It wasn’t a high-flying performance, but timely scoring, shutdown defense and 181 yards from Ezekiel Elliott proved to be enough for Ohio State.
The No. 3 Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) scored a touchdown in each quarter and kept Illinois (5-5, 2-4 Big Ten) out of the end zone on their way to a 28-3 victory Saturday at Memorial Stadium. The win marked 30 straight regular season conference victories for the Buckeyes and 23 straight wins overall.
Ohio State totaled 440 yards while holding the Fighting Illini to just 261, including just 20 yards on the ground for the home team.
The junior Elliott finished with 27 carries and two touchdowns while sophomore quarterback J.T. Barrett added 16 carries for 74 yards and another score on the ground. Barrett completed 15 of 23 pass attempts for 150 yards and a touchdown, but also threw an interception and lost a fumble for Ohio State. Junior receiver Michael Thomas led the way catching the ball, finishing the game with six receptions for 76 yards and a score.
On defense, sophomore linebacker Raekwon McMillan set the pace with 14 tackles — including two for a loss and half a sack — while junior Joey Bosa had three tackles for loss, half a sack and seven total tackles.
Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt completed 23 of 47 passes for 241 yards while running back Josh Ferguson had 12 carries for 49 yards. Illini receiver Desmond Cain was the top pass catcher in the game, making 10 receptions for 102 yards.
How It Happened
Illinois got the ball first and converted on third-and-4 for the game’s first down, but Lunt was sacked on the ensuing first down by Bosa and McMillan. After a stuff and an incomplete pass the Illini punted to cap a six-play, 9-yard drive.
The Buckeyes found much more success on their first drive as Barrett guided the offense to the red zone after just five plays. He then appeared to score on first down at the Illinois 3-yard line, but the play was reviewed and reversed. Barrett then pushed toward the goal line on a quarterback sneak on second down, this time being called short. The play was reviewed and the call stood before sophomore tight end Marcus Baugh was called for a false start. Barrett lost a yard on third down and the Buckeyes had to settle for a 24-yard field goal try, which sophomore Sean Nuernberger missed with his first attempt of the season.
Like their first drive, the Illini picked up one first down before punting back to Ohio State. The kick was partially blocked by sophomore Curtis Samuel, giving the Buckeyes the ball at the Illinois 49.
Elliott carried the ball for three yards on the next play before Barrett found Thomas on back-to-back plays of 22 and 24 yards, respectively, with the second going for a touchdown and a 7-0 Ohio State lead.
The team’s traded punts before Illinois embarked on a seven-play, 42-yard drive resulting in 3 points after Taylor Zalewski connected on a 46-yard field goal try with 10:12 remaining in the first half.
Ohio State went three-and-out on the ensuing possession before junior Cameron Johnston’s punt was fair caught at the Illinois 10-yard line.
After an incomplete screen pass Ferguson picked up 27 yards on second down before limping off the field. Illinois was flagged for a false start before the next snap, then lost 4 yards over the next three plays before punting into the end zone for a touchback.
Elliott picked up 12 on first down but the Buckeyes’ drive ended on the next play. Barrett fumbled after being hit near the line of scrimmage and Illinois recovered, but the Illini lost a yard on the ensuing drive, settling for a 50-yard field goal try. The kick bounced of the right upright, keeping the score at 7-3 with 4:43 to go in the half.
Once again Ohio State couldn’t capitalize, going three and out after Barrett was stopped a yard short on third down. Johnston went with a rugby-style punt and seemed to have plenty of room to run had he chosen to before booting the ball to the Illinois 16.
Illinois punted for the fifth time after stalling once again before Barrett hit sophomore Jalin Marshall for 23 yards on first down. His passes fell incomplete on second and third down, bringing up fourth-and-6 at the Illinois 33-yard line. The Buckeyes elected to go for it, but fifth-year senior Chase Farris was flagged for false start, making it fourth-and-11. The Ohio State offense still stayed on the field and Barrett scrambled for the first down and more to keep the drive alive.
Barrett hit Samuel for a first down on the next play before Illinois was flagged for holding Thomas’ in the end zone, setting up first-and-goal and a 6-yard Barrett touchdown run, giving the Buckeyes a 14-3 lead with less than a minute left in the half.
Ohio State took a quick three and out to open the second half before Illinois embarked on one of its best drives of the day. After quick Lunt hit Cain for 20 yards then found Geronimo Allison for 38 two plays later. Three straight passes fell incomplete on the next three plays, though, forcing Illinois into a 36-yard field goal, but the snap was fumbled, leading to a turnover on downs.
The Buckeyes found their offensive spark after taking over, scoring on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that included seven Elliott carries for 50 yards. He capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge, making it 21-3 with 6:57 to play in the third quarter.
Illinois gained 61 yards on the ensuing drive before going for it on fourth down and losing 3 of those yards, giving the Buckeyes the ball at their own 16. Elliott gained 25 yards on the next three plays, then he converted on fourth-and-1 despite losing the ball before being called down after a review. The Illini still forced a turnover two plays later, though, as Barrett was hit as he threw, resulting in a free ball and an interception.
Illinois couldn’t capitalize, though, and pinned the Buckeyes inside their own 15 with a punt.
The ensuing Ohio State drive was a comedy of errors that included a pair of penalties and a Barrett fumble that was recovered by the Buckeyes. A pass eventually fell incomplete on third-and-22, forcing a punt, but V’Angelo Bentley muffed the kick and junior Bri’onte Dunn recovered for the Buckeyes at the Illinois 10. Elliott found his way into the end zone on the next play, pushing the lead to 2803 with 9:47 remaining.
Illinois responded with three first downs before a sack by senior Tommy Schutt and an incomplete pass brought up third-and-19. Illinois went for it on fourth-and-12, but threw incomplete again for a turnover on downs.
Junior Cardale Jones took the reigns for Ohio State on the ensuing possession, which ended with a turnover on downs near mid field before Illinois ran down the final 16 seconds.