Ohio State 28, Illinois 3
CHAMPAIGN - Ezekiel Elliott improved his Heisman campaign by rushing for 181 yards, his 14th straight game over 100 yards rushing, and two touchdowns as Ohio State (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) remained undefeated with a 28-3 win over Illinois at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Following a one-game suspension following an arrest for operating a vehicle while intoxicated, Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett threw for 150 yards and a touchdown and ran for 74 yards and a touchdown.
Illinois (5-5, 2-4) lost their fourth of five games and still needs one more win over its last two games to earn bowl eligibility.
The Illini are just the second team to hold Ohio State under 30 points over the Buckeyes' last seven games. Illini safety Clayton Fejedelem totaled 15 tackles -- the sixth time in eight games that he's topped 12 tackles -- and Carroll Phillips shattered his career high in tackles with 11.
Illinois failed to score on three trips inside the Ohio State 25 due to a missed field goal, a fumble and a turnover on downs. Wes Lunt (23-for-47 for 241 yards) completed fewer than half his passes for the second time in three games.
Illinois ran for just 18 yards on 24 carries. Freshman running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn left the game with an undisclosed injury, and Josh Ferguson (49 rushing yards, 26 receiving yards) was limited by an apparent hamstring injury, forcing walk-on Cameron Tucker to earn reps at running back.
What it means
The possible distractions of the previous week -- the dismissal of athletic director Mike Thomas and the release of the full investigative report of abuses by former head coach Tim Beckman -- seemed to have no effect on the Illini, but they made way too many mistakes to pull off an upset. Ohio State is bigger, stronger, faster and deeper and Illinois hung around for a while because the Illinois defense continues to show vast improvement from a year ago. The unit, led by co-defensive coordinators Tim Banks and Mike Phair, have mostly kept the Illini competitive in games which they would've been blown out in the past. The Illini still have two chances to gain bowl eligibility against two beatable opponents, starting next week at Minnesota and two weeks from now against Northwestern at Soldier Field in Chicago. A bowl game -- or seven wins -- would be a heck of an accomplishment for a team that has dealt with so much adversity.
What went right
The Illini defense contained Ohio State for much of the game and didn't allow many big plays. The defensive line disrupted J.T. Barrett a bit in the passing game, but Ohio State finally fed its stud, Elliott, who pounded away. The Illini have found another possible pro on the defensive line with the emergence of Phillips.
What went wrong
Illini quarterback Wes Lunt may have had his worst day individually as the Illinois offense continues to sputter. He was inaccurate on sideline throws he usually completes and he missed several open receivers. He also has little trust in his pocket. The Illini offensive line struggled mightily, especially against likely top-3 pick Joey Bosa, but Lunt bailed on several plays too early. There's a lot of pressure on Lunt but he has to play better. The special teams also crushed Illinois with a hold snafu costing them three possible points and V'Angelo Bentley's muffed punt at the 10-yard line leading to an easy Elliott touchdown. Ferguson looked like a shell of himself after suffering the hamstring injury but still had to play due to Vaughn's injury, limiting the Illini offense.
Star of the game
Desmond Cain: The Illini freshman wide receiver had a career-high 10 catches for a career-high 102 yards. He's not Mikey Dudek, but Cain has run with his opportunity as the starting slot receiver. He has 16 catches for 176 yards over the last two games.
The Illini head to Minnesota, looking for a bowl-clinching win. Like the Illini, the Gophers have faced a lot of adversity: a rash of injuries and the resignation of head coach Jerry Kill due to health issues. But newly named head coach Tracy Claeys has the team playing hard. The Gophers are always physical and played tough against both Michigan and Ohio State. The matchup likely will be a toss-up in Vegas.