Buckeyes squeeze Juice, Illini
The Buckeyes' defense never gave Juice Williams and the Illini a chance to even start dreaming of another victory in their return to the Horseshoe.
Dan Herron slogged through a downpour for two touchdowns on Saturday and No. 13 Ohio State collected a second straight shutout for the first time in 13 years, beating the mistake-prone Illini 30-0.
"We want a mentality that we want to get to the ball, have at least five or six guys at the minimum there," defensive lineman Doug Worthington said. "And we did a good job doing that today."
With most of the game played in a soaking rain, the Buckeyes (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) relied on their defense and running game - failing to complete a pass in the opening half - to steamroll the Illini (1-2, 0-1).
"We wanted to lead with the run and mix in the pass had it been a beautiful day," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "But you know that didn't make sense with the circumstances. It was hard to throw the ball but I think it was even harder to catch it."
And it was even harder to catch the Buckeyes when they ran.
Brandon Saine rushed for 81 yards on 13 carries and Herron had 75 on 14 attempts - scoring on runs of 4 and 2 yards - and the defense did the rest.
"I was just running through wide-open holes," Saine marveled. "Come on - anyone could go through those holes."
Williams, who engineered that 28-21 upset of Ohio State in 2007, and the offense was held to 170 yards.
"It's like a nightmare," Williams said of the offensive woes. "A nightmare from which you can't wake up."
Even when the Illini were able to move the ball, they frequently were stopped by penalties (eight for 71 yards) or turnovers (interceptions by Lawrence Wilson, Jermale Hines and Brian Rolle).
Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor misfired on both of his pass attempts in the first half but the Buckeyes still led 13-0. He ended up completing 8 of 13 passes for 82 yards with an interception, tossing a 3-yard TD toss to Dane Sanzenbacher long after the outcome had been decided with 1:18 left. Pryor also rushed for 59 yards on 11 attempts.
Aaron Pettrey kicked field goals of 50, 46 and 27 yards.
There were bad feelings between the teams early on. Before warmups Ohio State's players massed atop the school logo at the 50 and traded taunts with the Illini, who ran right up to the Buckeyes. Coaches kept them separated and no punches were thrown. Two years ago, after the Illini had ruined the Buckeyes' unbeaten season on their home field, a fight broke out in the center of the field when Buckeyes players thought the Illini were stomping on their Block O logo.
Ohio State, which beat Toledo 38-0 a week ago, had not posted consecutive shutouts since the second-ranked Buckeyes beat Minnesota 45-0 and Illinois 48-0 late in the 1996 season.
The Illini were in a helpful mood. Facemask and late-hit penalties extended an Ohio State drive that finished with Herron skirting left end for a 13-0 lead.
A 27-yard Illinois punt put the Buckeyes in business at the Illini 39 early in the third quarter and they covered that distance in five plays with Herron again punching it in.
"I'm more tired of saying it than you are of hearing it, but obviously we didn't play once again the way we are capable," Illini coach Ron Zook said. "Everyone's written us off and that's fine. I would too if I was in your shoes."
Talk about nightmares: The Illini have lost their Big Ten opener 15 of the last 16 years.
Despite an 18-15 loss to Southern California two weeks earlier, the Buckeyes vowed that they're back in the national title picture.
"We showed that we're ready to bounce back after that loss to SC and we're always looking forward, always trying to better ourselves," linebacker Austin Spitler said. "Each week we've taken a step in the right direction and this is just another week."