Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 10/15/11

At times, it felt like one of the ugliest games televised this season.  But it ended in their first Big Ten win of the year, so the Buckeyes will take it.

Ohio State had a grand total of one pass completion, running the ball 50 times against four attempts for quarterback Braxton Miller.  How that imbalance equated to a win can be calculated by examining a tremendous defensive performance.

Though they lost the shutout late, the Ohio State D bounced back from last week’s embarrassing collapse in Lincoln to play an outstanding 60 minutes of football.  Backs Bradley Roby and Travis Howard intercepted Illini QB Nathan Scheelhaase in two plays that helped turn a tenuous game in OSU’s favor.  Tyler Moeller forced a fourth-quarter fumble  that helped set up OSU’s lone success through the air.  And when they weren’t getting takeaways, the Bucks were stifling the Illini offense both through the air and on the ground.

Dan Herron's return from suspension went as scripted for the Buckeyes (Daniel/ Getty)

Offensively, Ohio State was a trainwreck.  The play calling was ghastly as Luke Fickell and Jim Bollman refused to put any faith in Miller’s arm following last week’s ankle injury.  Miller, who admitted that his ankle hurt when he dropped back to pass, was limited to handoffs and draws, and while it was painful to watch, it’s tough to argue with the results.

Recap

Things started well for Ohio State on the road against the #16 Illini.  A 10-play march netted a 43-yard Basil field goal that skimmed inside the right upright.  Staked to the early lead, the defense went to work.

Illinois’ first half resulted in a grand total of 26 plays for 99 yards, five punts, and two three-and-outs.  Vaunted receiver A.J. Jenkins couldn’t get any traction against a determined OSU secondary, and the Illini ground game was ineffectual as John Simon and Johnathan Hankins spearheaded a dominant front seven.

The only negative was OSU’s inability to add to its lead.  Miller’s first pass attempt yielded a Philly Brown drop, and his other two were floaters that fell incomplete.  Otherwise the Bucks kept the ball on the ground.

Dan “Boom” Herron made his first appearance since being suspended as part of last year’s NCAA investigation, and his fresh legs made a world of difference for Luke Fickell’s ultra-conservative gameplan.  With a strategy that would have made Woody Hayes look like a riverboat gambler, Fickell was content to sit on his field goal advantage, and the team went into the break up 3-0.

The first possession of the second half essentially decided the game.  Looking downfield, Scheelhaase was picked off by ROby who returned the ball to the Illini 12.  From there, Herron found the endzone for the first time in 2011, putting the Buckeyes up 10-0.

Never had a ten point margin felt so insurmountable.

The teams traded long, tedious drives of 20 combined plays, but both ended in punts.  And as the game moved into the fourth, Moeller forced a fumble at the line that was covered up by linebacker Storm Klein.

Adding insult to injury for the Illini, an unsportsmanlike conduct flag moved OSU’s recovery from the Illinois 37 down to the 22.  After a pair of Herron runs, it appeared that Ohio State would try and put itself in the middle of the field to set up another Basil kick.  Instead, Miller shocked the entire stadium by finding tight end Jake Stoneburner over the middle for a beautiful 17-yard touchdown.

One pass, one score.  It’s hard to be more efficient than that.

Up 17-0, OSU went into prevent mode, which is rarely a good idea.  Illinois nickel and dimed its way down the field, ultiamtely finding the endzone on a 16-play, 8-yard drive that ate up nearly seven minutes off the rapidly dwindling clock.

With the lead cut to ten, the Buckeyes tried to bleed the remaining time, but were unable to sustain a drive.  With the clock under four minutes, Ben Buchanan punted the ball away and putting the suddenly lively Illini offense back on the field.  Faced with a golden opportunity to swing the momentum, Scheelhaase responded by offering up a badly underthrown ball into the waiting arms of Travis Howard.

At their own 35, the Bucks got another crack at burning time off the clock, but again the drive stalled quickly.  A bad personal foul by tackle Mike Adams put the offense in a hole, and Buchanan was forced to kick it back to the Illini with just more than two minutes left.

John Simon and the Buckeye defense rebounded with a vengeance against the overwhelmed Illini (Daniel/ Getty)

Scheelhaase went to work, moving the ball downfield and using the sidelines to his full advantage.  The Illini moved from their own 47 to the OSU 17, but faced with a fourth and two, coach Ron Zook inexplicably refused to kick the field goal.  Down ten points, he needed two scores to tie or win.  It was a tailor-made scenario for reliable kicker Derek Dimke.

Zook’s decision backfired when miscommunication left the ball bouncing in the empty flat as the intended Illini receiver was running down the field.

With a third chance to kill the clock, the OSU offense responded and cemented the 17-7 win.

Miller finished with the lone pass completion and 34 yards on the ground.  Herron and Jordan Hall, relegated to backup duty, combined for 170 yards on the ground.

Buckeye Stickers

  • Dan Herron, RB- Herron finished his 2011 debut with 114 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.  Bear in mind that everyone in the stadium knew what was coming; the Bucks made no effort to disguise their running game, and for the most part Herron faced eight and nine-man fronts.  Despite the stacked defense, he would not be denied.
  • The secondary- After last week’s collapse, and after previous struggles against pass, the Buckeyes’ defensive backfield looked strong against Scheelhaase and Jenkins.  Physical play was clearly the preferred method of dealing with the Illini receivers, and it paid off handsomely.  Illinois managed only 169 yards through the air

The game ball goes to…

The defensive front.  The Buckeyes’ stop unit came into this matchup with an obvious chip on its shoulder.  Whatever tongue-lashing defensive coordinator Jim Heacock delivered in practice last week was taken to heart.  The Illini looked nothing like a ranked team, amassing a meager 285 yards and killing themselves with costly turnovers.  On a day when the offense did next to nothing, the defense came up huge time and time again.

Ten of OSU’s 17 points were directly attributable to standout defensive plays.  The unit looked as good as it did against Michigan State, but this time the outcome was far superior.

Now 4-3, and with some positive momentum on which to build, Ohio State will go into its bye week working hard.  On October 29th, the #4 Wisconsin Badgers invade The ‘Shoe in what should be the Buckeyes’ toughest test of the season.

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