Big Plays Go Way Of OSU Defense By End

For a second season in a row, the numbers were not pretty when the Ohio State defense was finished with Illinois, but this time that did not matter. Ohio State took home a 30-20 victory Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign because while big plays came in bunches, they also went the way of the Buckeyes at times.

Saturday the Fighting Illini piled up 455 yards and 25 first downs. They did their damage with balance (214 yards rushing and 241 through the air) and averaged 6.6 yards per play.

That was after piling up 260 rushing and 400 overall with 19 first downs in the 2007 meeting, but the most important digits on the scoreboard told a different story this time.

Yes, Juice Williams, Daniel Dufrene and Jeff Cumberland all had runs of more than 20 yards. Aurrelious Benn hauled in a 30-yard catch and A.J. Jenkins gained 24 yards on another, but the Buckeye defenders were game when they needed to be.

They sacked Williams, the Fighting Illini quarterback, twice and intercepted him once. They also forced him to fumble, a first-quarter miscue that led to Ohio State's first touchdown, and hit him numerous other times he dropped back to pass. The Buckeyes finished with 5.0 tackles for loss.

"I didn't know we gave up that kind of yards, but the thing I did know is we got the turnovers," head coach Jim Tressel said.

The key, as it turned out, was not how many yards they allowed but when they could come up with the plays to turn the tide.

"They have an explosive offense," OSU cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said of an Illinois unit that entered the game ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten in both scoring and total yards. "We knew they were going to make plays. The key for us was keeping them out of the end zone. I think we did a good job of making them kick field goals and things like that."

Illinois scored on two of three trips inside the red zone, but only one of those chances ended with a touchdown.

Trailing 23-7, the Fighting Illini drove to the OSU 11 in the second quarter after Cumberland broke several tackles and rumbled 23 yards.

From there though, Illinois would have to settle for a field goal after Jenkins broke up a perfectly thrown pass to Will Judson in the end zone on first down and Laurinaitis came free on a blitz on third down to force Williams to throw an incomplete pass.

That was quite possibly the beginning of the OSU blitz becoming effective. The Buckeyes had no sacks in the first half but came up with two in the pivotal third quarter, when despite having the wind at their backs the Illini could not add to their point total.

They drove to the OSU 33 on their first possession of the second half, but a sack by a blitzing Laurinaitis and defensive tackle Doug Worthington pushed them back to the 37, setting up a third-and-10. The Buckeyes blitzed again on the following play and Williams threw too long for Cumberland, who was blanketed by Jenkins.

After the OSU offense went three-and-out, the Fighting Illini began on the OSU 45 with another seemingly golden opportunity to cut the OSU lead. However, Buckeye linebacker Ross Homan did serious damage to those hopes by surging around on a stunt up the middle and rocking Williams for an 8-yard loss on second-and-4 at the OSU 41.

On third-and-18, OSU defensive linemen Cameron Heyward and Nader Abdallah hurried Williams, forcing him to chuck the ball out of bounds and leaving the Illini with no choice but to punt again.

"That's one thing we had to do, affect Juice," Jenkins said. "Once we started getting to him and paying attention to how we disguised it and things like that, it started affecting the timing of their offense. That's the one thing we were trying to do and we got it accomplished."

Asked if he felt the blitzing finally broke the backs of his foes, Laurinaitis said, "I hope so. I think obviously when you can get some pressure and get some sacks it helps out a lot, but they're a team that's relentless. They're a team that's going to keep fighting until the end, and we knew that. They did a good job of fighting and we knew we had to keep coming after it.

"We were a little bit disappointed with giving up that let touchdown, but we got the ‘W'."

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