Playing their final home game in Ohio Stadium, Ohio State redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett and 18 other seniors ran roughshod on Illinois.
The Fighting Illini seemed powerless to stop an Ohio State offense, which dropped 38 points before the starting unit was subbed out with six minutes to go in the second quarter. By that time, the Illini offense had accumulated just 25 yards.
“It’s not a goodbye because we have a lot of ball in front of us,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “But it was an opportunity for our seniors to tip their hat to the class, best fans in the land.”
The Buckeyes’ first-team offense retook the field after defensive back Ahmari Hayes picked up backup quarterback Dwayne Haskins’ fumble and returned it 54 yards for Illinois’ first score of the game. But after a 12-yard tight end Marcus Baugh touchdown reception, the starters headed to the bench for a final time as No. 9 Ohio State (9-2, 7-1 Big Ten) coasted to a 52-14 victory against Illinois (2-9, 0-9 Big Ten) Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
The victory clinched the Big Ten East for Ohio State and set up a matchup between the Buckeyes and Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship on Dec. 2.
“The message in the locker room was get out and get out fast,” redshirt senior center Billy Price said. “Take care of the ball, execute at a high level. We had a good game plan going in, we knew what they were going to do.”
In his final home game, Barrett completed 11-of-19 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. His first touchdown, an 11-yard pass to sophomore wideout Binjimen Victor, gave him 100 passing touchdowns, making him the first quarterback in program history to reach the century mark. Barrett added five rushes for 33 yards and a touchdown. Ohio State’s offense racked up 543 yards, surpassing the 500-yard mark for the ninth time this season.
Victor caught a second touchdown later in the game when Haskins hit him for a 21-yard score in the left side of the end zone. Redshirt junior H-back Parris Campbell caught three passes for a team-leading 59 yards. He also took a reverse for 44 yards.
Redshirt sophomore running back Mike Weber led the team with 11 carries for 108 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown for Ohio State’s first score of the game and a 43-yard touchdown dash later in the first quarter. The Buckeyes scored three rushing touchdowns in the first quarter, a feat the Illini have not achieved once the entire season. Freshman running back J.K. Dobbins added 12 rushes for 51 yards and a 1-yard touchdown rush.
“I will continue to tell y’all, if you get the running game going, everything else opens up,” Price said.
Meyer attributed much of the ground-game improvement to the offensive line.
“Most improved unit on our team,” Meyer said. “The leadership, the cohesiveness of that group led by their unit leader, [offensive line] coach [Greg Studrawa], has been very noticeable. It was not the strength of our team a year ago. It’s the strength of our team right now. We all know that teams that go to compete with what’s coming up down the road, you have to have a powerful offensive line.
The Illinois offense stood no chance against the Buckeyes, either. The Illini accumulated just 105 yards, less yards than in any single game since at least 2000.
The visiting team did not pick up a first-down until running back Dre Brown rushed 10 yards to move the chains with 3:37 remaining in the first half.
“Defense was dominant,” Meyer said, succinctly. “They did what they had to do.”
Ohio State ended the first quarter with 28 points, while the Illini had just 16 yards. The only statistical category Illinois held an advantage in was penalty yards. The visitors were penalized four times for 30 yards in the opening quarter, while the Buckeyes were not flagged.
Haskins went 5-for-8 for 77 yards, including one touchdown. He also rushed eight times for 23 yards.
The Buckeyes will look to extend its win streak in the final regular-season game of the season when they take on Michigan at noon Saturday in Ann Arbor, Michigan.