No member of OSU's roster save for former Michigan lineman Justin Boren knows what it is like not to finish a season as Big Ten champs. If the Buckeyes want to tie a conference record with their sixth straight league crown, they have now been served notice that it will be no walk in the park.
Junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who missed seven plays with a leg injury, said the game was just another step en route to bigger things.
"Championship teams, no matter who you are you've got to face adversity," Pryor said. "We've got a target on our back and my hat's off to Illinois. It was a hard-fought Big Ten game but at the end of the day we came out with the win. We've got to keep getting better and pushing forward because we can't play like the way we did today."
Following the game, head coach Jim Tressel said he did not feel his players underestimated the Fighting Illini.
"I'm not sure any of them thought it would be easy," he said. "To win a Big Ten title is a hard task. Every team in this conference knows it. Is it a reminder? When you line up it's easy to think back to games. Now, all of a sudden you're walking to the bus tonight all bruised up and know you were in a dogfight.
"Yeah, it's a good reminder, but our guys did not come in here thinking that this was going to be some two-and-a-half quarter game and we'll get the second group in."
Until the game against the Fighting Illini, the Buckeyes were outscoring opponents by an average of 34.8 points per contest and their average of 49.2 points per game marked the third-best mark in the nation. The 290 yards of total offense marked the lowest output for OSU since last year's 287-yard performance in an Oct. 17 road loss to Purdue.
Freshman defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said his first career Big Ten game felt different than the first four games of the season.
"It was great," he said. "You had to anticipate every play. You had to go hard every play. You can't take off because if you take off one play, a big play will happen. It was a good offense we went against. It was a good first game on the road."
Asked what he learned about Big Ten football, Hankins said, "It's going to be tough. Teams are going to be coming out fighting, ready to knock us off but we've got to hold our ground."
With a starting lineup that boasted only two players younger than juniors, Dane Sanzenbacher said the team's experience helped with the victory. Given the choice, however, the senior wideout and captain said he would have preferred the decisive victory.
"Obviously it's not something we wanted to happen," he said. "We don't want to be in those close games and put ourselves in those situations but at the same time I think it's something the team needed to go through and you might as well go through it early because it can really build your character."
Three days removed from the game, Tressel said, "It's a real-life reality of the difficulty of the Big Ten and it's going to be that way (all year). It won't take the exact same form each week because everyone has different things that they do, but the intent of Big Ten foes' interest in beating you is real. I thought that our guys got a good taste of that and know we've got to get better if we want to contend."
So while the game might have caused plenty of worry among the Buckeye faithful, senior defensive tackle Dexter Larimore said he was happy with how it all went down.
"It's good to have adversity," Larimore said. "That's the time that you learn the most. With this team, we've got a lot of lessons to learn and it's good to learn one week one against a good team. Coming up to Illinois and winning is not easy, especially at Ohio State. There's been a big rivalry here. It's good to face that adversity and still come out on top."