For 24 minutes, things were looking pretty good for Illinois. Ohio State, the number two or three team in the nation, depending on whose poll you believe, had scored just once, missed a field goal and then coughed up the ball at its own 32 yard line. With 5:40 to go in the first half and down 7-3, Illinois had the ball in good field position looking to go ahead of the Buckeyes: this is the situation the players had dreamed about.
Then the reality of this year's Illinois offense set in. Wes Lunt threw an incomplete pass, Josh Ferguson ran for a 1-yard loss, and then Lunt threw a second incomplete pass. On fourth-and-11 Illinois had to turn to kicker Taylor Zalewski, who had already connected from 46. Zalewski's 50-yard effort bounced off the right upright and Illinois's best chance dissipated in the clear fall air. And then the game went with it.
Ohio State did not let the missed opportunity go unpunished, adding a touchdown before halftime and one in each of the ensuing quarters. Ezekiel Elliot finished the game with 181 yards and 2 touchdowns, exemplifying the Buckeyes' dominance of the Illini. Yet, things could have been worse. Ohio State has scored more than 28 points in seven of nine previous wins, but was somewhat stymied, especially early on, by the Illinois defense.
While guys like Clayton Fejedelem and Mason Monheim (15 and 12 total tackles, respectively) deserve praise for strong performances, the big story is just how bad the offense was. Lunt had 241 yards, but none of that mattered because it translated to only 3 points. Ferguson, the difference maker against Purdue, scuffled to just 52 yards, and the rest of the running attack was so toothless it managed just another 10 total yards. This offense was supposed to be a strong suit this season with Cubit, the offensive mastermind, at the helm and Ferguson and Lunt taking big strides forward, but this has certainly not been the case. If Cubit has any hope of having his interim tag removed, he's got to turn the Illini offense around. He's really running out of chances to do so, though.
Photos courtesy of Travis McDade.