When a team doesn’t complete a pass the entire first half and finishes with 82 yards passing, it’s unlikely that team will fall on the winning side of things. It’s even less likely that squad will win 30-0 over a conference rival.
But thanks to strong performances out of the backfield by both Daniel Herron and Brandon Saine, the Buckeyes were able to avenge their 2007 home loss to Illinois in relatively easy fashion, and end with yet another shutout by the defense.
The rain-soaked conditions made it difficult to throw the ball for both teams. The difference was Ohio State was able to turn to the run while Illinois continued to try and throw the ball, resulting in three interceptions for the Illini and none for OSU. In the 2007 game, it was OSU who had the three interceptions to Illinois’ zero.
The ball control in the tough conditions would again prove to be a key difference.
“The run game was called upon when those conditions got horrible and [I] thought they delivered,” said head coach Jim Tressel.
When it was all said and done, the Buckeyes had outgained Illinois 236 yards to 82 on the ground, largely due in part to the tandem of Herron and Saine.
“We always knew we could run the ball,” Saine said. “It [splitting carries] is good for us. There’s always a fresh back on the field so you don’t get too tired, and being able to come off the field and know that ‘Boom’ is going to get in there and get it done is a good feeling.”
As for Herron, his two scores now make it eight consecutive games he’s scored a touchdown, despite never really being the lone back for the Buckeyes, sharing time with Chris Wells last year and Saine this year.
“We executed a lot better today,” said Herron. “The first few games we didn’t execute like we needed to, but we’ve been working hard and it was only a matter of time until we had a game like this.”
Defense still strong
Ohio State has a long tradition of great defensive players, or “silver bullets” as they have been nicknamed since 1996. The latest standouts, James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins, graduated last year.
But with a second consecutive shutout, and only one touchdown allowed in the past 11 quarters, it’s becoming apparent that the OSU defense has simply reloaded.
Senior lineman, Doug Worthington, takes being a Buckeye defender seriously.
“Silver Bullets, I mean, bullets is fast,” he said. “We want a mentality that we want to get to the ball, have at least five or six guys at the minimum, and we did a good job doing that today.”
Replacing the middle linebacker spot that Laurinaitis filled for three years has been junior Brian Rolle. At only 5’11 and 221 pounds, many weren’t sure Rolle would start at all this year, but with another great performance that included an interception, he’s quickly proved he belongs.
“I’m lucky because I’m a natural athlete but there is so much more to it than that,” Rolle said. “There is something you have to learn in the game of football. Luckily, here at Ohio State we have great coaches who teach us the lessons of the game and put us where we should be and can help the team the most.”
Senior Kurt Coleman, who has been a starter on the past three Buckeye defenses, is enjoying this year’s version as much as any.
“I think the great thing about this defense is we’re hungry and never satisfied with what happens. We had a shutout last week against a great opponent, but we knew Illinois was going to come in with a lot of fire so we had to match that excellency and exceed it so we had to get out there and exceed everyone’s expectations because we know we’re the best.”
O-Line paves the way
While the credit in the box score will go to Herron and Saine, both they and the rest of the team knows that the offensive line was just as critical to the rushing performance Saturday.
“Our offensive line was really taking them where they didn’t want to go and opening up big holes in the middle,” Saine said. “It’s a definite confidence builder for them, we’ve always known that they’re really big guys and they’re strong and from here on, they know what they can do.”
There were some changes in the starting lineup as sophomore Mike Adams made his first career start at tackle. He was one of the top rated linemen in the country and a prized recruit for OSU two years ago.
Adams and the rest of the O-line didn’t allow a single sack, something OSU hadn’t done in 17 games. junior guard Justin Boren was pleased with the results of the new lineup.
“We’ve been working hard each week at getting better. As a unit, we feel we’ve been improving. Practice has been going well, and we’re getting results in the game.”
Antics fire up OSU, backfire on Illinois.
After the devastating loss to Illinois in 2007, some OSU players took offense to the Illini celebrating on their home field immediately after the game. It resulted in a brief altercation where punches were thrown.
Then, during warm-ups before Saturday’s game, some trash talk led to a small skirmish at midfield.
“Illinois came into our stadium feeling like they could come out with a win,” said junior offensive lineman Bryant Browning. “We feel like this is our stadium, so we ‘gotta’ protect it.”
And protect it they did. OSU punished quarterback Juice Williams and the Illinois offensive line with five sacks and forced three fumbles by Illinois players.
“Illinois has always been a very talkative team,” said Saine. “I guess they wanted to get us more fired up before the game and it worked, but as a disadvantage to them.”