Defense Bounced Back From Slow Start

An early touchdown by Illinois gave the Fighting Illini some early momentum on Saturday, but the Ohio State defense fared well the rest of the way. The Buckeyes forced five three-and-outs and recorded a turnover during OSU's 24-13 victory.

In front of a near-capacity crowd at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, the Ohio State defense did not get off to a stellar start against Illinois.

After the Buckeyes started the game on offense and were held to a three-and-out, Illinois grabbed quick momentum with a touchdown on its first possession. The Fighting Illini made some big plays during the 55-yard march, including a 23-yard gain on a throwback pass from wide receiver Jarred Fayson to quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase that put the ball at the Ohio State 8-yard line. Three plays later, Scheelhaase called his own number and scored on a 3-yard touchdown rush over left guard.

The drive had the Buckeyes off balance on defense, especially the trick play on the throwback pass.

"I'm thinking, ‘Oh, they went (to a) bubble (screen) already.' " Rolle said. "And then the guy set up like a pass, and I thought, ‘Oh, crap.' I knew it. That kind of caught us off guard. It's something you don't expect early in the game."

Leading up to the game, Ohio State defensive players and co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell had mentioned that they were not exactly sure what the Fighting Illini would do offensively, and that appeared to be the case in the early going. The first Illinois drive had the Buckeyes off balance and each of the first three offensive possessions for the Illini ended in Ohio State territory. However, after the first quarter, the Buckeye defense stood tall. Illinois had 10 more offensive possessions after the first 15 minutes and only scored two field goals. Of those possessions, only two – the final two – lasted more than three plays.

While some of the defensive players and defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said the Illini did not do much that they didn't expect, senior defensive tackle Dexter Larimore said there was some adjustments that needed to be made early in the contest.

"It's really about discipline," he said. "I think early one we didn't have that. We kind of thought, ‘This is what they're going to come out in and this is what they're going to play.' But once we made the adjustments we started playing better, smarter and a little faster."

Rolle said it was a matter of execution.

"I think we just had to execute better," Rolle said. "I feel like we did that outside of our first drive."

Part of the defense's success for the Buckeyes was their ability to stifle Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure. The junior had a streak of four 100-plus rushing performances snapped, as Ohio State held him to 80 yards on 19 carries. The forced Scheelhaase to throw more than Illinois probably would have liked. The first-year starter completed 12 of 22 passes, but for only 109 yards with an interception.

Ohio State senior defensive end Cameron Heyward said stopping Leshoure was crucial.

"The run game was what we felt like we had to stop against them," Heyward said. "I felt like we did a decent job of that. We thought that was going to be a task, because (Leshoure) has had some pretty good yardage. I thought our guys did a decent job there."

All in all, the defense fared well against the Illini. Illinois rushed for a119 yards as a team and passed for 132. The unit also forced five three-and-outs, a stat that head coach Jim Tressel equates to a turnover.

"It was our first road Big Ten game, and you know you're going to have a lot of battles," Heyward said. "I think we handled it pretty well. There's a lot of things we need to correct in the future, but it's good to see our guys battling back and keep playing."

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