The Buckeyes (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) needed just a win over the Wolverines to claim a share of the Big Ten championship for the fourth consecutive season, becoming the second team to possibly accomplish that feat (1972-77).
“Coming into the season, we didn’t plan to lose any games,” linebacker Marcus Freeman said. “To lose two hard-fought games like we did, it’s tough, but at least we have a chance to control our own destiny.”
Before turning their attention to Michigan, the Buckeyes had to dispatch Illinois, which they did in large part thanks to the efforts of Beanie Wells. Ohio State utilized Wells to bruise and batter the Fighting Illini. The junior tailback finished with 24 carries for 143 yards, pushing his career total over 3,000 at OSU. He joined Archie Griffin, Eddie George, Tim Spencer, Keith Byars and Pepe Pearson to crack the 3,000-yard mark.
A steady wind at Memorial Stadium on an overcast day made the running game crucial.
“You knew that you were going to have a lot better chance of winning if you were going to be able to run today,” OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. “You could pass it some but you’d better not try to make a living on that.
“The other thing is that those two quarters you were against the wind really affected your special teams. You didn’t want to be doing things that would stop the clock. ... You wanted everything you were doing to keep that clock rolling.”
Wells called the weather "a running back's dream. Cold and wet - what more could you ask for?"
Freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor did most of his work on the ground, naturally. He rushed 13 times for a then-career-high 110 yards and a touchdown.
Illinois was led by junior quarterback Juice Williams, who one year earlier engineered an upset over the top-ranked Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium. He completed 17 of 26 passes for 192 yards with two touchdowns and rushed for 48 yards. More importantly, however, were his two first-half turnovers. which were both turned into OSU touchdowns.
Williams' first miscue led to the first points of the game. On Illinois' first offensive possession, Williams fumbled while under pressure from OSU's Tyler Moeller. OSU defensive tackle Nader Abdallah pounced on the fumble and the Buckeyes were in business at the Illinois 19-yard line.
The Buckeyes needed just first plays - all rushes - to reach the end zone. Pryor’s third-and-goal sprint from the 1 after a fake handoff concluded the drive. Senior kicker Ryan Pretorius added the extra point, and Ohio State had a 7-0 lead with 8:48 remaining in the first quarter.
Williams answered by leading the Illini on an eight-play, 82-yard touchdown drive after the Pryor TD. The quarterback found receiver Jeff Cumberland running free in the back of the end zone on a third-and-6 at the OSU 7. Cumberland made a nice diving catch for the touchdown, and once redshirt freshman kicker Matt Eller added the PAT, the game was tied at 7 with 5:30 left in the opening period.
The Buckeyes led 9-7 at the end of the first quarter thanks to a safety scored on special teams. Ohio State senior Malcolm Jenkins blocked an Illinois punt near the goal line. He knocked the ball through the back of the end zone for a safety to give OSU the lead at the 1:10 mark of the first quarter.
Ohio State's Brian Robiskie returned the ensuing free kick to the Illinois 43, setting up a TD drive that lasted five plays. Wells reached the end zone on a 3-yard run with 14:15 on the second-quarter clock to make it 16-7.
Illinois attempted to take the momentum back on its next drive. Utilizing a hurry-up, no-huddle attack. Williams drove the Illini to the OSU 12 before throwing an interception to Buckeye safety Kurt Colman at the OSU 6. The future NFL player returned the pick 18 yards, giving the Buckeyes the ball back. Ohio State again did not waste time getting points after a turnover. Wells broke up the middle for 13 yards on first down, and two plays later, Pryor made a big play. As he retreated to throw, Illinois put on a blitz that flushed the freshman quarterback from the pocket. Pryor squeezed between two defenders at the line of scrimmage and then ran through attempted tackles by Illini linebacker Martez Wilson, strong safety Donsay Hardeman and free safety Travon Bellamy before he was finally pushed out of bounds.
The 35-yard scramble took the ball to the UI 25-yard line, and after a couple of short runs by Wells, Pryor tossed a 20-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Dane Sanzenbacher. The touch pass was perfectly lobbed – on the run – over Illinois cornerback Dere Hicks and into the waiting arms of Sanzenbacher.
Pretorius added another PAT and the Buckeyes appeared to be on their way to a rout with a 23-7 lead at the 6:30 mark of the second quarter.
The Illini showed some fight the rest of the quarter, though, getting two Eller field goals before halftime to narrow the deficit to 23-13.
The third quarter was scoreless, and both teams added touchdowns in the fourth quarter to set the final score. Boom Herron rushed for 12-yard TD with 11:55 left in regulation, and Illinois ended the scoring with a 25-yard pass from Williams to Chris Duvalt with 42 seconds remaining.
2003: No. 4 Ohio State 16, No. 11 Purdue 13 (OT): It was fitting that Ohio State's seniors went to overtime in their final game at Ohio Stadium.
The group led the Buckeyes in many nail biters during the national championship run of 2002 and had several close games in 2003. The 26 seniors capped their time at the 'Shoe with another thriller vs. the Boilermakers. The win allowed the class to become the first since 1997 to go undefeated at home in their final campaign.
"This is the best way," senior defensive lineman Darrion Scott said. "This is what we hoped for. This is what we dreamed about - going undefeated in the 'Shoe our last year.
"We've seen how the seniors last year did it. They went out undefeated, without a loss, with an unblemished record. What better way could you want it than to go undefeated in the 'Shoe for the past two years? It's perfect."
Cornerback Dustin Fox led the defense with 10 tackles and won the game in overtime by getting just enough of a hand on Purdue kicker Ben Jones' 37-yard field-goal attempt. Fox's tip pushed the ball just left of the uprights and gave the Buckeyes the win.
"What can you say anymore?," Fox said. "We've been in so many of these situations, we just don't panic. We have confidence that someone will step up and make a play, and that's usually what happens."
The OSU offense piled up 351 yards but did not reach the end zone. Mike Kudla was the lone Buckeye to score a touchdown. It came in the fourth quarter on a fumble recovery in the end zone. That gave Ohio State a 13-6 lead that held until Jerod Void tied the game for Purdue with an 11-yard touchdown run on a version of the Statue of Liberty play.
The Buckeyes started with the ball in overtime and were held to a 36-yard field goal by Mike Nugent, one of three kicks converted by the Centerville, Ohio, native. Like Ohio State, Purdue only managed six yards on its possession. However, Fox's partial block decided the game.
"Our guys just keep playing," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. "I think when you stop and start thinking, things don't work out. They just keep playing and they have a lot of faith that if we play as hard as we can, good things will happen."
Special teams starred once again for Tressel's team. Nugent made field goals of 26 and 52 yards before his overtime gamewinner. Punter B.J. Sander kicked 10 times and averaged 41.3 yards per punt. He dropped seven of those 10 inside the Purdue 20-yard line, including one that was downed at the Purdue 5. That Boilermaker drive ended in a fumble that was recovered by Kudla in the end zone.
Krenzel completed 15 of 29 passes for 226 yards. Michael Jenkins caught six of those passes for 123 yards. The rushing attack was led by Lydell Ross, who finished with 79 yards on 23 carries.
1997: No. 4 Ohio State 41, Illinois 6: The Buckeyes guaranteed that their game vs. archrival Michigan would be a battle of top-5 teams by blasting winless Illinois on Senior Day.
The weather wasn't good, but Ohio State's play was. Only an Illinois touchdown on a fumble recovery on the game's final play prevented a shutout. The Buckeye offense fared well, relying primarily on its rushing attack. The Buckeyes picked up 221 of its 414 yards of total offense on the ground. Pepe Pearson led the way by rushing for a season-high 111 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
"It's great to see our seniors go out like this," OSU head coach John Cooper said. "We're disappointed they got that late touchdown, but that obviously didn't happen against our defense."
The defense held Illinois to 272 yards of offense and stopped the Illini on several fourth-down attempts in the second half. Winfield Garnett had nine tackles to lead the way. Damon Moore, Na'il Diggs, Matt LaVrar, Antoine Winfield and Jim Bell each recorded a sack, and Ahmed Plummer and Winfield added an interception apiece.
It was the fourth time in five games Ohio State kept an opponent under seven points. The only blemish for the Buckeyes was a 143-yard rushing effort from Illinois running back Robert Holcombe.
"I think we're peaking," Winfield said. "The last couple weeks we haven't given up any big plays. We're trying to limit those. We did a good job of that today."
David Boston caught only three passes but two of those receptions went for touchdowns of 17 and 4 yards, respectively. Pearson added touchdowns runs of 4 and 40 yards. Steve Wisniewski scored on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Stanley Jackson, and Winfield's interception was returned 83 yards for a score.
Jackson completed 9 of 13 passes for 93 yards with two touchdown passes. Joe Germaine also threw a TD pass and completed 7 of his 11 attempts for 96 yards.
1986: No. 9 Ohio State 30, Wisconsin 17: Running back Vince Workman rushed for 172 yards and led the Buckeyes past the host Badgers.
Workman had a big game and set the tone early by scoring on a 32-yard touchdown run just 19 seconds into the game. Despite an exciting start that saw Ohio State build a 17-0 lead, the Buckeyes struggled at times and held on for a lackluster victory heading into the annual showdown vs. Michigan.
"We played exceptionally well the first quarter when we got those 17 points," OSU head coach Earle Bruce said. "I thought that was a real coming out and going after them thing. There was some outstanding play by our football team."
Workman added a 3-yard score and a Matt Frantz made a 28-yard field goal as the Buckeyes built their 17-0 lead. Both teams scored 10 points in the second quarter to make it 27-10 at halftime, but Wisconsin scored the lone touchdown of the third quarter and cut the deficit to seven. A Frantz 21-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter capped the scoring.
Backup Tom Tupa led the passing attack for the Buckeyes. He completed 9 of 13 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown on a 28-yard pass to Cris Carter. Tupa was called to lead the offense when starter Jim Karsatos left the game because of a left shoulder injury in the second quarter.
"I saw him get tackled but I didn't think he was hurt," Tupa said of when Karsatos was tackled for a 1-yard loss by Wisconsin linebacker Tim Jordan. "I heard Coach Bruce call my name, so I just went over there and he sent me in. It was kind of out of the blue. I wasn't expecting to go in that early."
Carter caught seven passes to lead the receivers, piling up 112 yards. On defense, Chris Spielman led with 11 tackles. He also intercepted a pass in the first quarter and returned it 56 yards. It led to a Frantz field goal.
1980: No. 7 Ohio State 41, Iowa 7: The Buckeyes won their sixth straight game with a win at Iowa City.
Ohio State overcame three lost fumbles and an interception in the victory. Calvin Murray rushed for 183 yards to increase his season total to 1,154. He became the seventh OSU player to run for more than 1,000 yards in a season.
1975: No. 1 Ohio State 38, Minnesota 6: Ohio State blew out the visiting Golden Gophers on Senior Day at Ohio Stadium.
Each member of OSU's starting backfield reached the end zone. Archie Griffin scored on a 19-yard run, while quarterback Cornelius Greene added a pair of touchdowns (14 and 31 yards). Fullback Pete Johnson reached the end zone for the 22nd time with an 8-yard scamper.
1969: No. 1 Ohio State 42, No. 10 Purdue 14: The Buckeyes tied their own Big Ten record for consecutive victories with a rout of Purdue on Senior Day.
Ohio State's 17th-straight conference win earned the team at least a share of the Big Ten title head into the season finale at Michigan. Against Purdue, the Buckeyes were not slowed by 25-degree temperatures and a snow-covered field. Leo Hayden led OSU's attack with 130 yards rushing.
The Buckeye defense intercepted five Mike Phipps passes.
1958: No. 16 Ohio State 38, No. 2 Iowa 28: The then-largest crowd in Kinnick Stadium saw the Buckeyes upset the second-ranked Hawkeyes.
Ohio State was a 14-point underdog heading into the game against Iowa, which had clinched the Big Ten title a week earlier with a win over Minnesota. The Buckeyes and Hawkeyes traded touchdowns until the fourth quarter when OSU scored 10 unanswered points. Ohio State took the lead on each of its five touchdowns, but Iowa responded four of those times.
Bob White and Don Clark ran for 209 and 157 yards, respectively. White scored three touchdowns on a 71-yard run and a pair of 1-yard plunges. Dave Kilgore's 19-yard field goal in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach with 2:12 left.
1952: Ohio State 27, Illinois 7: The Buckeyes bounced back from a non-conference loss to Pittsburgh with a victory at Illinois.
Ohio State set a then-school record with six interceptions in the victory. The game was tied 7-7 at halftime before the Buckeyes took command. OSU rushed for 252 yards, as compared to the 51 the team rushed for against the Panthers.
1947: No. 11 Illinois 12, Ohio State 7: The Fighting Illini scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to spoil Senior Day at Ohio Stadium.
Illinois outgained OSU 318-216 and led in first downs, 16-9.
1941: No. 20 Ohio State 12, Illinois 7: Paul Brown's Buckeyes overcame a 7-0 deficit against cellar-dwelling Illinois.
Ohio State answered Illinois' score with a 72-yard scoring pass from Dick Fisher to Bob Shaw. Leon Schoenbaum missed the extra point, however, allowing Illinois to maintain a slim lead.
The Buckeyes took the lead for good late in the third quarter. Jack Graf scored from 3-yards out for the second half's lone score.
1930: Ohio State 16, Pittsburgh 7: On Senior Day, the Buckeyes earned a win over the visiting Panthers.
Wes Fesler completed 8 of 11 passes and played most of the game from the fullback position. Ohio State's defense intercepted four Pitt passes.
1924: Michigan 16, Ohio State 6: The Wolverines defeated Ohio State for the third straight time despite allowing the Buckeyes to lead 6-0.
OSU scored on the third play from scrimmage on a 62-yard reception from quarterback Bill Hunt to Howard "Cookie" Cunningham. Michigan rallied with two touchdowns and a field goal in the fourth quarter.
Neither quarterback had a good game, with both defenses combining for 11 interceptions. This was the first OSU-Michigan game to be broadcast on radio. Detroit's WWJ radio described the action.
1919: Ohio State 3, Wisconsin 0: A 22-yard field goal by Chic Harley in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference against the host Badgers.
The win improved Ohio State's record to 6-0 with the season-finale vs. Illinois remaining.
1913: Ohio State 18, Case 0: The Buckeyes broke a three-game winless streak with a shutout of Spartans.
Ohio State had not won since an Oct. 11 victory over Western Reserve.
1902: Ohio State 0, Illinois 0: The first meeting between the Buckeyes and the Fighting Illini ended in a scoreless tie in Columbus.
Ohio State moved to 5-2-1 with the tie.
1895: Ohio State 8, Kentucky 6: The Buckeyes won the first of back-to-back games on consecutive days against the host Wildcats.
Only 16 players made the trip. Ohio State fell to Central Kentucky, 18-0, in Danville on Nov. 16.