Ohio State slogged through a first-half rainstorm and then slugged its way past conference rival Illinois, scoring a 30-0 victory Sept. 26 in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
The heavens opened up on the 105,219 fans in Ohio Stadium in the first half but the Buckeyes didn’t seem to care. Keeping the ball almost exclusively on the ground, they opened a 13-0 halftime lead and continued to build on that foundation in the second half. OSU finished the game with 318 total yards – 236 of it on the ground.
Meanwhile, the defense was stoning an opponent for the second straight week. Illinois, which entered the game averaging 436.5 yards per game, managed only 170 against the Buckeyes and turned the ball over three times.
The Illini were shut out for only the second time since Ron Zook became head coach and the first time since a 33-0 loss at Rutgers early in the 2006 season.
Meanwhile, Ohio State notched its first back-to-back shutouts since blanking Minnesota and Illinois in November 1996.
“When your defense can throw another shutout, it makes it a whole lot more fun,” OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. “There was talk all week long about how bad the weather was going to be, and we said we had to focus no matter what the conditions were going to be. I thought our kids did a good job focusing ... and I thought they delivered. I thought our kids came out of the gate in the Big Ten the way that they should.”
The Buckeyes set the tone early when Illinois started its first offensive possession of the game in OSU territory at the 49-yard line. The Illini got a couple of first downs and moved as far as the 24 with a second-and-7. But after a 5-yard penalty for having too many men in the huddle, Illinois quarterback Juice Williams was intercepted by OSU middle linebacker Brian Rolle to end the threat.
Illinois got no closer than the Ohio State 30 for the remainder of the game.
The Buckeyes got on the board with 8:09 left in the first quarter as senior kicker Aaron Pettrey booted a 50-yard field goal. It was Pettrey’s sixth career three-pointer from 50 yards or longer and put the Buckeyes ahead, 3-0.
Pettrey capped a nine-play, 63-yard drive with another field goal, this one from 46 yards with 12:46 remaining in the second period to give the Buckeyes a 6-0 lead. Then sophomore tailback Dan “Boom” Herron finished off a six-play, 80-yard march when he ran 4 yards for a touchdown at the 7:30 mark to give Ohio State a 13-0 halftime lead.
Herron added a 2-yard TD run early in the third quarter, capping a short drive that was set up when OSU defensive end Thaddeus Gibson forced a Williams fumble at the Illinois 12. The Illini recovered the fumble, but a short punt allowed the Buckeyes to begin their possession at the UI 39. Five plays later – including a 23-yard scramble by sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor on a critical third-and-3 – Herron bulled his way into the end zone to make it 20-0 with 10:55 remaining in the third quarter.
Williams was picked off by OSU defensive end Lawrence Wilson to end Illinois’ next possession, a turnover the Buckeyes turned into a 27-yard field goal from Pettrey to make it 23-0 at the 2:28 mark of the third period.
Another Illinois turnover led to Ohio State’s final tally. Junior safety Jermale Hines picked off backup quarterback Eddie McGee, and the Buckeyes turned that into an eight-play, 42-yard drive capped by a 3-yard touchdown pass from Pryor to junior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher with 1:18 left in the game.
The OSU running game was bolstered by some hard running from junior tailback Brandon Saine, who carried 13 times for 81 yards, and Herron, who had 75 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.
Pryor got untracked after a slow start that saw him with only 6 yards of total offense in the first half. He rebounded to finish 8 of 13 passing for 82 yards and a touchdown as well as 59 yards rushing on 11 carries.
Sanzenbacher was the leading receiver for the Buckeyes. He had three catches for 36 yards including the touchdown.
Meanwhile, Williams accounted for most of the Illinois offense. He completed 13 of 25 pass attempts for 77 yards and carried the ball 15 times for 18 yards.
Sophomore running back Mikel Leshoure was the leading rusher for the Illini with 25 yards on four carries. Senior tailback Daniel Dufrene, who cracked the century mark two years ago when Illinois upset top-ranked OSU, was held to 14 yards on six carries.
Defensively, the Buckeyes were led by senior safety Kurt Coleman, who had nine tackles as well as a forced fumble. Rolle had eight stops, an interception and half a sack, while Gibson finished with seven tackles, including two for loss, and a forced fumble. Senior defensive tackles Doug Worthington and Todd Denlinger, senior defensive end Rob Rose and freshman linebacker Andrew Sweat each had sacks.
The game was Tressel’s 300th as a collegiate head coach and also marked the 500th all-time victory for the Tressel family. His father, Lee, compiled a 155-52-6 record from 1958 to 1980 at Baldwin-Wallace; brother, Dick, went 124-102-2 during 23 seasons from 1978-2000 at Hamline University; and Jim is now 221-77-2 at Youngstown State (1986-2000) and Ohio State (2001-present).
Ohio State (3-1, 1-0) will be back in action next Saturday when the Buckeyes travel to Indiana to take on the Hoosiers. IU (3-1, 0-1) dropped a gut-wrenching 36-33 decision at Michigan earlier in the day Saturday. Kickoff next week will be shortly after 7 p.m. Eastern.