Maybe it was an Illinois team that simply caught Ohio State off guard as the Buckeyes' lead continued to grow.
In any event, the Buckeyes (10-0, 7-0) tied a program record for consecutive wins (22) in a 60-35 win against the Fighting Illini (3-7, 0-6) but had its defense exposed at an inopportune moment in the team's chase for a national championship.
Ohio State allowed 420 yards by game's end, and that made for a nervy second half. After Ohio State opened leads of 28 points on two separate occasions, Illinois found its footing and pulled to within 12 points with 8:49 to play in regulation. Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde used runs of 50-plus yards on two consecutive carries to score and put the game out of reach for good, but Illinois had probably inflicted damage on how the Buckeyes win will be perceived, as national polls and computer rankings could reveal.
"I'm not satisfied because you don't want anyone to score any points on you, but 35 is way too much," said junior linebacker Ryan Shazier, who had 16 tackles. "If the offense isn't the offense that it is right now, this could have been a different situation, so we gave up too many points today and we just have to work on it and fix it this week."
The defense rolled through much of the first half. True freshman defensive lineman Joey Bosa was part of three of the Buckeyes' six sacks in the game and junior corner Bradley Roby returned a Scheelhaase interception 63 yards to make it 28-0 less than five minutes into the second quarter.
"We love to put points on the defense from the defensive side and we had a nice little cushion," Ohio State senior safety C.J. Barnett said of the team's early dominant play. "Our mistakes weren't as bad (after that)."
Buckeyes sophomore Noah Spence agreed, saying the defensive success in the first half is something Ohio State can apply next week against Indiana.
"It's awesome. I think pressuring the quarterback is definitely something that we need," Spence said. "(We have to) keep attacking and just trying to disrupt every play."
But the Buckeyes didn't make that happen. Shortly after the Roby pick-six, Illinois' V'Angelo Bentley ripped off a 67-yard punt return score that vaulted the Fighting Illini back into the game.
"That punt return that they had was huge," Barnett said. "That's tough. We pride ourselves on being the best punt team in America and that's unacceptable. We've got to go in there and get that fixed, but I think it was a little bit of a lull. They had momentum."
That Illinois momentum manifested itself in the form of two Scheelhaase touchdown passes, a 19-yard flick to Steve Hull just before halftime and a 1-yard strike to Evan Wilson when the Fighting Illini took the ball to start the third quarter. Those scores made it 35-21.
The lull lived on as Scheelhaase recorded two runs of more than 20 yards, ending the Buckeyes' streak of not allowing 20-yard ground gains on any single play prior to the Illinois game.
The Fighting Illini were forced into a third-quarter safety, which Ohio State followed up with a Hyde touchdown to move far in front of the hosts again, but Scheelhaase added a 5-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter before Josh Ferguson added a 4-yard rushing score to make close the gap to 47-35.
Ohio State pulled away from there, leaving the defense to enjoy the Buckeye victory.
"(Coach told us) to enjoy the win," Barnett said. "It's tough to win on the road. We got the win (and) just have to get back to work tomorrow. We can't focus on what (media) are saying."
It cannot be lost in the discussion of Ohio State's defensive play that linebackers Curtis Grant and Josh Perry were absent from the game, leaving third-string option and sophomore Camren Williams left to fill the void. Williams finished the game with 10 tackles and one pass breakup.
Echoing the message he shared with his players after the game, Meyer told the media that his team must focus on getting a little better every day as opposed to the national championship picture. Still, he said, there was much to be desired from the Silver Bullets.
"Not good enough," Meyer said. "We're not playing good enough defense for what we expect."