While Ohio State has made a living this season playing down (and up) to opposition as the situation dictated it, the 2012 Buckeyes had their first (almost) wire-to-wire complete game against the unquestionably down Illinois Fighting Illinois en route to a 52-22 win. Carlos Hyde had his best game of the year for the Buckeyes running the ball 18 times for 138 yards and 3 TDs. Braxton Miller was his usual brilliant self as well, completing 12/20 for 226 yards and 2 TDs while also adding 13 carries for 73 yards and a TD there as well.
Tim Beckman's bunch jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and looked game to play annoyance for the majority of the afternoon before Ohio State showed their true colors on both sides of the ball late in the 1st quarter and turned on the jets in the second. A 28-0 Ohio State run bumped the half time lead up to 31-6 and there was little Illinois could do to stop Buckeye momentum then.
A late Adolphus Washington sack echoed an afternoon of Buckeye defensive strength. The Buckeyes outgained Illinois 570-172 yards on the afternoon and Buckeye defensive lineman John Simon was almost unblockable throughout the game.
Ohio State opened the game in typical 2012 Buckeye fashion, looking a bit uneven. A few three-and-out's here, a few unnecessarily extended drives for the opposition there, and it's easy to see why Urban Meyer would say after the game that "the way we started" was one of three or so negatives on an otherwise successful afternoon. Perhaps with a power outage that crippled Ohio State's new video board until just before kickoff, the Buckeyes were struggling to find themselves without the typical grating piped in pop music/football standards to take away from the natural stadium atmosphere.
Unlike other weeks in which Ohio State had a slow start, however, the defense looked relatively sharp early on. John Simon recorded a sack on the first play of the game, and Nathan Williams got to Nathan Scheelhaase in a play so dominant it almost looked as though he was blitzing against a ghost offense line in the very next series. In a sign that the staff recognized they were playing a 2-6 on the season team, true freshman Jacoby Boren, a legacy of Justin and Zach, came in on the second snap for season long starter Corey Linsley. Sophomore Steve Miller also saw time at defensive end on third down early in the contest.
Following an all too familiar pass interference penalty on Christian Bryant, the Ohio State junior safety who looks way more natural in run support than he does in pass coverage, Illinois' Nick Immekus, who didn't start the season as the Illini's kicker, came out to put Ohio State behind a 3-0 deficit.
The Buckeye offense would answer in stark contrast to the previous 8 minutes of the first quarter. Carlos Hyde would rumbe for 19 yards before Braxton Miller would look positively Braxton Miller-ian to get the ball inside the 10. A quarterback draw to the 3 on the ensuing play would give way to Carlos Hyde who would bulldoze through the Illini defensive line to give Ohio State their first lead of the day, 6-3. A Drew Basil point after gave the Buckeyes a 7-0 lead culminating a 10 play, 79 yard drive that lasted 3:30.
A strong return by the Illini's Terry Hawthorne, a missed holding call on the Buckeyes' Tommy Schutt, and eventually another bad penalty on Bryant would get the Illini into Ohio State territory. The Illini's Nathan Scheelhaase also looked like the Scheelhaase of old for the first time all season with his previously bum ankle holding up and allowing him to look mildly explosive on cuts. Still inexperienced at linebacker Zach Boren would go onto make a strong tackle on Illini running back Donovonn Young in pursuit and after a just missed Orhian Johnson interception, the Illini would be forced to settle for another Immekus field goal, cutting the lead to 7-6. Just by virtue of not giving up six on a drive that from beginning until the near interception looked like it would culminate that way would prove to be the spark for both sides of the Ohio State football team.
Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith were both in the back field together at the beginning of the second quarter for the first time this season. Meyer would later say after the game that he has designs on using them both in that capacity in Ohio State's final two games against Wisconsin and Michigan. A brilliant execution on a Miller-Smith option fake hand off to Hyde and a really nice ball by Braxton Miller to Ohio State tight end Nick Vannett would set up a Drew Basil touchdown that would increase the Ohio State lead to 10-6.
After another solid Hawthorne return (compounded by poor tackling/coverage by Ohio State's "piranha" unit, who were a bit decimated with injuries this week), a drive dominated by the likes of Ryan Shazier and Justin Boren would force another Illinois punt. Coming into the game, Illini punter Justin DuVernois was statistically the best punter in the league. Through three attempts on the afternoon, he had two just extremely poor punts.
A burst by Braxton Miller set the Buckeyes inside Illini territory. Following a series of well executed plays, a hurry up rush by Carlos Hyde would get he and the Buckeyes into the end zone for the second time on the afternoon, helping Ohio State expand the lead to 17-6. With his second touchdown of the afternoon, his 12th of the season, Hyde would equal Braxton Miller for the team lead lead in the rushing department. Miller's 14 yard scramble two plays before the TD gave him 11 carries for 55 yards on the afternoon.
For Ohio State's not exactly atypical sluggish start, the Buckeyes looked rather in control offensively. Other than one suspect/out of control Miller toss, he'd had three completions for 85 yards. The Illinois defense entered the afternoon having given up nearly eight yards per passing play, but after Ohio State's second drive, had given up three completions totaling 85 yards. Carlos Hyde had 3 TDs on the year going into the Nebraska game but after that second strike, had 11 in the four games since.
The ensuing kickoff would give way to a brilliant Dorian Grant special teams tackle. That sort of exhibition would be continued on the next drive with Johnathan Hankins running Scheelhaase out of bounds and a bad snap forcing the Illini to punt again. Rod Smith would execute a brilliant go-turned-wheel route on the Buckeyes' ensuing drive and Braxton Miller would make a tremendous throw to hit him for a 51-yard touchdown. The linebacker who should've had Smith didn't even attempt to mark him until the ball was in the air. As former Ohio State punter Jon Thoma noted, Tom Herman's voodoo was very much apparent with motions, clear outs, shadow pulls on the line, and multiple backs getting into the action while the Illini watched on confused. By that juncture, Smith was 5-7 yards down the field and open. With the flood gates effectively opened, Ohio State looked strongly in control.
John Simon would continue demolishing Illinois' offensive line on the next series. The Buckeyes' Michael Bennett and Joel Hale both saw action on the defensive line for the first time on the day. After DuVernois' third lackluster punt of the afternoon, Braxton Miller would make a series of absurd moves giving way to Carlos Hyde's third rushing touchdown of the afternoon. The TD would give him a (admittedly short lived) team lead and help expand the Ohio State lead to 31-6.
In the Buckeyes' previous two games against Illinois, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was 12/22 for 109 yards, 1 INT, and 20/39 for 169 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs respectively. That interception trend would continue with Travis Howard getting in the way on a sequence you could almost feel coming. The Buckeyes would take a few shots down the field, but the damage was done and Ohio State went to the half with a commanding 31-6 lead.
A few quick drops by Buckeyes receiver Jake Stoneburner (who was largely invisible on the afternoon) left some to wonder if perhaps the large lead had gotten to the team's head. A converted third down following a couple big runs by Hyde seemed to remove most of that doubt. Another beautifully executed Rod Smith-from-Braxton Miller option pitch enabled Miller to take the next play around the right corner of the Illini defense and in to the end zone. After a point after, Ohio State's lead was 38-6.
The Illini to their credit didn't show any real quit, despite being sorely outmatched. Two series laters, following a Rod Smith fumble, his third on the year, a weak Nathan Williams roughing the passer penalty and a few effective Jon Davis rushes would be capped bya a Davis rushing touchdown. A two point conversion from Scheelhaase to Illini tight end Matt LaCosse would make the score 38-14, Buckeyes.
To begin to the fourth quarter, Ohio State initiated a multiple tier line shift. Freshman offensive tackle Taylor Decker came on for a shaken up Reid Fragel, and then essentially the Buckeyes began to empty their bench. Freshman Luke Roberts was out on the kick coverage team and Purdue hero Kenny Guiton resumed the quarterbacking role. Freshman Bri'onte Dunn, who hadn't seen any real action since the UCF game, also entered and looked like he should've been playing a lot more than he has.
Unfortunately for all Ohio State had done right on the day, Kenny Guiton's mojo finally seemed to wear off a bit. An overconfident pitch as he was being tackle went backwards for a fumble and was scoop and scored by the Illini's Ashante Williams. Williams went 77 yards for the touchdown and set up one of the weirdest two point conversions you'll probably ever see.
Dunn would continue to get touches on the remaining Ohio State drives, and late in the game would ever scamper into the end zone to secure the final score of 52-22. Dunn would finish his mop up duty having rushed for 73 yards on 13 carries, better numbers than even Braxton Miller had recorded in almost three times as many minutes played. It's definitely a good problem for the Buckeyes to have if Dunn, Smith, and Hyde can all be viable complimentary options to the Ohio State Heisman trophy candidate.
Though Urban Meyer would stress that the team was very much "still a work in progress" in his post game press conference, Ohio State continues to get better week in week out. Meyer would become just the second Ohio State coach ever to open a season 10-0 in their inaugural go as Buckeyes' head man after his mentor Earl Bruce who went 11-0 in 1979. Ohio State faithful also bore witness to the first group of Bucks ever to score 50+ four times in a season. It's definitely a brave new world with Meyer, who's now 27-0 for his career when his team scores 50, at the helm.
This group of Buckeyes became just the 3rd in the last 29 years to score 34 or more rushing touchdowns joining the national championship 2002 team and Bruce's 1984 team. Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde both have played a huge role in making this happen, though Smith, who's 51 yard touchdown reception was not only the first of his career but first catch of the season, could play a role down the stretch to further increase that number.
Zach Boren, who it's easy to forget is just four games deep into playing linebacker at the collegiate level, matched his career best of 8 tackles. He's had an incredible 29 in five games since making the transition from fullback/h-back to fulltime linebacker. The ever impressive Ryan Shazier had a team-high 14 tackles (11 individual), including two tackles for a loss tying his career high.
While the Buckeyes continue to have to battle obstacles and juggle personnel, they keep winning. Their last two remaining tests of the season may be amongst their toughest, but while many probably didn't expect Ohio State to be where they are with two games remaining, they still fully control where they'll be when the clock hits zero in Ohio Stadium in that final game against Michigan. Where they go from here is anyone's guess, freshman defensive tackle Tommy Schutt perhaps put it best succinctly:
10-0— Tommy Schutt (@TommySchutt) November 4, 2012