A record crowd at Ohio Stadium watched as a game full of twists and turns between Ohio State and Illinois ended in an Illinois win and the Buckeyes dropping to 6-4.
The Buckeyes were faced with some serious adversity coming into the game as senior starting QB and captain Steve Bellisari was suspended Thursday night, but even though OSU gave the effort and determination necessary to overcome that adversity, too many mistakes were made on both sides of the ball.
The game started about as bad for the Buckeyes as one could imagine. The Bucks took the opening kick, and after a three-and-out, the Buckeyes were forced to punt, and the punt was blocked by Illinois and picked up by Jamaal Clark for a TD. But on the next drive, OSU got right back into the game as a drive that featured a 59-yard run by Jonathan Wells was capped off by a 11-yard TD pass from Scott McMullen to Chris Vance, making it 7-7. After a 3-and-out from Illinois, OSU got the ball back on a punt and drove the ball back down the field but had to settle for a 23-yard Mike Nugent field goal, making it 10-7.
The Illini would come back strong late in the second quarter. With under three minutes left in the half, Illinois struck on a 37-yard TD pass from Kurt Kittner to Walter Young. The Bucks got the ball back, and Craig Krenzel was inserted at QB, but they couldn't do anything with it, and as a result, OSU punted the ball back to Illinois with just under two minutes on the clock. That proved to be to much time though as on the second play of the possession, Kittner struck again, hitting an open Aaron Moorehead for a 36-yard strike. It was 21-10 Illini, and things were looking a bit bleak for OSU.
But OSU came out and had the third quarter they needed to have. McMullen was back at QB, but Illinois and OSU went back and forth on unsuccessful possessions. When OSU got the ball for their second drive of the quarter, McMullen and the Bucks seemingly went three-and-out, but a roughing the kicker call gave OSU a first down and new life. McMullen would not return though as Craig Krenzel was put in the game, and Krenzel helped the Bucks down the field on a long drive that was capped by a 17 yard TD pass to Michael Jenkins. The Bucks went for 2 and failed, making it 21-16.
Illinois fell short on the following drive and punted the ball back to OSU, who started at their own 45. Krenzel would once again bring OSU down on a scoring drive that was finished with a Jonathan Wells 1-yd TD run. The 2-point conversion attempt failed, and it would be 22-21 OSU to end the third quarter.
The Bucks were not able to hold off Illinois in the fourth quarter. The Illini opened the fourth with an 80-yard drive that ended in a 1-yard TD run by Carey Davis. The following 2-point attempt failed, and the score would be 27-22 Illinois. OSU's following drive resulted in a punt, as did Illinois' next possession, but the Illini were able to down the punt at the OSU 2-yard line. That proved to be fatal as on the first play of the drive, Craig Krenzel was picked off by Ty Myers, who was able to run it in for a TD. The PAT made it 34-22, and that would be the final score as OSU would not be able to get any closer.
Coming into the game, we knew that OSU would have to step it up to overcome the loss of Bellisari. While the effort and intensity was there, the Buckeyes killed themselves with mistakes. The first, of course, was the blocked punt on the opening possession of the game. The special teams errors did not stop there as Mike Nugent missed two field goals on the day, one from 40 yards and one from 32 yards. The defense also had letdowns, particularly on the two Kittner TD passes. And while the offense was able to put some points on the board, it was the Krenzel INT that was the final nail in OSU's coffin. In the end, the Bucks just made too many mistakes.
The quarterback play showed some good and bad things. There were times when each QB looked shaky, although overall, Krenzel did look like the better QB today. There were times when most people probably felt like Steve Bellisari would be able to do better than what we saw, but there were also times when the QBs were able to get it done. This game did not show that the decision to stick with Steve Bellisari as the starter throughout the year was an incorrect one, but Krenzel -- despite the costly INT -- showed some good things, and even though it was just one game, you have to admit that the future may not look quite as bad as it did when we heard all year that none of the backups were good enough.
Overall, it was a disappointing game as it seemed like one that OSU could have won despite all the obstacles that needed to be overcome. But let's not dwell on it too long... we all know what's coming next week, and it's time to start focusing on those goofs from up north. Hey, if OSU can't win a Big Ten title, let's at least prevent Michigan from winning one next week. Go Bucks!