When Illinois took on Ohio State at Memorial Stadium, the teams couldn’t share more contrasting narratives. The Buckeyes are the consensus No. 3 team in the nation, holding a 9-0 record and winners of 13 straight Big Ten games. On the other side of the field, Illinois is 3-6, losers of five straight games and 19 straight Big Ten games. With three games left on their schedule with Ohio State up, Illinois had to pull off an upset of epic proportions to keep their hopes of a bowl game alive—just 36 seconds into the game, it didn’t appear that was a possibility. After trailing 28-0 early on, Illinois fought back to within 12 points in the fourth quarter, but ultimately succumbed to the Ohio State attack, losing 60-35.
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, who entered the game sixth in the nation with a 175.9 quarterback rating, took only three plays to find the end zone.
Miller faked a handoff to Carlos Hyde, fooling nearly everyone on the Illinois defense. Miller jogged the last ten yards of his 70 yard touchdown score. Just 36 seconds into the game, the Buckeyes were already up 7-0.
Conversely, it didn’t take too long for the Illini’s offense to give the ball back to the Buckeyes. On the fourth play of Illinois’s first drive, senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase threw the ball in the middle of the field with Ohio State’s C.J. Barnett the only player in the area, as he came down with the easy pick.
Later in the first, Barnett would once again disrupt a Scheelhaase pass. Barnett tipped an errant throw by Scheelhaase that landed in the hands of cornerback Bradley Roby.
After juking past Scheelhaase who lunged for the tackle, Roby found the end zone on a 63 yard interception return. Ohio State led 21-0 at the end of the first quarter.
The Buckeyes continued to pour it on, going up 28-0 after Miller followed up a 28 yard run with an 11 yard touchdown pass to Corey Brown.
Miller threw for 90 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
Down 28-0, Illinois had to turn things around fast.
Illinois finally got on the board after sophomore cornerback V’Angelo Bentley scored on a 67 yard punt return, juking multiple defenders and breaking a tackle on his way to the end zone.
The punt return touchdown was the Illini’s first in a decade. Bentley scored on a 100 yard return against Southern Illinois earlier this season, making him the first Illinois player ever to score on a punt and kick return in the same season.
Just before the end of the half, Scheelhaase scrambled away from the Buckeye rush and barely got away a throw off before taking a hit, with Justin Hardee fortuitously coming down with the ball for a 23 yard gain.
On the next, Scheelhaase found his new favorite target Steve Hull for a 19 yard touchdown.
After catching for 224 yards and two touchdowns against Indiana last week, Hull caught for 105 yards in this one.
The touchdown gave Illinois some momentum heading into the second half.
A 20 yard run from Scheelhaase at the start of the third brought Illinois close to mid field. It was the first 20 yard run given up by the Buckeyes this season.
Scheelhaase topped the drive off with a one yard touchdown to tight end Evan Wilson in the back of the end zone. After trailing 28-0, Illinois cut it to a 35-21 Buckeye lead with 12:06 left in the third.
Coach Tim Beckman was proud of his team’s resiliency.
“I think they’ve been that way this whole football season,” Beckman said. “I continue to tell them that and that’s why it’s so disheartening when they don’t get that victory because they’re fighting to the end, there’s no question about that.”
At the start of fourth, Scheelhaase exploded on a 35 yard run to bring Illinois to the OSU 6. Scheelhaase would run it in for a touchdown, and complete the two-point conversion to senior wide out Miles Osei. Illinois trailed 44-29 with 14:22 left in the game.
After an Ohio State field goal, the Illinois offense continued to respond. Scheelhaase did his best Braxton Miller impression, scrambling for yards and keeping plays alive.
After a 15 yard catch by Hull, Ferguson drove the ball in for a four yard touchdown. After the failed two point conversion, the Illini trailed 47-35 with under nine minutes left in the game.
The 35 points Illinois scored were the most points Ohio State has allowed this season.
Hyde put an end to the Illini comeback effort with a 51 yard run, stiff arming a defender on his way to the end zone.
On the next drive, Hyde broke loose for another big run, this time for 55 yards and touchdown.
Hyde had 24 carries for 246 yards and four touchdowns on the ground and caught for 26 yards and a touchdown.
The defeat didn’t come without controversy.
With five minutes left in the third, Scheelhaase got rid of the ball on a scramble, getting tangled up by Tommy Schutt in the process. Scheelhaase’s helmet came off on the play, forcing him to sit out the next play.
Scheelhaase said it was the first time his helmet has ever came off on any level and that it fell off because his chinstrap broke.
Beckman could’ve called a timeout to avoid having to take his senior quarterback out, but opted not to.
Scheelhaase was taken out for quarterback Reilly O’Toole, who was sacked in the end zone and fumbled the ball, with the Illini’s Matt LaCosse jumping on the ball for a safety.
After the play, coach Tim Beckman and offensive coordinator Bill Cubit had an altercation on the sidelines where both coaches had to be held back.
Beckman said it was the first time he’s had an incident like that in his career, but admitted he was wrong.
“I probably should’ve called a timeout to get [Nathan Scheelhaase] back in the football game,” Beckman said.
At 3-7 and mathematically eliminated from bowl eligibility, seniors Scheelhaase and linebacker Jonathan Brown stressed that winning these next two games and finally breaking the streak of 20 straight Big Ten losses remains the goal.
“It’s huge,” Brown said. “Me as a senior, I gotta leave something behind for the team to build on for next year. That’s really my main focus right now.”
“I think anytime we put on the jersey and wear the emblem on our helmet representing this university, you always have something to play for,” Scheelhaase said. “And to be surrounded by the people we’re surrounded by every day to look my brothers in the eye and know I wanna go to war with the, you always have something to play for.”
Illinois won two straight bowl games under coach Ron Zook, but at this point, a Big Ten win is really all coach Beckman can ask for.