Buckeyes Hoping Identity Set Vs. Illini

Ohio State got out of a two-game losing streak by controlling the line of scrimmage last Saturday vs. Illinois. Can that run continue? The Buckeyes hope so. BuckeyeSports.com looks at the performance against the previously unbeaten Illini and wonders if the team has finally found its identity with the stretch run on tap.

Stopping a two-game slide requires toughness, and that's exactly the situation in which the Ohio State football team found itself going to face No. 16 Illinois last Saturday.

To overturn that first losing streak since 2004, the Buckeyes returned to their roots – by playing the type of football that would have made Woody Hayes proud.

The Buckeyes won the battle of the line of scrimmage on both sides, which paved the way for a 17-7 win in Champaign.

"On this team we pride ourselves on toughness, and our definition of that is how well you stop the run and how well you run the ball," left tackle Mike Adams said.

The hope for Ohio State is that will continue the rest of the year, starting with an Oct. 29 showdown with a highly ranked Wisconsin team that will bring in a famed offensive line that boasts monstrous size.

It's fair to say the Buckeyes were successful on both sides of things against the Illini. Throwing only four passes on the day, Ohio State telegraphed the fact it would be running the football on the majority of downs, yet the Buckeyes still were able to grind out 211 yards on 51 carries. Only three of the team's 38 rushes by running backs went for loss.

Meanwhile, the Silver Bullets shut down what had been a highly thought of Illini running game. Illinois entered the game having run the ball on more than two-thirds of its plays, but the team finished with only 3.3 yards per carry and was forced to throw 34 passes against 35 runs.

The performance was textbook Big Ten football, cornerback Travis Howard said after the game.

"Anytime you play in the Big Ten, you have to be physical," Howard said. "It's Big Ten football. Teams are going to run the ball, guys are bigger, and you have to have that mentality of going out there every day and being tough and physical. That's what we had to do today."

The performance on offense was probably most comforting considering the struggles Ohio State has had at times moving the football. One week after piling up 243 yards against Nebraska, the Buckeyes were again proficient on the ground against the Illini.

Those two showings have come after the return of Adams, who missed the first five games while serving a suspension. His return and the shuffling of Andrew Norwell and Jack Mewhort at the guard spots have led to a dominating push up front at times.

It was even more impressive considering how Illinois entered the game ninth in the country against the run, and with the wind blowing and Braxton Miller struggling through the air, it became clear the Buckeyes were going to have to move the ball on the ground but still did it even though the Illini brought a bevy of run blitzes.

Achieving similar success against Wisconsin, which boasts two excellent linebackers but has given up some ground in the running game this year, will be key.

"As an offense, you like that a lot, when you're running the ball and they know it," Adams said. "You kind of just go out there and say, ‘Well, stop us.' And when they can't stop you, football is a game of momentum, and that's definitely a way to get momentum on your side is to run the ball all over a defense."

The performance came after head coach Luke Fickell challenged the team to get the job done on the ground. In his return from his own suspension, Dan Herron piled up 114 yards and a touchdown, while Jordan Hall had 56 more yards and Miller picked up 34 of his own, a figure dulled by four sacks.

"I think the big thing this week was getting back to Buckeye football," said fullback Zach Boren, who played more than 50 plays. "That was the big thing Coach Fick stressed to us. We just had to go out there and run the ball. That's what we had to do. We went out there and had the three guys behind me with Carlos (Hyde) and Boom and Jordan and we just did our thing."

Defensively, the Silver Bullets were able to keep Illinois' offense from getting on track, allowing only three runs of 10 yards or more. The Buckeye defensive line won a lot of battles at the point of attack, as the two top tacklers on the team were Johnathan Hankins with nine and Simon with eight. The two combined for six tackles for loss and two sacks.

The Buckeyes had allowed more than 200 yards rushing against both Miami and Nebraska, and Hankins said it was good for the team to get back to its stated goal under defensive coordinator Jim Heacock of shutting down the run.

"It was kind of old school, stopping the run," he said. "Watching the film, we were coming off the ball and just doing our jobs and assignments. When you do that, it makes the overall defense look good. We feel more comfortable when the stop the run."

The whole performance had the team talking about getting back to playing Buckeye football, an ethos tight end Jacob Stoneburner put to words afterward while talking after the satisfying victory.

"Just tough, physical, executing," Stoneburner said. "We were 0-2 in the Big Ten. That doesn't happen. We just needed to come out and play physical football and that's what we did to win the game."

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