It's odd. I feel better about the Illini following a 52-22 loss to Ohio State than I did after last week's 31-17 loss to Indiana. I get that last week I thought Illinois actually had a chance to win and I went into this game with the lowest of low expectations. That's not what's odd to me, though.
What's odd is that I feel like the Illini turned some kind of corner on Saturday afternoon, when looking at the box score, they did anything but.
I don't even know what happened in this game that made me feel better about anything. Was it Terry Hawthorne returning kicks? Was it finding out that Jon Davis wasn't dead and that the coaching staff remembered he was on the roster? Maybe it was getting to see Corey Lewis get on the field. It sure as hell couldn't have been anything else.
The Illini lost by 30 yesterday, but make no mistake, they didn't actually play that well. The only reason they got within 30 points of Ohio State is because Ohio State let it happen. The first Ohio State turnover came in the third quarter. The Illini would take advantage of Rod Smith's fumble and two Ohio State personal fouls to move down the field and score their first touchdown of the day.
In the fourth quarter Kenny Guiton -- in the game for Braxton Miller who needed some rest after torching the Illini defense all day -- made a stupid decision on a pitch and it resulted in Ashante Williams grabbing the ball and taking it 77 yards to the house.
Those Ohio State mistakes made this almost feel like a game for five minutes.
In truth, this was a blowout. Of Illinois proportions.
Illinois managed only 170 yards of offense on the day. 170 yards. On 64 plays. That's 2.66 yards per play. That is pathetic. Of the 64 plays that the Illini ran, 24 resulted in no gain, a loss or a turnover. That means 38% of the plays the Illini ran on offense did nothing at best. If this was a rare occurrence I could live with it, but the fact is that this happens just about every week.
On the flip side, Ohio State managed 567 total yards -- 330 rushing -- on 80 plays for an average of 7.09 yards per play. In general, when your opponent is averaging about 5 yards more per play than you are, you are going to get your ass kicked. And that's what Illinois did.
The Illini defense, which actually hadn't been playing as poorly as you'd think, played pretty poorly on Saturday. You just read the stats. You know. The Illini came into the game as one of the best third down defenses in the nation -- which is a misleading statistic because an offense must need a third down for you to stop them on it -- and let Ohio State convert 5 of their 10 third downs.
Then there was Braxton Miller who used his legs well enough, but didn't really need them either. Instead he picked apart the Illini through the air, throwing for 226 yards on only 12 completions. Miller's two touchdown passes were of the 51 and 37-yard varieties.
Then there was Carlos Hyde who ran over, through, around and over the Illini defense again all damn day. Actually, he didn't do it all day. Hyde only had 2 carries in the fourth quarter, but he still managed to finish the day with 137 yards and 3 touchdowns. Each of those touchdowns coming in the first half, 2 of them in a second quarter in which the Buckeyes buried the Illini by outscoring them 24-0.
As I said, it was an ass-kicking.
An ass-kicking that came as no surprise. You knew it. I knew it. Anybody who was honest with themselves knew that we were in store for something like this.
All we can do at this point is learn from the mistakes and move on.
Minnesota comes to town next week looking to get bowl eligible. Let's see that they have to wait another week.