No. 9 Ohio State smacks Illinois to win division
COLUMBUS, Ohio — No. 9 Ohio State made sure there were no slip-ups Saturday against overmatched Illinois. Now the Buckeyes can focus on rival Michigan and then the Big Ten title game.
The Buckeyes scored four touchdowns in the first 13 minutes and raced to a 52-14 victory over the Fighting Illini in a driving rainstorm at Ohio Stadium, securing a share of the Big Ten East Division title.
Ohio State (9-2, 7-1 Big Ten) can finish no worse than a tie atop the division standings with Michigan State and Penn State. Even with a loss next week at Michigan, the Buckeyes would advance to the conference championship game against Wisconsin because they have beaten both the Spartans and Nittany Lions during the regular season.
“We did celebrate it for a quick minute,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said of securing the trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game. “And then it’s over. Now it’s time to put our laser lights on our rival.”
The Buckeyes, a 41-point favorite, completely dominated the Fighting Illini, racking up 543 total yards in a win that keeps them in the College Football Playoff picture.
“I love our focus,” Meyer said. “I love the way that we’re practicing and the focus — intent focus is the mantra right now. And I like where we’re at.”
Binjimen Victor caught two touchdown passes, Mike Weber rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries and J.K. Dobbins ran for a score in limited minutes for Ohio State.
J.T. Barrett, playing his final home game as Ohio State’s quarterback, completed 11 of 19 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. The senior, who has set 35 school and Big Ten records, added 33 rushing yards and a touchdown on five carries.
Barrett and many of the starters left the game midway through the second quarter after Ohio State opened a 38-0 lead and the rainstorm drove fans for cover. Barrett returned briefly in the second half to lead a touchdown drive that ended with a 12-yard pass to tight end Marcus Baugh for a 45-7 lead.
“All of my teammates came out and played hard,” Barrett said. “That’s the main thing that was discussed during the week.”
Illinois (2-9, 0-8) lost its ninth consecutive game after starting the season 2-0. The Illini did not pick up a first down until the final three minutes before halftime and didn’t produce another first down until two minutes remained in the third quarter.
“They are a fantastic football team in all three areas,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said of Ohio State. “They were better than us up front. They dominated us on both sides of the football.”
Ohio native Chayce Crouch started at quarterback for Illinois because of injuries and was just 4-of-14 passing for just 16 yards. He was injured late in the game on a late hit out of bounds and left the game.
“Like our football team today, a lot of good things didn’t happen to us,” Smith said.
Illinois managed just 105 total yards and five first downs, but more than half of the yards came in the fourth quarter after the outcome was decided.
Dre Brown rushed for 76 yards on 15 carries for the Illini.
“The defense was dominant,” Meyer said. “They did what they had to do.”
Three of Ohio State’s four first-quarter touchdowns came on the ground. Weber reached the end zone from 4 and 43 yards, and Barrett stretched the ball over the goal line on a 3-yard keeper.
The fourth touchdown of the opening quarter was an 11-yard pass from Barrett to Victor.
In the second quarter, Sean Nuernberger kicked a 33-yard field goal and Dobbins scored on a 1-yard run as Ohio State took a 38-0 lead into halftime.
Ohio State’s two second-half touchdowns came through the air — the pass to Baugh and a 21-yard strike from backup quarterback Dwayne Haskins to Victor to start the fourth quarter.
Illinois’ defense scored the Illini’s first touchdown. Ahmari Hayes picked up a fumble by Haskins and returned it 54 yards early in the third quarter.
Cam Miller came in at quarterback after Crouch was injured in the fourth quarter and scored on a 9-yard run.
NOTES: Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett broke the school record for rushing yards by a quarterback held by Braxton Miller. Barrett has 3,070 career rushing yards. ... Nineteen seniors played their final home game for Ohio State. ... Illinois QBs Cam Thomas (concussion) and Jeff George Jr. (hand), the starters in recent games, were not expected to play, but Thomas entered in the fourth quarter. ... Illinois coach Lovie Smith was an assistant at Ohio State in 1995. ... Ohio State C Billy Price started a school-record 52nd straight game.