Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller combined to rush for 430 yards and five touchdowns as third-ranked Ohio State flexed its offensive muscle during a 60-35 romp over Illinois on Saturday afternoon in front of 44,095 fans at wind-swept Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
The victory extended Ohio State’s winning streak to 22 games, equaling the school record established from 1967-69.
But while the Buckeyes keeping their streak alive, and while Hyde and Miller were helping the offense rack up 591 total yards, the Fighting Illini were exposing a host of deficiencies on the OSU defense by totaling 420 yards and scoring 35 points, more than any other opponent this season.
OSU head coach Urban Meyer, who had some sharp words for his team during a sideline interview with ESPN at halftime, tried to put the victory more into perspective when he met with reporters following the game.
“We have to stop talking about the stuff that doesn’t matter,” Meyer said. “Our focus is on getting better. We’re down 11 (injured) players, and because of that our special teams are kind of a mess. But we have to coach better. I can’t wait to get back to work tomorrow and get our focus back on getting better.”
Hyde carried 24 times for a career-best 246 yards and four touchdowns, matching the third-best single-game output by an Ohio State player. Eddie George holds the school record with 314 yards against Illinois in 1995 while Keith Byars rushed for 274 vs. the Illini in 1984. Byars matched the 246 yards picked up by Archie Griffin against Iowa in 1973.
Meanwhile, Miller added 184 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and added another 150 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Miller, however, struggled at times with the swirling Memorial Stadium wind, and completed only 13 of 29 attempts.
Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase attempted 50 passes, completing 33 of them for 288 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Scheelhaase added 46 yards and a touchdown on the ground, but he also pitched two interceptions and was sacked five times.
“We knew going in that (Scheelhaase) would be hard to defend,” Meyer said. “It got tight there for awhile, but we were playing without some guys on defense against a quarterback who makes a lot of plays. That said, we’re not playing good enough on defense. But like I said, we need to stop talking about style points, national stuff or whatever. We just need to get back to work on getting better.”
Already without senior safety Christian Bryant since a week five ankle injury, the Buckeyes were further hampered by the absences of starting linebackers Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry due to injuries. OSU also lost freshman defensive end Joey Bosa to a neck injury on the first series of the second half.
When the game began, there was every indication it would be the blowout most had forecasted. Fans were still trying to find their seats when Miller put the game’s first points on the board. The QB faked a handoff to Hyde and then bolted through the middle of the Illinois defense for a 70-yard touchdown to give the Buckeyes a 7-0 lead just 36 seconds into the contest.
OSU added two more first-quarter scores, the first on an 18-yard swing pass from Miller to Hyde and the second on a 63-yard interception return by cornerback Bradley Roby.
Then an 11-yard touchdown pass from Miller to Corey “Philly” Brown made it 28-0 in favor of the Buckeyes at the 10:20 mark of the second quarter. Brown was Ohio State’s leading receiver in the contest with seven catches for 49 yards.
Illinois took advantage of some sloppy special teams play to score its first touchdown, a 67-yard punt return by Cleveland Glenville product V’Angelo Bentley to make it 28-7 with 7:29 left until halftime.
But Ohio State answered immediately. Senior co-captain Jordan Hall returned the ensuing kickoff 47 yards to the OSU 48, and six plays later Hyde motored into the end zone from 8 yards out to pushed the Buckeyes’ lead to 35-7 with 5:47 remaining until the break.
The Fighting Illini responded to that score with their best drive of the game, a 12-play, 75-yard march culminating in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Scheelhaase to wideout Steve Hull. That closed the gap to 35-14 at halftime.
Things got even tighter when Illinois took the opening kickoff to start the second half and matched 75 yards in only nine plays, a 1-yard TD pass from Scheelhaase to tight end Evan Wilson cutting Ohio State’s lead to 35-21 with 12:06 remaining in the third quarter.
The remainder of the third quarter belonged to the Buckeyes. OSU linebacker Ryan Shazier knocked the ball loose from Illinois backup quarterback Riley O’Toole, leading to a safety that made it 37-21 at the 4:59 mark, and then Hyde bolted into the end zone from 1 yard out to give his team a 44-21 cushion with 4:01 left in the third period.
But Illinois refused to go away. Scheelhaase scored on a 5-yard touchdown run at the 14:22 mark of the fourth quarter, and then connected with receiver Miles Osei on a two-point conversion to bring the Illini back within 15 points at 44-29.
Then after OSU kicker Drew Basil had a 30-yard field goal at the 10:43 mark to make it 47-29, running back Josh Ferguson scored on a 4-yard touchdown run to cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 47-35 with 8:49 remaining.
That was Illinois’ final salvo, however. Scheelhaase’s two-point conversion pass was batted away and then Hyde cemented the victory with touchdown runs of 51 and 55 yards to account for the final score.