If the Ohio State offense was looking past the Illinois Fighting Illini, and toward next week’s matchup with No. 7 Michigan State, it didn’t show.
The Buckeye offense bounced back from a subpar performance against Penn State as it routed the Fighting Illini, 55-14, Saturday night in Ohio Stadium.
Leading the way for the Buckeyes was a two-headed monster at quarterback as redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett and redshirt-sophomore Cardale Jones combined for 334 of OSU’s 545 total offensive yards.
Following the game, coach Urban Meyer said he was ultimately happy with how both quarterbacks played.
“J.T. missed a couple of wide open guys early in that game. But I was really impressed by the way he came back and he made some very good plays in the second quarter,” Meyer said. “And Cardale, I think that was the first time we let him play. And he was in there with some really young linemen and still moved the ball. So I thought did he very well.”
Barrett, who entered the game nursing a sprained MCL suffered against Penn State, said after the game that the injury didn’t affect the way he played against Illinois, despite missing multiple open throws.
“The knee didn’t really give me any problems throughout the game,” he said. “That’s all on me. The receivers did a great job of getting open, I just have to do a better job of getting the ball to them.”
Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said following the game that while Barrett’s missed passes are a concern, he isn’t worried about the redshirt-freshman ironing out the mistakes.
“He missed some open throws that we would have liked to have competed,” Herman said. “We will figure that part out, I don’t have any hesitation there. He is one of, if not the most accurate quarterback I have ever coached.”
Barrett finished the day 15-24 passing for 167 yards and two scores, both to senior wide receiver Devin Smith.
Smith’s two touchdowns on the night put him in a tie with former Buckeye wide receiver Santonio Holmes for third all-time on OSU’s career touchdown receptions list with 25.
Smith attributed his relationship with Barrett on the field to his big game.
“I have confidence in him and he has confidence in me,” Smith said after the game. “When you got that connection with QB and receiver, it’s night and day.”
Jones came in to start the second half with OSU up 31-0 and picked up where Barrett left off, throwing for two scores of his own, the first a 27-yard touchdown toss to sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson.
Barrett said after the game that he was not surprised Jones was able to come in and execute on offense in his absence.
“You really don’t know what you are going to get (with Jones),” Barrett said. “He is hurdling people, he is dropping dimes out there to Dontre against man coverage. Cardale is a great player and he is just getting better.”
A slight surprise for the Buckeye offense was freshman running back Curtis Samuel getting the start over sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, who had started the first seven games of the year for OSU.
Meyer said it was ultimately OSU running backs coach Stan Drayton’s decision of to give Samuel his first career start.
“Stan Drayton came to me in the middle of the week and said ‘I’d like to start Curtis Samuel this week, he’s doing everything right, and practices at an extremely high level,’” Meyer said. “And we still have great confidence in Zeke but we have two guys that can play.”
Herman attributed some of Samuel’s development and rise to the starting lineup to Drayton’s coaching.
“Coach Drayton does a hell of a job developing him and coaching him, but I think it was pretty apparent early in the spring that … we might have a real tailback here,” Herman said. “That certainly added to where we are at right now.”
The Buckeyes are now faced with their biggest test of the season as they are scheduled to take on the No. 7 Spartans, the team that defeated OSU in the 2013 Big Ten Championship game and ended a 24-game winning streak.
Meyer said following the win over Illinois that one factor will ultimately decide who comes out on top in East Lansing, Mich.
“It’s all about the most prepared team. That’s what’s going to win this game,” he said. “This is a motivated team. And I think the most prepared team will win it.”
The Buckeyes and Spartans are scheduled to face off Saturday. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.