Neither Illinois nor an early power outage at Ohio Stadium could deny the Ohio State football team its 10th win in as many games.
Under the direction of first-year OSU coach Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes moved a step closer to their first undefeated season since 2002, defeating the Fighting Illini, 52-22, Saturday.
OSU sophomore running back Carlos Hyde helped heap points on the visitors as he rushed for 137 yards and three scores on 18 carries as part of a greater offensive effort that erupted for a 24-point second quarter to give the Buckeyes a lead they never relinquished.
“I thought after a slow start the offense and defensive lines took over the game,” Meyer said at a postgame press conference. “If you do that without turning the ball over, usually you’ll win.”
With the win, OSU (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) matched its best start since 2007 in front of a crowd of 105, 311. Illinois falls to 2-7 on the season and 0-5 in the Big Ten Conference.
Meyer said the Buckeyes feel like a top-five football team.
“I think so. Today’s performance was a top-five,” he said. “You’d like to end it a little better instead of a fumble return for a touchdown. But in certain areas, though, but when you can control the line of scrimmage, that’s usually a top-five team.”
Meyer, who coached Florida to two national championships, said the Buckeyes aren’t without their flaws.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of top-five teams,” he said. “And this probably has more holes than those other ones. However, there’s also some great performances.”
After the Horseshoe experienced a brief power outage that affected parts of the venue including the newly-renovated scoreboard, the two teams traded punts before Illinois took the contest’s first points.
Illini sophomore kicker Nick Immekus drove home a 43-yard field goal to take the game’s first lead with 7:48 to play in the first quarter.
OSU responded with a score of its own after Hyde plowed his way 3 yards into the end zone to give the Buckeyes a 7-3 lead.
Immekus knocked in another score, this time from 28 yards out, to pull his team within a point of the home squad as the game’s first period came to a close. From there, the game started to slip away from Illinois.
The second quarter saw Miller and OSU find its footing and pull away – fast – from the Illini.
A 32-yard pass from Miller to junior wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown down the sideline set up another Hyde touchdown as the running back powered his way across the goal line for 5 yards out.
With a 17-6 advantage and the game’s momentum on their side, the Buckeyes struck again as Miller launched a 51-yard bomb to an open Rod Smith bounding down the sideline to put OSU up 24-6.
Miller finished the day 12-of-20 passing for 226 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 73 yards and another score on 18 carries.
A little more than three minutes later, Hyde muscled his way for a 3-yard touchdown run, his third of the day.
“I run with passion, aggression and attitude. I feel like I can’t be brought down and I run with that in my mind, which allows me to run hard,” Hyde said. “For me, it all has to do with my offensive line. When those guys go, I go because when they do better, I can do my job better. And they did great today.”
A seemingly flustered and swarmed Illini offense still struggled to advance on a Buckeye defense nursing a 24-point lead.
In what appeared to be an attempt to muster some semblance of offensive momentum late in the first half, junior quarterback Nathan Sheelhaase forced a pass that was intercepted by redshirt senior cornerback Travis Howard.
After reversing his field, Travis ran back his fourth interception of the year 40 yards before a tripping penalty on redshirt senior defensive end Nathan Williams chopped 15 yards off the original return.
An attempt to put another score on the board for the Buckeyes was unsuccessful as they headed into the halftime up 31-6.
The game’s second half, though, held more of the same for an OSU squad that appeared to be hitting on all cylinders.
On its second drive of the third quarter, OSU converted a fourth down on the Illini’s 20-yard line en route to another touchdown after Miller scrambled and rolled right for a 2-yard score.
Like their offensive counterparts, the Buckeyes’ defense found little difficulty in entrenching themselves against an Illinois offense which had only totaled 138 yards in the first half.
But a botched punt block attempt and subsequent roughing the kicker penalty on OSU near the goal line gave the Illini new life and a new set of downs.
Behind the arms and legs of Scheelhaase, Illinois capitalized and notched their first touchdown of the day with 53 seconds to play in the third quarter thanks to a trio of tight ends.
Sophomore tight end Jon Davis charged his way into the end zone before junior tight end Tim Russell found fellow sophomore tight end Matt LaCosse for a pass to secure a two-point conversion for the Illini.
Scheelhaase finished the day 19-33 for 96 yards and an interception.
It was too little too late, though, for an Illinois team trailing 24 points with only a quarter to erase such a deficit.
And if it wasn’t, Miller and the Buckeyes offense made sure of it as the sophomore found Brown for 37-yard touchdown pass with 12:39 to play in regulation.
WIth OSU up, 45-14, redshirt junior Kenny Guiton relieved Miller of his quarterback duties through much of the fourth quarter.
The backup signal-caller, however, fumbled an option that was returned 77 yards for a touchdown by Illinois senior linebacker/safety hybrid Ashante Williams.
The Illini, again, managed another two-point conversion but still found themselves trailing 45-22 to a Buckeyes team that would find the end zone for the seventh time that afternoon after freshman running back Bri’onte Dunn scored from 3 yards out.
The win moves OSU to 10-0 with a bye this weekend before a road trip to Wisconsin Nov. 17. Kickoff time for the game in Madison, Wis., has not been announced.
Redshirt sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby said the Buckeyes are going to use the week to “get healthy.”
“It’s hard to win 10 games in a row and that’s what we accomplished. Right now, it’s a grind. The whole season is a grind. We’re going to keep getting better and keep winning,” he said.