Big Ten: Champaign 0812

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Handshakes had been exchanged, the post-game prayer had been recited at midfield and Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel was ready to get out of the cold.

His players had other ideas.

As Tressel began to move toward the locker room, the Buckeyes took off running toward a large contingent of their fans in the southeast corner of Memorial Stadium.

 
  Paul Jasienski/Getty Images
 Ohio State coach Jim Tressel's Buckeyes are a much different team than they were on Sept. 13.

"They've got a flair for the dramatic," a smiling Tressel said, before joining the players.

Tressel doesn't mind this kind of drama: singing Carmen Ohio, slapping hands with supporters, acknowledging signs in the stands. OK, he might not have liked Terrelle Pryor taunting Illinois fans after Saturday's 30-20 win, but, as Pryor explained, it's all in fun.

If this is as dramatic as it gets for the Buckeyes, they'll be thrilled. They've been through plenty of plot twists this season, and they're hoping the script stays the same the rest of the way.

"Thank God, it feels a little more calm now," wide receiver Brian Hartline said. "Unfortunately, it's the end of the season. It will be talked about, did we waste time dealing with that kind of stuff? Maybe, but the facts are the facts and this is where we're sitting."

Some surely watched Chris "Beanie" Wells and Pryor lead Ohio State to victory Saturday and wondered what might have been. Wells' foot injury and Pryor's earlier-than-expect ascent to the starting quarterback spot dominated the spotlight during the first half of the season.

Each week brought questions about health and leadership, about expectations and direction. Despite so many familiar faces, Ohio State seemed unsure of itself, never more so than in a 35-3 loss at USC.

Those questions are beginning to fade.

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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A share of the Big Ten title is still out there for Ohio State. So is a potential BCS berth, automatic or at large.

All that remains is a team that just suffered its school-record eighth loss, a team that barely resembles the arch-rival Ohio State faces on the final Saturday of every season.

If there was ever a time to reflect a bit on the bigger picture, Saturday afternoon was it. But Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel and his players remain single-minded.

"It's not about the Big Ten title," running back Chris "Beanie" Wells said. "It's not about where we go in the BCS. It's about Ohio State-Michigan."

Before the season, Ohio State discussed two goals: Winning a third consecutive outright Big Ten title and beating Michigan for the fifth consecutive time. The first objective is off the table, but the second remains.

None of the current Buckeyes players has ever lost to Michigan, and they have no plans to start now.

"It's important to both teams," head coach Jim Tressel said. "BCS stuff and bowl stuff and Big Ten stuff, is really second compared to the Ohio State-Michigan game. Usually at the end of that game, you find out what you've earned for the season. But the Ohio State-Michigan game is a season unto itself."

It's quite literally one for Michigan, which stumbles into Ohio Stadium at 3-8 after Saturday's loss to Northwestern. The Wolverines have ensured their first losing season since 1967 and their first bowl-less season since 1974.

A long, lonely winter awaits head coach Rich Rodriguez and his players, but they could momentarily dull the pain by beating a vastly superior Ohio State team in Columbus.

"It's a huge chance for them to kind of regain their season and get them started on the right foot," Ohio State wide receiver Brian Hartline said. "They're not going to a bowl game, so it's all or nothing, the last game.

"They have a great chance to knock us off and kind of launch them into the '09 year."

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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 AP Photo/Seth Perlman
 Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor (2) outruns Illinois' Tavon Wilson during the first half of the Buckeyes' win over Illinois Saturday.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A smile splashed across Chris "Beanie" Wells' face as soon he stepped outside Saturday morning.

The air was cold, the wind was blowing and plenty of carries were coming his way.

"I love it," the Ohio State junior running back said of the weather. "I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it."

Ohio State loved what it saw from Wells and backfield mate Terrelle Pryor in a 30-20 win against Illinois. On a day that demanded a viable ground attack, Wells and Pryor gashed Illinois for a combined 253 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries.

It marked the first time Ohio State had two players eclipse 100 rushing yards in the same game since Sept. 24, 2005, when quarterback Troy Smith and running back Antonio Pittman combined for 298 yards against Iowa.

"That's a real good thing," head coach Jim Tressel said.

Wells followed last week's 140-yard effort against Northwestern with 143 yards Saturday, bringing his two-game November total to 246.

"He's a little off pace for our little bargain," Tressel said.

During Ohio State's bye week, Tressel asked Wells what the number 467 meant to him. Wells wasn't sure, so Tressel filled him in.

Wells racked up 467 rushing yards in his final three regular-season games last year, including a career-high 222 yards against Michigan. He'll need a similar effort next week to eclipse the total, but in November, with the temperatures dropping, he usually steps up.

"Definitely," Wells said when asked if he could reach the mark. "With the way the offensive line is playing and everybody else is playing, the sky's the limit."

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Final: Ohio State 30, Illinois 20

November, 15, 2008
11/15/08
4:58
PM ET
Ohio State's Chris Wells and Terrelle Pryor together amassed over 250 yards rushing and two touchdowns, as the Buckeyes held on to beat Illinois. Much more to come ...

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Ohio State appears to have this one in hand, thanks to opportunistic play and the dominant rushing attack of Terrelle Pryor and Chris Wells.

Pryor set up a touchdown run with a graceful 26-yard scamper, and Dan Herron punched it in from 12 yards out. The Buckeyes will move to 9-2 and keep their Big Ten title hopes alive, while the Illini need to win next week to get bowl eligible.

It's been a rough day for Illinois junior safety Donsay Hardeman. First, Wells hurdled him on a 25-yard run that will be replayed countless times on SportsCenter. Then, he got flagged for a debatable unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after Illinois appeared to stop Ohio State on third-and-4.

Terrelle Pryor's pass had hit Dan Herron and was going to fall incomplete when Hardeman leveled wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher. Officials said the penalty occurred after the play, which is impossible since the ball was still in the air, though the viciousness of the hit caused the flag.

I'm heading down to the field for interviews, but check back later for more updates.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Let's begin with The Leap.

There's no cheering in the press box, but sports writers appreciate amazing plays, and there was quite a roar early in the quarter, when Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells hurdled Illinois safety Donsay Hardeman on a 25-yard run. I'll have to go back and check whether Wells' leap eclipsed the one by Georgia's Knowshon Moreno earlier this season, but it was awfully impressive.

Unfortunately for Ohio State, The Leap was followed by The Fumble, as Wells coughed up the ball and gave Illinois new life. But the Buckeyes' defense kept Illinois off the scoreboard, as an aggressive blitzing scheme continues to put quarterback Juice Williams under constant pressure.

Illini coach Ron Zook faced an interesting decision late in the quarter. Illinois had pinned Ohio State at the 1-yard line, but an illegal substitution penalty would have allowed the Illini to attempt a 49-yard field goal. Zook opted to decline the penalty, which looked smart after Ohio State stalled, but you have to wonder how many more scoring chances Illinois will get in this game.

The fumble didn't faze Wells, by the way. He exploded for a 29-yard run on the final play of the quarter and has 137 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Jim Tressel has to be pleased with what he has seen, for the most part.

Most of Tressel's teams at Ohio State have been defined by rushing the football, limiting turnovers and winning the special-teams battle. Ohio State is succeeding in all three areas today.

Quarterback Terrelle Pryor and running back Chris "Beanie" Wells are consistently finding running room against an Illini defense that has leveled some nice hits today and performed decently under the circumstances. Pryor is scary good, folks, and he showed his scrambling ability (35-yard run) and passing touch (20-yard scoring strike to Dane Sanzenbacher) on a masterfully executed 76-yard touchdown drive.

Last year, Illinois' Juice Williams stole the show in Columbus, but the junior quarterback has committed two turnovers, both of which led to Ohio State touchdowns. The Buckeyes are blitzing a ton, and though Illinois is moving the ball well, Williams has been forced into some tough spots.

Special teams has been arguably the biggest factor so far. Malcolm Jenkins' punt block for a safety changed the game, and Illinois had a pooch kick and a poor free kick that gave Ohio State great field position. Aside from freshman kicker Matt Eller (two field goals), Illinois has been terrible on special teams.

If Tressel has a reason to be worried, its his defense.

Illinois' no-huddle has proved very effective, and the Illini racked up 292 yards in the first half. Williams, Daniel Dufrene and Jason Ford all have found room to run, and Illinois has experimented a bit, putting Eddie McGee at quarterback for a play before bringing back Williams. Wideout Jeff Cumberland, a Columbus native, has made several nice plays.

But moving the ball between the 20s and settling for field goals won't get it done against Ohio State. Illinois needs to start finishing drives.

1Q update: Ohio State 9, Illinois 7

November, 15, 2008
11/15/08
12:49
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- If Illinois could get the ball out of its own end, it might able to hang around in this game.

Two critical mistakes have led to both Ohio State scores, and Illinois' struggles on special teams have given the Buckeyes a chance to add on.

Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins continued his stellar season, blocking an Anthony Santella punt through the end zone for a safety. It marked Jenkins' second blocked punt of the season -- the other resulted in a Buckeyes touchdown against Purdue -- and changed the complexion of what had been a pretty even game.

Illinois has actually run the ball well against the Big Ten's No. 2 rush defense, racking up 97 yards in the first quarter. Freshman Jason Ford and junior Daniel Dufrene gashed Ohio State during an impressive 82-yard touchdown drive. But Juice Williams' fumble on Illinois' second possession set up an Ohio State touchdown, and the Buckeyes are driving again following a poor free kick by the Illini. Terrelle Pryor and Chris "Beanie" Wells will be able to run on this defense.

The Buckeyes are doing what they do best, converting opponents' mistakes into points. Illinois has come out energized, as it usually does against Ohio State, but it can't afford many more mistakes.

It's game day at Memorial Stadium

November, 15, 2008
11/15/08
10:17
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Greetings from central Illinois, where it's definitely mid-November. No snow or rain yet, but the temperatures are falling and the wind is blowing to the southwest at a good clip. It feels a lot like Kinnick Stadium last week.

  

As you might have heard, Illinois did a bit of home improvement, and from what I've seen so far, it's very impressive. This is a good example of a stadium project that preserved the original structure but added necessary modern amenities. Too bad the guys who renovated Soldier Field didn't follow the same thought process.

Despite the early kickoff, the tailgating scene was buzzing this morning. There are quite a few Buckeyes and Illini fans staying in my hotel, and I spotted a custom-designed Illini Winnebago outside this morning. Very cool. It was cold and rainy last night, but a few "O-H-I-O" chants could be heard on Green Street.

No. 11 Ohio State enters today's game at 8-2 overall, 5-1 in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes can clinch a share of the Big Ten title by winning today and next week against archrival Michigan. But to win the Big Ten's Rose Bowl tiebreaker, Ohio State must win out and hope Penn State loses one of its last two games. Despite the loss to Penn State on Oct. 25, it seems like this team is hitting its stride right now.

The defense has played pretty well since the USC game, and the offense turned in arguably its best performance of the season last week at Northwestern. Ohio State has won a school-record 14 consecutive Big Ten road games, stretching back to 2005.

Keys for the Buckeyes:

Illinois is nearing desperation mode, at 5-5 overall and 3-3 in Big Ten games. The Illini have alternated wins and losses ever since Sept. 13. If the pattern continues, they'll win today (go figure). But Illinois needs at least one win in its final two games to avoid the dreaded Rose Bowl to no bowl tumble.

Consistency has been the biggest problem for Ron Zook's team, and it starts with Williams. The junior racked up nearly 2,000 passing yards and 16 touchdowns in his first seven games, but he has thrown seven interceptions and only four touchdowns in the last three contests. Linebacker Brit Miller leads a defense that has allowed 17 points or more in every game this season.

Keys for the Illini:

  • Challenge Ohio State's secondary down the field with Arrelious Benn and other wideouts
  • Limit Wells' production by swarming to the ball
  • Make a big play or two on special teams, which isn't easy against Ohio State

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