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Ohio State earns a Big Ten Championship berth by beating Illinois 52-14

And with that victory, it is now officially M*ch*g*n Week!

Illinois v Ohio State Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images
Matt Tamanini Matt Tamanini is the co-managing editor of Land-Grant Holy Land having joined the site in 2016.

The No. 9 Ohio State Buckeyes are heading back to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game following their Senior Day victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini, 52-14. The win was the ninth straight in the series for the Buckeyes, dating back to 2008 (the teams did not play in 2016). With the win, OSU retains its only rivalry trophy, the beloved and iconic wooden turtle known as The Illibuck. The Buckeyes will face off with No. 5 Wisconsin in two weeks for the conference title, and perhaps a shot at the College Football Playoffs.

Coming into the game, S&P+ indicated that Illinois would be the lowest ranked team that the Buckeyes would face all year, and that was borne out early and often on Saturday. Quarterback J.T. Barrett, one of 19 seniors playing their final home game, orchestrated a nearly perfect offensive performance during his less than one half of action.

The Buckeyes opened the game with a methodical, nine-play, 75-yard drive to get the scoring started. Running back Mike Weber took the ball in from four yards out to put OSU up 7-0 just over three minutes into the game.

On the series, Barrett went 3-4 for 29, and freshman RB J.K. Dobbins picked up 14 yards on the ground. Also on the first drive, Barrett had an 18-yard rush to give him the school record for rushing yards by a quarterback, besting his former wide-receiver Braxton Miller, who had the old record at 3,054 yards.

After a three-and-out by the Illini, Parris Campbell took the ball from Weber on a reverse and went 44 yards inside the Illinois five-yard line. On the next play, Barrett kept the ball and lunged over the goal line to extend the Buckeye lead to 14-0 with eight minutes remaining in the first quarter. After the first two drives, Campbell had already picked up 65 yards in total offense. He would finish the day with 103 yards from scrimmage on just four touches. That translates to 25.75 yards per touch.

After another Illinois punt, Weber took a third down-handoff and raced 43 yards into the endzone to put the Buckeyes up 21-0 less than ten minutes into the game. In the past two weeks, Weber has shown breakaway speed that he didn’t seem to have during his redshirt freshman season in 2016. Now that he is healthy, and apparently adding speed to his arsenal of weapons, Weber could be looking at his NFL options come season’s end.

After the third Illinois punt of the quarter, Barrett connected with Campbell again on a 38-yard catch-and-run, and then from the 11, the QB hooked up with Binjimen Victor on a touchdown. The scoring pass was Barrett’s 100th of his career, the most for a quarterback in both Ohio State and Big Ten conference history. The score put the Buckeyes up 28-0.

The Buckeyes’ fifth possession of the game ended with a Sean Nuernberger 33-yard field goal that extended the OSU advantage to 31-0 with 12:19 left in the first half. Despite the Buckeyes not being able to punch it in from the redzone, the offense was humming, with Barrett going 9-15 for 114 yards at that point in the second quarter.

Following Illinois’ fifth punt in as many drives, Barrett took the ball 53 yards on eight plays, seven on the ground, to up the score to 38-0. Dobbins capped the drive on a one-yard touchdown run. The score was the seventh for the true-freshman on the season. While head coach Urban Meyer has said that Dobbins has earned the right to be the team’s starting running back, Weber, the more physical of the pair, has been seeing the bulk of the carries around the goal line in recent weeks, upping his touchdown total.

On the first play of the next drive, Barrett handed the ball off to Dobbins with 6:10 left in the second quarter, and then on the next play, redshirt-freshman Dwayne Haskins entered the game at quarterback, which appeared to end Barrett’s career in Ohio Stadium... that is until the third quarter. On the drive, center Billy Price and the offensive line exited the game as well, just minutes before the clouds opened and heavy rains began to fall.

The starting quarterback finished the half with 126 yards passing on 10-16 passing. Barrett also had 33 yards rushing and two touchdowns, one on the ground and one in the air.

From there, OSU punter Drue Chrisman saw his first action of the game, and on the subsequent drive, Illinois picked up its first first down with 3:28 left in the half. At that point, the Buckeye defense was mostly comprised of second string players as well.

At the conclusion of the first half, Weber had 91 yards rushing and two touchdowns, while Dobbins had 44 yards and a score.

The domination wasn’t confined to the scoreboard either, as the Buckeyes had 358 yards of offense in the first two quarters and Illinois only had 43, including just nine yards through the air. OSU went into the locker-room with a well-balanced 229 yards rushing and 129 yards passing.

The Illini ended OSU’s hopes for a shutout on the Buckeyes’ first drive of the second half. Haskins kept the ball on a read option, and was hit immediately, and the ball popped out. Illinois DB Ahmari Hayes scooped it up in the pouring rain and ran 53 yards into the endzone. With 11:04 left in the third quarter, the Buckeyes led 38-07.

After the fumble, Ohio State’s offensive starters came back into the game. A pair of rushes and an incompletion later, and Chrisman punted again. In the wet conditions, Illinois’ Nate Hobbs coughed up the ball, and it was recovered by OSU’s Jeffrey Okudah, setting the Buckeyes up at the Illinois 29.

On third down, Barrett and the offensive line rolled left, but tight end Marcus Baugh snuck through and crossed the field to the right, where Barrett found him for an easy 12-yard TD pass, to increase the OSU advantage to 45-7.

In the starters surprising third quarter series, Mike Weber eclipsed the 100-yard mark on the day (108). Antonio Williams was the second highest rusher for OSU, picking up 74 yards on 19 carries in mop-up duty.

On the next drive, Illinois was forced to punt after a three-and-out for the ninth time, and redshirt-sophomore quarterback Joe Burrow entered the game to lead the Buckeyes. However, after the new QB recovered his own fumble, OSU was forced to punt again.

With the second team defense on the field, Illinois did pick up its second first down before the end of the third quarter, but sophomore defensive end Jonathon Cooper picked up his second sack of the game to force yet another Illini punt.

On the ensuing drive, Haskins was back in for the Buckeyes, and even though the score was 45-7, the freshman QB was still throwing downfield, including 33 and 13-yarders to Terry McLaurin. The Buckeyes finished the drive with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Haskins to Victor, moving the score to 52-14. Haskins finished the game 5-8 for 77 yards and a score.

After the kickoff, Illinois was able to cross the 50-yard line for the first time in the game. As the Illini moved into the redzone for the first time, quarterback Chayce Crouch rushed to the outside and as he stepped out of bounds, freshman safety Isaiah Pryor was blocked into him, and flagged for a late hit. Crouch went down to the ground hard and needed assistance to get off the field.

On the next play, backup QB Cam Miller entered and kept the ball on the option and scampered to paydirt for Illinois’ first offensive score of the game. With just over 10 minutes remaining, the Buckeyes were up 52-14, as the rain continued to intensify, and that is where the day’s scoring ended.

When the game mercifully came to an end, the Buckeyes had outgained the Illini 543-105; much of the Illinois yardage coming on their sole offensive scoring drive. With the game in hand early on, and torrential rains throughout, the Buckeyes were run-heavy, picking up 325 yards on the ground, compared the 218 through the air. Illinois’ split was 89/16.

The Buckeyes will conclude their regular season against the No. 24 Michigan Wolverines. The game will kick off at 12:00 p.m. ET from The Big House in Ann Arbor, MI.