- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The late-game drama was replaced by garbage time.
A defense that had been prone to costly lapses and missed tackles rarely even allowed a moment to catch a breath.
A passing attack that occasionally left plenty of room for improvement seemed to produce a big play every time the football came out of Braxton Miller's hand.
Ohio State might keep focusing on its flaws, and it wasn't patting itself on the back after accounting for the level of competition it faced on Saturday in a 52-22 laugher against Illinois (2-7, 0-5 in the Big Ten). But heading into a bye week with just two games left on the schedule, the Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0) made clear with perhaps their most complete performance of the season that they're on a collision course with perfection.
"We did what we were supposed to do," cornerback Bradley Roby said. "Illinois is a struggling team right now, so we did what we were supposed to do against them.
"It's not a big deal right now, but it's a good win so we appreciate it."
No matter how big the latest of its victories might measure in the Ohio State locker room, they're all adding up to something pretty huge, given the state of the program at this time a year ago.
The Buckeyes were playing for an interim coach on the way to a rare losing season. The defense didn't live up to its lofty expectations, and Miller was only scratching the surface of his immense ability in an offense that wasn't exactly suited to his play-making ability.
But Urban Meyer has seemingly tapped into something special as a motivator in his first season leading the Buckeyes. A defensive unit that still doesn't quite look like the Silver Bullets of old, thanks to injuries and a lack of depth, has steadily improved and held the Illini to a meager 170 yards of offense Saturday. Miller unleashed his versatility in the spread yet again with three total touchdowns, throwing for 226 yards and adding 73 more on the ground.
And while Meyer continued to bring up issues such as poor coverage on kickoffs, bad penalties or a few too many passes hitting the turf for his liking, the Buckeyes are knocking loudly on the door for a top-five spot in the Associated Press poll. And imperfect though they might be, it's getting harder to make a case that they don't belong.
"I think today's performance was top-five [worthy]," Meyer said. "In certain areas, no, but when you can control the line of scrimmage, that's usually a top-five team.
"I've been fortunate to have a couple top-five teams, and this one probably has more holes than those other ones. However, there's also some great performances in there. So, we are going to dwell on the weaknesses because those weaknesses get exposed when you play two good teams when you have to finish the season."
Those are the only two opponents left to keep Meyer from a flawless run through his first year with the Buckeyes, and both Wisconsin and rival Michigan have their share of weaknesses that can be exploited.
They also have numbers greater than zero in the loss column. And with Miller taking his game to a higher level, linebacker Etienne Sabino in line for a return to add depth and experience to the surging defense and Ohio State certainly not hurting for confidence, the Badgers and Wolverines might have a hard time slowing down the quest for perfection.
Though if the Buckeyes get there, even that might not be enough to satisfy them at this point.
"This hasn't surprised me at all because I see the potential in our team everywhere," Roby said. "Maybe it surprised the fans and everybody else, but that's because they don't know what's really going on inside here. Last year we were a way better team than the way we played. We lost seven games, and these are the same players and we were winning. It just shows that we were missing something last year that now we have.
"I have confidence that we'll win every game this year."
There are only a couple dates left on the calendar now. Perfection is closer than ever.