If the Ohio State football team looked past Illinois ahead of its showdown with defending Big Ten champion Michigan State, it certainly did not show Nov. 1 during the Buckeyes’ 55-14 rout of the overmatched Fighting Illini at Ohio Stadium.
The No. 16 Buckeyes had little trouble dispatching their visitors in front of 106,961 fans on a chilly night under the lights. They led 31-0 at halftime and took advantage of four Illinois turnovers in the rout. Redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, nursing a sprained MCL, played only the first half. He completed 15 of 24 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns and added seven carries for 38 yards.
He had plenty of help on offense. Seven players caught passes from Barrett, including senior Devin Smith. The wide receiver from Massillon (Ohio) Washington caught both of Barrett’s TD passes. In all, freshman Dontre Wilson and sophomore Michael Thomas led the receivers by both hauling in four receptions.
Freshman Curtis Samuel started in place of sophomore Ezekiel Elliott and moved up to the No. 2 spot on the depth chart earlier in the week thanks to the dismissal of fifth-year senior Rod Smith. He rushed nine times for 63 yards. Elliott led the rushing attack with 69 carries on nine yards.
Sophomore Cardale Jones replaced Barrett in the second half and threw his first two collegiate touchdown passes. For the night, he completed five of nine passes for 82 yards and added 47 yards on seven carries.
While the Ohio State offense posted more than 50 points for the fifth time this season, the defense also had a solid performance. The Buckeyes recorded 11 tackles for loss, three sacks, two interceptions, forced two fumbles and recovered two fumbles.
Junior linebacker Joshua Perry led OSU with seven tackles. Sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa had two sacks and three tackles for loss. Senior lineman Steve Miller also had three tackles for loss and forced a fumble on his lone sack of the night. Senior linebacker Curtis Grant grabbed an interception and recovered a fumble.
An Illinois miscue led to Ohio State’s first touchdown. The Fighting Illini took the opening kickoff and advanced the ball into Ohio State territory before committing the game’s first turnover. O’Toole had a first-down pass intended for Matt LaCosse bounce off the tight end’s hands and into the arms of OSU sophomore linebacker Darron Lee, who returned it 26 yards to the Illinois 38.
It took the Buckeyes just three plays to make the Illini pay for the mistake. Barrett completed a pass to senior wide receiver Evan Spencer for a 15-yard gain to the 23 and then threw an incompletion intended for senior tight end Jeff Heuerman that would have been a touchdown had the throw been on target. That proved to be a minor miscue, however, when Samuel took a second-down handoff and rushed around the right end, getting a solid block from fifth-year senior tackle Darryl Baldwin that opened up the sideline. Samuel did the rest, taking it 23 yards for a touchdown.
With a PAT by freshman placekicker Sean Nuernberger, Ohio State held a 7-0 lead with 11:25 left in the first quarter.
Nuernberger added to his team’s advantage on the Buckeyes’ next offensive possession. After the OSU defense held Illinois to a three-and-out, Ohio State took over at its own 25. Barrett helped the Buckeyes go 48 yards in nine plays, including a 14-yard run on a read-option keeper. The drive stalled at the Illinois 27, leading to a 44-yard field goal by Nuernberger with 6:47 remaining in the opening quarter.
Illinois squandered a scoring opportunity on its next drive. Starting at the 25 following a touchback, the Fighting Illini got a 56-yard gain on a screen pass to Mike Dudek that advanced the ball to the OSU 19. After an incompletion and a 5-yard rush by O’Toole, Illinois looked to be in business with a completion from O’Toole to Malik Turner to the OSU 3. However, the play was negated because of a chop block on the Illini that pushed the ball back to the 29.
Following an incompletion on third-and-20, David Reisner attempted a 47-yard field goal that sailed wide right.
The Buckeyes again turned an Illinois mistake into points. Barrett led a nine-play, 71-yard drive that concluded with a perfectly-thrown pass over the right shoulder of Smith. The 32-yard TD strike gave Ohio State a 17-0 lead following the Nuernberger extra-point boot with 1:30 left in the quarter.
Another mistake by the visitors late in the first quarter set up Ohio State inside Illinois territory for its next possession. OSU sophomore safety Tyvis Powell forced a Josh Ferguson fumble that was recovered by defensive lineman Vonn Bell at the Illinois 25. The Illini stood tall, however, stopping Barrett for a 2-yard loss on a fourth-and-2 from the 19 on the final play of the first quarter.
The second quarter did not begin any better for the Illinois offense. The Illini committed their third turnover of the game when an O’Toole pass intended for Dudek deflected off the receiver and into the arms of OSU linebacker Curtis Grant. The fifth-year senior returned the pick 4 yards to the Illinois 20.
For the second time in three attempts, the Buckeyes turned the turnover into points. Samuel carried three times on the drive for 8 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run on an option pitch from Barrett. The PAT with 11:43 left in the second quarter extended Ohio State’s advantage to 24-0.
Illinois committed its third turnover on its sixth drive. Bailey replaced O’Toole at quarterback and led a nine-play, 45-yard drive that advanced all the way to the OSU 15 before being halted on downs. Facing a fourth-and-2, Bailey rushed right on a bootleg – and right into the arms of Bosa, who brought the QB down for a 2-yard loss.
Ohio State was given two chances to extend its lead in the final minutes before halftime. The Buckeyes succeeded in doing so just once. Given good field position – again – because of a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty issued to Illinois head coach Tim Beckman, the Buckeyes first took over at the Illinois 41 with 2:37 left on the clock. Barrett started things off with a 32-yard pass to Smith that gave the Buckeyes a first-and-goal at the 9, but the Illini earned another stop on downs – this time stopping a shovel pass to Elliott at the Illinois 2.
The Buckeyes got another chance when the OSU defense forced an Illinois punt from the end zone. It was fielded by sophomore Jalin Marshall, who returned it 28 yards to the Illinois 25. The Buckeyes then quickly marched to the end zone. Barrett threw a 17-yard completion to Wilson on the first play and then found Smith open in the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown with 20 seconds left before the break. Nuernberger’s PAT made it 31-0, which was the score at halftime.
Jones relieved Barrett after halftime and kept the momentum going. On the first possession after the break, Jones led an eight-play, 79-yard drive and threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Wilson. Elliott made a key blitz pickup on the play, allowing Jones to throw a perfect arc into the arms of Wilson. The Nuernberger PAT made it 38-0 with 11:56 left in the third quarter.
The Ohio State defense made another big play on its first appearance of the second half. Miller sacked Bailey and forced a fumble while bringing down the quarterback. Grant fell on the loose ball at the Illinois 14, setting up Ohio State’s next score on a 26-yard Nuernberger field goal with 9:31 remaining in the quarter and giving the Buckeyes a 41-0 lead.
The wildcat formation produced the Buckeyes’ next score on its next possession. Taking over at the OSU 49, Jones completed a pass to Noah Brown for 9 yards. Samuel then rushed up the middle for 12 more to the 30 before Marshall lined up at quarterback in the wildcat and rushed right for a 30-yard touchdown. Ohio State’s lead ballooned to 48-0 with 7:20 left in the quarter after the PAT.
Illinois finally got on the scoreboard on its next possession. Bailey led a 65-yard drive, one aided by two penalties on OSU freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan and a 19-yard pass from Bailey to Turner during which Bailey took a hard hit while throwing the ball. Donovonn Young gave the Illini their first points with a 5-yard touchdown run with 1:48 left in the third quarter. With the David Reisner PAT, Illinois cut its deficit to 48-7.
Jones threw his second collegiate touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter. With 14:21 left in the game, Jones capped a seven-play, 50-yard drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to an open Thomas in the back of the end zone. The Nuernberger PAT made it 55-7.
The Fighting Illini closed the scoring midway through the fourth quarter on a 7-yard TD reception by LaCosse from Bailey with 5:55 remaining. The Reisner extra point set the final score at 55-14.