbled snap by Miller, followed by two consecutive incompletions brought Cameron Johnston onto the field for the first time on the day. Illinois, not wanted to upstage the visiting Buckeyes, matched three-and-outs on their next possession, giving the ball back to Ohio State, but pinning the Buckeyes inside their own 10-yard line.
Carlos Hyde, the stalwart running back of the Buckeye offense for the last four weeks, did not start the day on the field, sitting out the first few plays after apparently missing class this week, was given the opportunity to flex his muscles against a suspect Illinois defensive corps. Hyde carried three times on the drive, for 24 yards, and caught Miller's screen pass, avoiding two tacklers and finding pay dirt for an 18-yard score, to put the Buckeyes on top 14-0.
The ball back in Scheelhaase's hands, it was clear that the Illini defense would have trouble staying with the Buckeye offense, and that the Illinois quarterback needed to step up his game in order to keep his team on pace with the nation's #3 team. After completing consecutive passes for 31 yards to Steve Hull and Miles Osei, Scheelhaase found Ohio State's Bradley Roby after the ball was tipped, and the Buckeye defensive back returned the gift to the house, upping the Buckeye lead to 21-0 with just under five minutes to go in the first quarter.
Illinois and Ohio State traded punts on the next three drives, extending into the second quarter of play. A Justin DuVernois punt off the side of his foot gave Ohio State positive field position again, which was made only better by a 28-yard juking scamper by Miller, which set up a back-corner throw and catch to Philly Brown to extend the lead to four touchdowns.
The Buckeyes showed no chinks in their armor to start the game, but the first blip came on special teams. Another Cameron Johnston punt landed in the hands of Cleveland Glenview grad V'Angelo Bentley, who deftly made four or five Buckeyes miss their tackles on the way to the end zone, the first score against the Buckeyes in over 90 minutes of game action.
Ohio State answered right back, with Jordan Hall returning the ensuing kickoff 47 yards, giving Miller and Hyde a short field with which to work. Miller accounted for 40 yards of offense, and Hyde went the final eight yards into the end zone to put the lead back to 28 points. The short, 1:42 drive left plenty of time on the clock for Scheelhaase who, despite taking a third sack from freshman Joey Bosa (who eventually left the game with a neck sprain), marched down the field, scoring on a 19-yard Hull reception. The half ended with the score at 35-14, and little concern for the Buckeye faithful going into the locker room.
And then the second half began, and the Illini started to show some fight.
Like Ohio State's Miller in the first half, the second half opened showcasing Nathan Scheelhaase's arm and legs. The second half opening drive went 75 yards, with Scheelhaase taking the credit for 56 yards on the ground and through the air, and throwing to Evan Wilson for the 57th yard, the quick score bringing the Illini to within two touchdowns.
The Buckeyes first answer of the half was not a good one. Miller could not complete a pass, but the Buckeyes were saved from a three and out by a pass interference call on Illinois's Darius Mosley. The second life would not last long, as a confusing option read between Miller and Hyde put the ball on the turf and back into the hands of the Illini. The Illinois offense stalled, punting back to the Buckeyes, whose offense also stalled, calling on Johnston for another punt. The Ausie got good leg on the ball, a booming punt of 70 yards, pinning the Illini deep in their own territory.
With Illinois pinned at their own 10-yard line, the Buckeye defense began to salivate. A Scheelhaase incompletion was caused by an oncoming Ryan Shazier, who took the Illini quarterback's helmet with him after delivering a punishing blow. Per NCAA rules, Scheelhaase would have to come out of the game for a play, ceding control to Reilly O'Toole. After a false start at the worst time, O'Toole took the next snap and was met by Shazier in the end zone, fumbling the ball away, eventually regained by the Illini, and putting two more points on the board for the Buckeyes.
In what looked like a position to put the game away, Dontre Wilson took the free kick 31 yards on his return. Miller's first play of the drive, a 47-yard pass to Chris Fields, set the offense up deep in Illinois territory; but his second play landed him on the sideline, the victim of a late hit Jonathan Brown. Kenny Guiton managed the offense for two plays, before Hyde added his third score of the afternoon, putting the Buckeyes on top, 44-21 late in the third quarter.
An increasingly uneven fourth quarter saw the chippy Illini stay in the game for much longer than most expected. Granted, the Ohio State defense began the day with Curtis Grant and Josh Perry out due to injury, and losing the aforementioned Bosa during the game, but there was no real killer instinct by the defense after Roby's pick-six in the first quarter. Consistently Scheelhaase, despite spending much of the afternoon on his back, found his receiving corps wide open at the last second, the result of mental lapses by the Buckeye secondary.
Carlos Hyde was the obvious MVP for the game, continuing a torrid pace that has seen the senior separate himself as one of the best running backs in the country. Hyde's 24 rushes for 246 and five total touchdowns were a sight to behold, and put the game truly and finally out of reach, while setting a record for most touchdowns by any Buckeye team in history. But Miller's day, which was fun to watch on the ground (16 rushes for 184 yards and a touchdown), left many wanting with his arm, finishing 13-29, for just 150 yards, two scores and a fumble.
It wasn't necessarily the decisive, mouth-punch of a win that the first quarter predicated, but when the clock hit 00:00, the Buckeyes left the field with their tenth win to remain undefeated on the year, and under Urban Meyer, tying the longest winning streak in school history. With another high-scoring offense on the schedule next week in Indiana, it will likely be a long week of practice for the Buckeye defense, a unit that has been the only problem spot for an otherwise great college football team from time to time this year.
In all likelihood, this game won't be the difference between the Buckeyes getting to the BCS National Championship Game and just getting to the Rose Bowl. Voters and computers will have to decide if one-loss Stanford or undefeated Baylor are a more deserving squad to sit behind Alabama and Florida State. But the goal for this team remains clear for these Buckeyes - win the games on the schedule. After that, it is out of their hands.