The Buckeyes came into their game Nov. 10, 2007, vs. Illinois on Senior Day with a 10-0 record, a No. 1 Bowl Championship Series ranking and a school-record regular-season winning streak.
The Fighting Illini, led by a huge performance by quarterback Juice Williams, spoiled all of those things by upsetting Ohio State 28-21 in front of 105,453 - the fifth-largest crowd ever to witness a game at Ohio Stadium. The loss snapped OSU’s 28-game regular-season winning streak, its 20-game Big Ten winning streak and knocked the Buckeyes out of the top position in the BCS.
“Hats off to Illinois,” Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. “They did the things that you need to do to win a tough battle, and unfortunately we didn’t do all the things that you need to do.
“I feel bad that we didn’t come through for those guys playing for the last time here at Ohio Stadium, but nevertheless I’m still proud of how hard they go after it and how much it means to them. This stings, but we’ve got to pick up and move on.”
Things started well for the Buckeyes. Ohio State scored the first points of the game just 23 seconds in on an 11-yard touchdown run by Chris “Beanie” Wells. Illinois answered with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Williams to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, which was set up by an 80-yard run by Daniel Dufrene on the Illini’s second offensive play. Replays appeared to show Dufrene fumbling the ball while being tackled by OSU cornerback Donald Washington, but the play was not reviewed. The Illini scored on the next play.
Ohio State answered with a 19-yard touchdown run by Maurice Wells that put the Buckeyes ahead 14-7, but the Illini once again answered. Illinois eventually took the lead with two touchdowns in the final 20 minutes of the first half.
Both teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, but Ohio State could never get a defensive stop when needed. Williams rushed for 37 yards - 34 of it on four key third- or fourth-down situations - in the fourth quarter, which kept the OSU offense on the sidelines. In the final 15 minutes, the Buckeyes only had the ball for one minutes and 14 seconds.
“We definitely wanted to get out there and show this team that we can go out there and put some points on the board,” Boeckman said of being on the sidelines for the Illinois final drive. “Credit their ‘O.’ They kept the drive alive and kept the clock moving. I thought our ‘D’ would hold them, but our offense put our defense in some bad situations out there.”
Williams had a huge game, completing 12 of 22 passes for 140 yards and four touchdowns. He added 70 yards rushing on 16 carries. The sophomore led the Illini to 400 total yards of offense.
“He managed the game well, and after today you can all see why he is our starter,” Illinois head coach Ron Zook said. “When the game is on the line, he does what needs to be done. He is a tough competitor who plays the game well.”
Tailbacks Rashard Mendenhall and Dufrene combined for 194 yards to lead Illinois’ rushing attack.
Junior quarterback Todd Boeckman connected with Brian Hartline for a 65-yard gain during OSU’s first drive of the game, but the OSU passing attack was mainly silent after that big play. Boeckman completed 13 of 23 passes for 156 yards with no touchdowns and three key interceptions. The first two led to Illini touchdowns and the third came in the fourth down on what ended up being Ohio State’s final offensive drive.
“I’m disappointed,” Boeckman said. “These kinds of losses are hard to take. It’s even tougher being a leader on this team and knowing you could have played better and helped out the team.”
The OSU rushing attack was led by Chris Wells, who finished with 76 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns. Boeckman added a career-high 68 yards on eight carries.
On defense, linebacker Marcus Freeman had a career-high 18 stops, including 10 solo. Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis added 12 tackles, and fellow linebacker Larry Grant and defensive end Cameron Heyward each tallied seven tackles apiece.
The loss was Ohio State’s first on Senior Day at Ohio Stadium since 2001, when No. 12 Illinois defeated the Buckeyes by a 34-22 margin.
“I hope the young guys remember this feeling,” senior captain Kirk Barton said. “I’ve been here five years and this is the first time that we’ve lost on Senior Day. In ’04 when Michigan was a 21-point favorite or whatever against us in our place, we were able to pull that one off for them. It hurts losing on Senior Day. It’s a tough gig. It’s something that I’ll never forget.
“We didn’t leave the young guys like we needed to. A lot of them came up to me in the locker room after the game and said sorry and were crying and whatnot. You hope that they remember how this feels. We don’t lose in the Horseshoe at all. It’s a rarity and you wish it didn’t happen on senior day.”