More than 48 hours after a competitive loss to Ohio State, Illinois should be proud of (at least defensively) but not satisfied with its effort and ready to move on to what figures to be two extremely difficult weeks of road football in the Big Ten.
Penn State is coming off an embarrassing loss to Iowa while Michigan State is undefeated and riding high with in-state rival Michigan next and the Illini following up in what hopefully will be a letdown game for the Spartans.
Before Writing Illini moves on itself to the Penn State Nittany Lions, let’s review the Ohio State loss.
Final Score: Ohio State 24, Illinois 13
A full recap of the game can be found on Writing Illini’s Gameday Binoculars.
While the Illini fought valiantly during its close loss to the #2-ranked Buckeyes, several of their impressive streaks came to an end.
Illinois kicker Derek Dimke missed his first collegiate attempt in two seasons.
In the second quarter, Dimke kicked a 41 yarder that was right on the money, but the strong winds going against the kick caused it to fall agonizingly short, mere inches from the goal post. Dimke was visibly upset after the miss, but he showed poise as he drilled his next two kicks.
Junior running back Mikel Leshoure was unable to break through the blistering Ohio State defense and only racked up 80 yards on the ground, thus ending his 4 game streak of rushing for more than 110 yards.
The strong winds also hurt punter Anthony Santella, who fell from 1st to 4th in the nation in punting average.
Illinois head coach Ron Zook’s decision to kick a field goal with just more than 4 minutes remaining in the game and the Illini trailing by 7 has been criticized by some.
These critics have said that Illinois should have gone for a first down on 4th and 7 and thus tried to score a touchdown to tie the game.
However, Zook’s decision made sense when you look at the game as a whole.
Up to that point, Illinois had played great on defense, holding a Buckeye offense that had averaged more than 50 points in its first 4 games to just 17 points. The Illini had forced several 3-and-outs and also had 2 interceptions.
Zook realized that Ohio State would get the ball back either way, and that Illinois would have to try and stop them.
This way, if the Illini stopped the Buckeyes from reaching the end zone, but Ohio State still made a field goal, Illinois could still come back and tie it up.
It is true that a touchdown would have been the best result, but given that it was 4th and long, the decision to kick the field goal makes perfect sense.
And when considering how pathetic Illinois was on converting third downs on Saturday (2-of-13), it’s unlikely that the Illini would have picked up the first down on fourth down.
Zook made the right call.
Nick Houska’s Illini Game Ball
- Trulon Henry
In Writing Illini’s preview of Ohio State, Illinois’ inability to force turnovers was brought up.
Illinois was tied for last in the FBS in interceptions last year, and the team did not have a single interception going into the Ohio State game.
That is not the case anymore.
Henry, the brother of former Illini wide receiver and All-American Arrelious Benn, had 2 interceptions against the Buckeyes, picking off Terrelle Pryor and his backup Joe Bauserman.
Henry’s efforts were part of an overall impressive defensive effort.
In fact, Illinois has a history of playing well against the Buckeyes defensively.
In the past 3 meetings, the Illini have held the Buckeyes to less than 100 yards passing.
Henry is new to the Illini this season, having transferred from the College of DuPage, where he played 2 seasons after serving time in prison for armed robbery.
While some skeptics thought Zook only recruited Henry in an effort to try and keep Benn at Illinois for one more season, Henry has proven himself to be one of the better players on the Illini defense.
So far this season, he has accumulated 23 tackles, 4 pass deflections, 2 interceptions, and a forced fumble.
Other Players Worth Mentioning
- Jarred Fayson
The wide receiver set career highs for receptions in a game (8) and yards (83) and also had a 23-yard pass to Scheelhaase on a trick play that set up Illinois’ only touchdown. Fayson and fellow receiver AJ Jenkins are doing well this season considering that the team is still very run-oriented and that they see few passes thrown their way.
- Corey Liuget and the Rest of the Illini Defensive Line
Liuget was in on 4 tackles (3 solos and 1 assist) and made a couple of nice stops in the backfield. All in all, I thought the Illini defensive line was very solid in this game, with Michael Buchanan returning from suspension to pick up 7 tackles, Akeem Spence combining for 7 tackles, Clay Nurse registering a sack, Justin Staples deflecting a Pryor shovel pass and Whitney Mercilus making a nice tackle that was wiped away by a bogus face-mask penalty. Illinois’ defensive line did seem to wear out late as Ohio State pounded the ball with Dan Herron.
Writing Illini mentioned Illinois’ problem with penalties after the NIU game and in the Ohio State preview as something the team must eliminate. Illinois did well for most of the game, but on the final drive when the team needed a stop, it continued to give up costly penalties that let Ohio State keep the ball and run down the clock.
Prior to Ohio State’s final offensive drive, Illinois was called for a personal foul after the kickoff, giving the Buckeyes great field position near the 50-yard line.
Illinois later had an offside penalty against cornerback Justin Green on a third-and-one stop that would have given the Illini the ball back with almost 4 minutes remaining and the team only down by 4.
Instead the Buckeyes got a first down and, along with another costly face-mask penalty (against Nate Bussey), marched down to the end zone to seal the win.
Illinois must eliminate its penalties on defense as they continue to hurt the team in games.
- Offensive Playcalling
For as great as the defense played in keeping the Illini in the game, I never had the feeling that Illinois was going to pull off the upset, in large part due to the offense struggling to sustain much offense after the first quarter.
Illinois was imaginative on its first drive (as evidenced by a Jarred Fayson pass back to quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase) but was a little too close to the vest the rest of the way.
Granted, Ohio State’s defense is awesome, but it would have been nice to see Illinois get a little more aggressive as its own defense kept them in the game for so long.
Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino is going to need to let Scheelhaase be free at some point in the season here if the Illini want a realistic chance to pull out close games against better opponents like Missouri and Ohio State.
Also, on a day when Leshoure had to really fight for his yards, Jason Ford was doing a nice job in the backup running role. A few more carries for Ford (6 rushes for 28 yards) could have been beneficial.
- Illinois “Big Play” Defense
While Illinois’ overall defense was terrific, they did give up a few big runs, which has been a problem for the team throughout the 2010 season.
On Saturday, Pryor had a 66-yard run on Ohio State’s second drive of the game..
At that moment, Illinois had all of the momentum after forcing the Buckeyes to go 3-and-out on their opening drive and then driving 55 yards to go ahead 7-0.
However, on the first play of the next drive, Pryor took off along the sideline and ran to the Illinois 8 yard line before being stopped short of a touchdown.
This big play took all of the wind out of the Illinois sails and gave the Buckeyes some confidence.
Pryor later had another big run that set up an Ohio State touchdown.
Illinois has to work on preventing the big plays to keep momentum on their side because, as the Stanford-Oregon game showed, once a team loses its momentum, it is very hard to get back in to the rhythm of the game.
- Failing to Push Some Buttons
I agree with Zook in kicking the field goal late in the fourth quarter.
With that said, it would have been good to see Illinois try something (possibly a surprise onside kick) to get the ball back.
As coaches, sometimes you have to realize that you’re players have done all they could to hang around and that you need to make a surprise call to try and steal a victory.
Otherwise, you’re no better than Lovie Smith, who failed to push any buttons last night after his team gave up 9 sacks in the first half but only trailed 3-0 thanks to the Bears’ defense.
- Lack of Discipline
As Nick mentioned earlier, the penalties (especially late) were baffling and just not intelligent decisions.
Simply put, Illinois is not good enough to beat Ohio State or most other Big Ten teams for that matter when shooting itself in the foot with bad penalties.
Writing Illini Projection Record: 4-0 (100%)
Check back in Wednesday for a look at Illinois’ next opponent, Penn State, as well as a Q&A with fellow Fansided Blogers Victory Bell Rings.
Topics: A.J. Jenkins, AJ Jenkins, Anthony Santella, Arrelious Benn, Buckeyes Football, Derek Dimke, Dupage, FanSided, Football, Illini, Illini Football, Illinois, Illinois Fighting Illini, Illinois Fighting Illini Football, Illinois Football, Jarred Fayson, Joe Bauserman, Mikel Leshoure, Nathan Scheelhaase, NIU Football, NIU Huskies, NIU Huskies Football, Ohio State, Ohio State Buckeyes, Ohio State Buckeyes Football, Ohio State Football, Oregon Ducks, Penn State Football, Penn State Nittany Lions, Ron Zook, Ron Zook Nathan Scheelhaase, Stanford Cardinal, Terrelle Pryor, Trulon Henry, University Of Illinois, Victory Bell Rings