COLUMBUS — Now Urban Meyer has some time to prepare an unbeaten yet flawed Ohio State team for what he calls “the two big ones left.”
Carlos Hyde rushed for 137 yards and three touchdowns, and Braxton Miller burnished his Heisman credentials by passing for two scores and running for another in the Buckeyes’ 52-22 victory over Illinois on Saturday.
The Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) maintained their upper hand in the Leaders Division heading into a bye week. They have games remaining at Wisconsin on Nov. 17 and against rival Michigan at home a week later.
There’s still plenty of work to do.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a couple of top-5 teams; this probably has more holes than those other ones,” said Meyer, in his first year at Ohio State after winning two national championships in six seasons at Florida. “However, there were also some great performances (today). We are going to dwell on the weaknesses because those weaknesses get exposed when you play two good teams like we have to finish the season.”
The Buckeyes feel great about how far they’ve come from a disastrous 6-7 season a year ago. But they still know that the hardest part lies ahead.
“It’s a great feeling knowing you haven’t lost a game all season. A lot of teams can’t say that,” cornerback Bradley Roby said. “Just to be 10-0 is a huge accomplishment for us. We’re very close (to 12-0). We just want to finish strong.”
Hyde scored on three short bursts while topping 100 yards for the sixth time this season. Miller carried 18 times for 73 yards and completed 12 of 20 passes for 226 yards. His TD passes covered 51 yards to Rod Smith and 37 to Corey Brown.
But Meyer isn’t happy with the passing game — which will be the focus of workouts starting Tuesday.
“We still have some weaknesses,” he said. “We worked so hard to develop a passing game, and I can’t say that we did it successfully, however. It’s still a work in progress.”
But the running game was vintage Ohio State. The Buckeyes averaged 6 yards per carry, totaling 330 yards on the ground.
“Once we got our rhythm there was going to be no stopping us,” Hyde said. “It’s not just me. It’s the offensive line. When those guys go, that means I’m going.”
It was the sixth consecutive loss for the Illini (2-7, 0-5) and their 11th in a row in the Big Ten.
First-year coach Tim Beckman, an assistant at Bowling Green under Meyer, said the Illini aren’t facing anything dramatically different from what his Toledo team did his first season there.
“You always face bumps but you want to do the best for the kids,” said Beckman. “Nobody wants to be in this situation but (the seniors) are trying to do whatever they can to get out of (it).”
Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, dogged all day by Ohio State’s aggressive front line, completed 19 of 34 passes for just 91 yards with one interception. He also led the Illini in rushing with 15 carries for 36 yards. But there wasn’t much else going on for the Illini, who finished with only 170 total yards.
The Illini trailed just 7-6 after a quarter thanks to two Nick Immekus field goals. But Ohio State wasted little time in running off all 24 points in the second quarter to take control.
Drew Basil’s 31-yard field goal made it 10-6 before a short Illinois punt gave the Buckeyes decent field position at their 36. Five plays later, Hyde’s second short TD run of the day made it 17-6.
Illinois, limited to just 170 yards, wasn’t able to get anything going as Scheelhaase was continually harassed and forced to scramble.
“There’s some mental errors in there, some mistakes that we just can’t have,” he said.
After another punt, Miller rolled right and then looked back to the left sideline where backup running back Rod Smith was several yards behind safety Supo Sanni. Smith pulled in the pass to complete the 51-yard score.
“We practiced that throughout the whole week,” Miller said. “It popped out like it’s supposed to.”
An 18-yard punt and a penalty put the Buckeyes right back in control at midfield. On consecutive plays, Miller juked and spun for 11 yards, Hyde picked up 11, Miller found tight end Nick Vannett for 14 yards, Miller scrambled for 11 more and Hyde then collected his third score of the day on a sweep around right end.
The second half was more or less anticlimactic.
The Buckeyes have plenty to work on: several costly personal-foul penalties; big yardage given up on kickoff and punt returns; and a big play off a turnover. Ashante Williams picked up backup quarterback Kenny Guiton’s bad option pitch and raced 77 yards for the touchdown in the final minutes.
Rest assured, Meyer will mention that mistake and the rest in what’s only an off week on the schedule. He did give the Buckeyes Sunday off but promised they would still make the most of their practice time.
“I explained to them, the bye week, there’s no rights around here; that’s earned time,” Meyer said. “If we didn’t play well we would have been in (on Sunday) working, and going all week like a normal work week. But those guys earned (the day off). I’m proud of them.”
Then he added, “And two big ones left.”
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap.
No. 6 Ohio State 52, Illinois 22
Illinois 6 0 8 8 — 22
Ohio St.ate 7 24 7 14 — 52
Ill—FG Immekus 43, 7:48.
OSU—Hyde 3 run (Basil kick), 4:14.
Ill—FG Immekus 28, :38.
OSU—FG Basil 31, 12:10.
OSU—Hyde 5 run (Basil kick), 9:01.
OSU—R.Smith 51 pass from B.Miller (Basil kick), 5:14.
OSU—Hyde 3 run (Basil kick), 1:56.
OSU—B.Miller 2 run (Basil kick), 6:45.
Ill—J.Davis 1 run (LaCosse pass from Russell), :53.
OSU—Corey (Philly).Brown 37 pass from B.Miller (Basil kick), 12:39.
Ill—As.Williams 77 fumble return (Russell run), 4:56.
OSU—Dunn 3 run (Basil kick), 1:26.
First downs 15 32
Rushes-yards 32-74 57-330
Passing 96 237
Comp-Att-Int 19-34-1 13-22-0
Return Yards 0 50
Punts-Avg. 7-38.7 3-33.7
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-2
Penalties-Yards 6-45 6-79
Time of Possession 26:29 33:31
RUSHING—Illinois, Scheelhaase 15-36, J.Davis 8-27, Young 6-17, Osei 2-2, Team 1-(minus 8). Ohio St., Hyde 18-137, Dunn 13-73, B.Miller 18-73, R.Smith 5-32, Guiton 2-16, Vannett 1-(minus 1).
PASSING—Illinois, Scheelhaase 19-34-1-96. Ohio St., B.Miller 12-20-0-226, Guiton 1-2-0-11.
RECEIVING—Illinois, Millines 5-37, Young 5-10, Ayoola 3-9, J.Davis 2-14, Lankford 2-14, Harris 1-7, Wilson 1-5. Ohio St., Corey (Philly).Brown 4-79, R.Smith 2-55, Vannett 2-45, Stoneburner 1-24, Fields 1-11, D.Smith 1-9, Spencer 1-9, Heuerman 1-5.