Champaign, Illinois- The mistakes that have plagued the Illinois Fighting Illini were cashed in by the Ohio State defense. #16 Illinois took it’s first loss of the 2011 season at home against the Ohio State Buckeyes. The end result was a score of 7-17.
My two biggest fears going into this past Saturday’s game were the stupid mistakes Illinois have made in recent games, and the offense continuing to run a stale option gameplan. In recent games, Illinois had to revert to an air game solidified by the play of quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and wide receiver A.J. Jenkins. The experienced Ohio State defense just simply wouldn’t allow it. To put the dominance Ohio State over the Illini in perspective, Ohio State beat Illinois at home and only had to complete one pass. Their power running game and dominating defense was all it took to give the Illini their first loss.
Both teams were feeling each other out the first half. Each side barely moved the ball. There were plenty of 3 and outs, leading to punts in the first half. The only first half points were with 9 minutes left in the first quarter on an Ohio State Drew Basil 43 yard field goal. Faceing the wind proved to be an advantage on this kick. The ball went wide right, just to curve, aided by the wind, through the uprights.
The second half had the same feel, but the difference maker was the turnovers. Illinois had 3 turnovers in the game, but 2 led to Ohio State points. Illinois’ first possession of the second half ended with Nathan Scheelhaas throwing an interception at the Illini 48 yard line. The pick was returned all the way back to the Illini 12 yard line by Ohio State’s Bradley Roby. This turnover led to points. Dan Herron would rush the ball 12 yards for an Ohio State touchdown. Ohio State Senior running back Dan Herron welcomed himself back after his multi-game suspension by owning the Illini defense. He had 23 carries for 114 yards and 1 touchdown.
The turnover problems continued for the Illini on their first possesion of the fourth quarter. After a 9 yard reception from Nathan Scheelhaase to A.J. Jenkins, Jenkins fumbled the ball and it was recovered by the Buckeyes. This would, yet again, turn into another Ohio State touchdown. Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller had only one completion out of four passing attempts. The completion came when he found tight end Jake Stoneburner for a 17 yard touchdown.
Illinois found the endzone on their next possession. Nathan Scheelhaase would get the passing game going on short passes and when all else failed, scramble the ball himself. This would led to a 3 yard touchdown pass to Illinois’ Evan Wilson. This score put Illinois down by 10 and left 6 and half minutes left in the game. It looked like another Illinois comeback was in the air.
Ohio State would run the ball and eat up the clock on their next possession. The Illini defense held them and a delay of game penalty by Ohio State would force them to punt. Illinois’ Ryan Lankford caught the short punt and this gave the Illini the ball at their own 47 yard line and 3:55 left in the game. But what once was found, was soon lost.
The very first down played by Illinois was yet another turnover. Nathan Scheelhaase threw an interception. Ohio State found themselves with the ball at their own 35 yard line, but would be forced to punt.
The Illini passing game marched them right down to the Ohio State 17 yard line with a little over a minute left in the game. Facing a 4th and 2 at the Buckeye 17 yard line, Illinois head coach Ron Zook opted to go for it instead of kicking the field goal. This decision turned into a game ending decision. Illinois was unable to convert the fourth down, giving Ohio State the ball and a minute left to play.
A field goal would’ve put the Illini down by only 7 and the chance for the onside kick. But the Illini are literally plagued with bad decisions and mistakes this season. Ohio State is a team that will take advantage and get guaranteed points off of them. Illinois has played mostly spread offenses at home this season. The talent of the Buckeyes and their option offense just proved too much. Ohio State only through the ball 4 times and had only one completion (17 passing yards total). They had 211 yards on the ground and 238 yards total. Illinois didn’t mass much more. They posted just 285 total yards of offense.
Illinois is still 6-1 and bowl eligible. They will travel to West Lafayette, Indiana this week we’re they’ll play their second road game against the Purdue Boilermakers.