This recap was going to be laden with photos of cute kittens and puppies. Preferably photos of cute kittens playing with cute puppies. But as an Illinois football fan I doubt you're giving this clicks to view pet pictures. I just figured it might take us all to a happier place.
No? Ok. Then let's just dive right into the ugliness that was Saturday night.
The game started out with a promising opening drive from the Illinois offense. Reilly O'Toole was methodically marching down the field when a perfectly-thrown ball bounced off of the hands of tight end Matt LaCosse and right into the hands of an Ohio State defender. That would be a sign of things to come for the Illini, who's first nine drives of the game went like this: interception, punt, missed field goal, fumble, interception, turnover on downs, punt, punt, fumble. Yikes. Throughout all of those dreadful possessions were two Reilly O'Toole interceptions, neither of which were really his fault (both were ricochets off of a receivers' hands).
So Beckman turned to Aaron Bailey, who wasn't quite as impressive as he was against Wisconsin, but still had a decent night. He went 9-for-16 with one touchdown thrown and zero interceptions. He was also Illinois' leading rusher with 38 yards, which certainly says something about the effectiveness of the run game. Josh Ferguson finished with a mere 35 yards rushing and Donovonn Young contributed another 22 which included one touchdown run late in the game.
Ultimately this game was a battle of boys against men, and it was obvious from the opening kickoff. Ohio State outgained the Illini by 300 yards of total offense (545 to 245) and forced four turnovers that were turned into 21 points. They basically scored almost every time they had the ball. Take a look at the Buckeyes' first nine drives of the game comparatively: touchdown, field goal, touchdown, turnover on downs, touchdown, punt, touchdown, touchdown, field goal. When you’re undersized, outcoached, and unlucky on the road against #13 Ohio State and they put together that kind of a start to the game, you’re going to get blown out.
J.T. Barrett, despite the concern about his MCL injury, had a nice night going 15-for-24 with two touchdowns and no picks. The Illini struggled all evening to create any sort of a pass rush on Barrett. One of the hopes coming into the game was that the defense would be able to confuse and isolate Barrett with blitzes considering that he was somewhat immobile, but that never came to fruition. Urban Meyer said he challenged his offensive line to improve from last week, and they clearly did just that.
On the other side of the ball the line wasn't much better either. The O-line struggled to contain Joey Bosa, who is one of the best defenders in the entire country. He got annoying midway through the first quarter. But he wasn't the only Buckeye defender who had a big game; Curtis Grant forced two turnovers that resulted in 14 points the other way. The differences in the two teams' lines were glaring; Ohio State didn't allow anybody to get to Barrett, while the Illini couldn't stop Bosa and Grant from getting to O'Toole.
Penalties were the other huge issue. The Buckeyes actually ended up receiving one more penalty than the Illini did (six to five), but it was the nature and timing of Illinois' mistakes that made them so costly. In the first quarter, when Illinois was driving, O'Toole threw to Malik Turner for a first down and goal at the five, but it was wiped away thanks to a chop block on Alex Hill. That cost the Illini a potential seven points. Then they received several false starts that killed field position along with an unsportsman-like conduct penalty on Tim Beckman (is that a thing? 15-yard misconduct penalties on the head coach?). The referees were just about as sharp in this game as the Illini were. There were several missed calls (targeting and horse-collar tackles to name a few) on the Buckeyes, as well as the unsportsman-like conduct penalty that was seemingly instigated by the head official when he grabbed hold of Beckman's shirt. I don't care what the score of the game is, you can't go after a coach on the sidelines like that if you're a ref. That's inexcusable. No matter what Tim's response was, it was warranted in that situation. Just be glad this game wasn't a close one, because if it were that's all people would be talking about.
I began to flip back-and-forth between this brutal beatdown and the Auburn-Ole Miss game when commercials allowed, and several times I'd tune back in to discover Ohio State had just scored another touchdown. I've already mentioned this several times but it's worth mentioning again: the Illini were down 48 points in the early third quarter. Okay, maybe even the somewhat-optimistic fans thought the defense would give up points, and I certainly foresaw the Buckeyes potentially putting 48 on the board, but 48-0? And the game is barely halfway over? Inexcusable. I shuddered to think what the score would be if either Auburn or Ole Miss were taking on Illinois. Sheesh. Ultimately we all anticipated a loss but didn't expect one like this. Most figured the Illini would at least sneak in a backdoor cover of an "incredibly large spread" of 28 points. They weren't even close. When the ESPN commentators are getting back-rubs from Brutus the Buckeye in the second quarter you know you're not doing something right. There were way too many self-inflicted wounds in this game, and if you combine that with the talent differential between Ohio State and Illinois that's the kind of result you're going to get. Toss in some really bad officiating and it makes it even worse. But unfortunately things went from worse to even worser as the Illini lost two key offensive linemen in the process:
Simon Cvijanovic's arm in a sling. Ted Karras on crutches. #Illini trail 48-0— Aaron Bennett (@WCIA3Aaron) November 2, 2014
This game was a complete disaster all the way around for Illinois, no need to sugarcoat it. But if you're Tim Beckman you need to burn the tape and move on; you get a bye week to rest up and then the final three-game stretch which will determine whether or not your team goes bowling (and you keep your job). Wes Lunt will presumably be back on the field for the Illini when they take on Iowa and hopefully the team can look more like they did against Minnesota and less like they did this past weekend against Ohio State. Plus maybe a little bit like that kitten.