Buckeyes Pleased With Win, Not Performance

Ohio State ventured to Illinois to tie the school record for consecutive wins and did just that, so in many ways it was mission accomplished for the Buckeyes. But at the same time, OSU left Champaign knowing it can play a better game than it did in the sloppy 60-35 victory it posted Saturday.

The Ohio State football team had last week off to charge its batteries for a furious finish with national and Big Ten championship hopes on the line.

Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they also had a chance to hear just how good people think they are – and what they need to do to end up in the BCS National Championship Game.

"Over the past few weeks with the bye week, everybody has been in our head about this situation with the top three teams and the bowl situation, but before we were just playing game-by-game and just trying to win it out," junior linebacker Ryan Shazier said after OSU's 60-35 win against Illinois on Saturday.

"I think we were too focused on the other things instead of the main thing today which was playing Illinois and doing our job."

Such was the prevailing thought in the locker room despite the fact the Buckeyes – who were without five starters at times in the game – watched program history unfold in Champaign.

Ohio State ran its winning streak to a school-record-tying 22 games, while Carlos Hyde posted the third-best rushing day in the program's long and storied annals and OSU set a new team mark for yards per carry in a game. Along the way, the Buckeyes also set a new season school record for touchdowns with four games to spare.

But the fact that Illinois came back from a pair of 28-point deficits to draw as close as 12 points with 8:49 to play – not to mention put up the 35 points, the most against OSU this season – left the team with a little bit of a bad taste in its mouth.

That started at the top and head coach Urban Meyer.

"I have to make sure that our focus is on just getting better each week instead of all the national stuff," Meyer said. "I think I'm learning a lesson, just shut your mouth and let's just go and quit worrying about this, quit worrying about that, let's all get a little better."

In many ways, it was a perfect storm for a distracted and banged-up Ohio State team. The Buckeyes were off last weekend when three major games – Stanford's upset of Oregon, Baylor's drubbing of Oklahoma and Alabama's victory against LSU – helped bring the team's BCS title game hopes into even sharper focus.

The Buckeyes left the weekend third in the BCS, secure in the knowledge that its national title hopes depended on No. 1 Alabama or No. 2 Florida State losing – and that's not even taking into account the need to fend off challenges from the fourth-ranked Cardinal and fifth-ranked Bears.

So maybe that's why wide receiver Evan Spencer made the now famous quote heard around the college football world, noting with a laugh that Ohio State would "wipe the field" with two unnamed squads – presumably those ahead of the team.

Meyer also found himself in the situation of having to defend the Buckeyes' schedule against those of the other national contenders, leading the head coach to believe he diverted some of his crucial energies this week to the wrong place.

"When everybody is like, ‘Hey, tell me about your schedule, tell me about this, tell me about this,' you're like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, ask me about our punt return team,' " Meyer said. "Our punt return team just gave up a big one today. I'm a grown person so I can just focus. You can ask questions all you want, but it's going to be about getting better offensively, defensively and in the kicking game, and that's what we have to do.

"And just think about Evan Spencer. For you people that know Evan Spencer, for him to make a comment like that, where does that come from? We might even think about kicking back as far as the availability. Let's just coach and get better. You're down to week No. 11. Let's get our 11th win somehow."

Indeed, it was a sloppy outing for the Buckeyes in many ways, especially considering the way the team had been playing. Kicker Drew Basil missed two kicks – including his first extra point in a school-record 102 streak – after entering the game perfect, and the Buckeyes allowed Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase to post the first two runs of 20 yards or more against the team this season.

In addition, Carlos Hyde was dropped for a loss for the first time this season, while a punt return unit that had ceded just 3 yards this year was ripped for a 67-yard return score by V'Angelo Bentley.

"A win is a win, but I'm not pleased with the way we performed today," Hyde said. "I feel like we have to get better. Where we want to go this year, we have to get better. Like Coach Meyer told us before the game, we have to play very, very good. We came out strong, we hit a wall. Late in the game, that's when we started clicking. We have to start clicking – we can't hit that wall – we have to click the whole game."

In the end, the Buckeyes talent – and the rushing exploits of Hyde and quarterback Braxton Miller, who allowed the team to smash a school record with 10.5 yards per carry – won the day.

It just wasn't the performance some perhaps expected given the team's blowouts the last two weeks, leaving the team wanting even more as it goes to clinch a Big Ten Championship Game berth next week vs. Indiana.

"The win's always good but we know we can play much better," wideout Philly Brown said. "We didn't play like ourselves today."


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