The Ohio State-Illinois series takes an obvious backseat to OSU-Michigan, but a case can be made it is the No. 2 rivalry for the Buckeyes.
Aside from being the only trophy game for Ohio State (the Illibuck), the Illinois game has featured many notable performances, including the top two individual rushing games in school history, one of the biggest passing days in NCAA history and Ohio State’s first overtime game.
Ohio State leads the series 65-30-4 since it began in 1902.
As far as Ohio State records, the Illinois game has twice seen a player rush for the most yards in a single game in school history. Both are recounted below, so we won’t spoil the surprise.
In 1975, Tom Skladany made the longest field goal in school history, a 59-yarder at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. In 1951, Fred Bruney set the modern school record with three interceptions against the Fighting Illini. That is a mark that has been tied several times, including by Bruney himself in ’52 against Michigan. Karl Edwards kicked a school-record 87-yard punt at Illinois in 1983.
The Buckeyes set a modern record with 84 rushing attempts against the Illini in 1973, and their 517 rushing yards against Illinois in 1962 are the most for Ohio State against a Big Ten opponent. The Buckeyes averaged a single-game best 9.2 yards per carry that day in ’62. Their 101 offensive plays against the Illini in 1969 tied a school record set against TCU in 1927.
Ohio State 7
Led by star sophomore halfback Chic Harley, visiting Ohio State knocked off Illinois, 7-6. The Buckeyes trailed 6-0 late when Harley scrambled 12 yards for his team’s only touchdown. He followed that with a successful conversion kick to provide the winning margin in a crucial victory along the way to Ohio State’s first Western Conference (now Big Ten) football championship. It was the Fighting Illini’s first loss since the last game of the 1913 season.
Ohio State 29
One of the strangest games in Ohio State history looked like it had ended in a tie before a reporter noticed a penalty flag had been dropped on the Fighting Illini on what appeared to be the final play of the game.
The teams had left the field but were called back from the locker rooms after 20 minutes and John Stungis lined up for a 27-yard field goal he knocked through the uprights to give Ohio State the victory.
Ohio State’s offense excelled on the ground for head coach Paul Brown as Dean Sensenbaugher and Ernest Parks both eclipsed the century mark rushing. Sensenbaugher led the way with 170 yards while Parks added 158.
No. 4 Ohio State 26
Fourth-ranked Ohio State downed Illinois 26-12 before more than 80,000 fans in Cleveland. The Buckeyes beat the Fighting Illini to move to 8-0 on the season and set up a season-ending showdown with sixth-ranked Michigan. Eventual Heisman Trophy winner Les Horvath ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns against Illinois as his team moved up to No. 3 in the Associated Press poll. The Buckeyes would go on to beat Michigan one week later, 18-14, in the first contest of the rivalry to decide the outright Big Ten champion.
No. 7 Ohio State 49
The seventh-ranked Buckeyes jumped to a 28-0 lead and held a 35-7 advantage with 11:10 remaining in the third quarter but had to withstand a furious comeback attempt by Dave Wilson and unranked Illinois in the Horseshoe.
The Illini quarterback put the ball in the air 69 times and completed 43 passes for 621 yards, three of five Ohio State opponent records set that day that still stand. He threw six touchdown passes, including five in the second half as the teams combined for 56 points after intermission. But Wilson’s efforts were not enough.
Despite the yards given up, the Ohio State defense forced seven turnovers, three on interceptions of Wilson passes. On the offensive side for the Buckeyes, quarterback Art Schlichter threw four touchdown passes of his own, including three in the first half as Ohio State built the big advantage. Schlichter finished with an efficient 17-21 passing day with 284 yards and no interceptions. He had two receivers go over 100 yards as Doug Donley picked up 137 and Gary Williams added 120.
Ohio State’s Calvin Murray stemmed the Illini onslaught in the second half with a 13-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, then Tim Spencer scored the eventual-winning points on a 2-yard run with 10:55 to play. The teams combined for 1,057 yards of total offense.
Ohio State 26
No. 15 Illinois 21
The Illini, who entered the game ranked No. 15, could not contain a balanced Buckeye offense and were upset, 26-21, in Champaign by unranked Ohio State.
Mike Tomczak threw for 247 yards and a touchdown for Ohio State, while running back Tim Spencer added 151 yards rushing. Tomczak also had 41 yards rushing and his 1-yard touchdown run gave Ohio State a 21-7 lead with 6:55 remaining in the third quarter. The Illini halved the lead in the fourth quarter with a 21-yard run by Thomas Rooks, then tied the score on a 5-yard pass from Tony Eason to Kirby Wilson with 7:40 remaining in the game. That left plenty of time for Tomczak to move the Buckeyes into position for a game-winning field goal by Rick Spangler from 27 yards away with 0:03 on the clock.
Freshman Byron Lee sacked Eason in the end zone for a safety on the final play of the game.
Ohio State built a 14-7 halftime lead with a big-play offense. The Buckeyes got on the board first with a 74-yard touchdown pass from Tomczak to Cedric Anderson, then after Illinois tied the score Spencer struck with a scoring run from 44 yards out.
No. 8 Ohio State 45
Unranked Illinois stunned the Ohio Stadium crowd of 89,937 by opening a 24-0 lead in the first half, but that was before Buckeye running back Keith Byars got going.
Byars got the eighth-ranked Buckeyes on the board with a 16-yard touchdown run with 4:13 left in the second quarter, the first of four straight OSU touchdowns that let the Buckeyes take a 28-24 advantage in less than three minutes into the third quarter. After an Illinois field goal, Byars broke loose for a spectacular 67-yard TD to stretch the lead back to eight. The junior from Dayton reversed his field and lost a shoe on the run, one of the most memorable plays in Ohio State history.
The Illini kept coming, however. Illinois quarterback completed threw a touchdown pass and ran for the game-tying two-point conversion just before the start of the fourth quarter. After the teams traded field goals, Byars finally put the wraps on the 45-38 Buckeye victory with a 3-yard touchdown run with just 0:36 on the clock. The junior finished the day with five touchdowns and 274 rushing yards that were at the time a school record for a single game. He also tied Pete Johnson’s school record with five rushing touchdowns.
It was no day for defenses: The Buckeyes gave up 509 total yards to Illinois but trumped the Illini with 564 yards of their own.
No. 2 Ohio State 41
Prior to the game with No. 2 Ohio State, if unranked Illinois could lean on anything, it was the quality of its run defense. The Illini were allowing just 109 yards per game on the ground and led by future NFL first round draft picks Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice. With star wide receiver Terry Glenn not in the Buckeye lineup because of a shoulder injury, it figured the Illini could key on Ohio State’s Eddie George as the main threat for the day.
Though they may have been watching the Buckeyes’ senior running closely, it did not end up mattering much to him. George broke Byars’ single-game rushing record with 314 yards on 36 carries in a 41-3 pasting of the Illini. George scored two rushing touchdowns and added another score on a 13-yard reception in a performance that perhaps clinched Ohio State’s sixth Heisman Trophy for him.
Running behind left tackle Orlando Pace much of the bitterly cold day, the Buckeyes picked up 423 rushing yards on 61 attempts while throwing only 14 passes.
With chants of “Ed-die! Ed-die!” ringing throughout the Horseshoe on a frigid day in Columbus, George piled up 346 all-purpose yards, a total that still ranks second in school history for a single game.
No. 2 Ohio State 23
In a manner typical of the national championship season, Ohio State came from behind in the second half and won with its defense on the field making the final stand.
After Maurice Hall gave the Buckeyes a lead with a touchdown run to start overtime, defensive lineman Tim Anderson knocked down a fourth-down pass by Illinois’ Jon Beutjer to end the game and preserve the win.
The Ohio State offense struggled much of the day, but quarterback Craig Krenzel and running backs Hall and Lydell Ross combined to grind out 145 yards rushing on 45 carries and came up with plays when necessary. After the Illini took the lead, 10-6, in the third quarter, Krenzel hooked up with Michael Jenkins for a 50-yard touchdown pass that put the Buckeyes back on top.
The Illini were not finished though, tying the score later in the third with a 47-yard field goal by John Gockman. Then Krenzel led another Buckeye drive, which he was able to keep going with several long scrambles, to a Mike Nugent field goal that gave the Buckeyes the lead again. Gockman sent the game to overtime with a 48-yard field goal as time expired in regulation.