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November 16, 2013

Ohio State salvages ugly win against Illinois

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- On the third play from scrimmage, it seemed thatBraxton Miller and Ohio State had left Illinois far behind them in the dust.

The junior quarterback stepped into a collapsing pocket on third down before darting 70 yards to the end zone en route to a 60-35 win against the unranked Fighting Illini on a blustery Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

But after exploding for 35 points and nearly 300 yards in the first half, the No. 3-ranked Buckeyes -- which find themselves in a race for a spot in the national championship -- sputtered in an unsightly, sloppy final 30 minutes against a seemingly overmatched adversary.

Now winners of 22-straight games under the direction of coach Urban Meyer, Ohio State, which finished with 591 total yards, tied the school record for its longest winning streak set back from 1967-69.

The moment, though, appeared lost on Meyer who offered the notion that he needed to be better.

"These guys, these players work so hard and I have to make sure that our focus in on just getting better each week instead of all the national stuff and I think I'm learning a lesson -- just shut your mouth and let's just go. Quit worrying about this, quit worrying about that. Let's get a little better," he said.

"You're playing with your third-string middle linebacker, your best offensive player, Jack Mewhort, twinges his knee on Wednesday, probably not going to play, your starting defensive end gets knocked out, we're down 11 players for the year.

"Our special teams are a little bit of a mess right now because we lost some starters and we're down and some guys are playing who really quite frankly haven't played at all. And as a result, we have to coach better."

And against an Illinois program that lost its 20th-straight Big Ten contest Saturday, such a feat needed three second-half touchdowns to ultimately stave off the Illini.

"Everybody had their heads down like we let one go so you can tell that this team is hungrier," said senior wide receiver and captain Corey "Philly" Brown.

"No one was happy with that win, we knew we could've played way better it was a sloppy game. The score didn't look as close as the game was so we know we can get a lot better.

"I mean, you always feel good with a win but at the same time, we know how we can play and how we played today. It just wasn't us."

Behind Miller, who threw for 150 yards two touchdowns on 13-of-29 attempts, and running back Carlos Hyde, who did start the game because of academic issues, Ohio State roared out of the gates to build a 28-0 lead to seemingly stun Tim Beckman's crew.

Particularly guiding such an effort was its running game, which totaled how many yards and 198 yards in the first half. Hyde ran 246 yards and four touchdowns 24 carries. Miller had 184 yards and one touchdown on 16 touches.

Defensively, the Buckeyes suffocated Illinois' running game that wasn't supposed to be wildly effective in the first place to 33 first-half yards. It was in the throwing game, however, where Meyer voiced concern in the past week.

Such angst might have been eased early, as preseason All-American Bradley Roby intercepted Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase -- who finished the day with 288 yards and two touchdowns on 33-of-50 throws, before taking it back 63 yards for a touchdown.

"We love to up points on the board for the defensive side so that's great and had a nice little cushion so our mistakes weren't as bad," said senior safety C.J. Barnett. The pick, which marked the second miscue for Scheelhaase in a game where he was sacked three times and harassed plenty more. Behind the senior, though, Illinois would find some semblance of steady footing before intermission.

Down 35-7 late in the second quarter, Scheelhaase found wide receiver Steve Hull for a 19-yard touchdown on a 75-yard, 12-play drive to provide evidence that there was indeed still a pulse for the Fighting Illini.

That kind of momentum carried over into the game's second act.

Again, Scheelhaase drove his squad across the field before tossing a one-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Evan Wilson to draw Illinois within just two scores after previously trailing by 28 points.

Ohio State -- which appeared asleep at the wheel after putting the game on cruise control in the second quarter -- countered with a safety and three Hyde-powered touchdowns to ultimately help the Buckeyes keep the cushion that they had so furiously built in the first half.

Meyer and company will have the chance to set the program record for longest winning streak against unranked Indiana next Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

"You're down to week number 11," he said. 'Let's get our 11th win somehow."

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