Ann Arbor (AP): The groundwork for Illinois’ 28-21 upset of No. 1 Ohio State was laid two years ago.
“I was just stepping on the plane after we'd been beaten pretty good,'' Illini coach Ron Zook said after Saturday's game, referring to a 40-2 humiliation at Ohio Stadium. ``Juice called me and I said, 'Two years from now when we come back here, it's going to be a different story.'''
Boy, was it. With Juice Williams tossing a career-best four touchdown passes—remember how people said he couldn't throw the ball?—and the offense playing keepaway with the ball for the last 8:09, the Illini picked up their first win over a top-ranked team since 1956.
It’s not as if they’re turning the equipment in at No. 7 Ohio State (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten). The Buckeyes have another big game coming up at No. 23 Michigan (8-3, 6-1) on Saturday. The Wolverines also lost on Saturday, 37-21 at Wisconsin, so both teams plummeted in the rankings but are still playing for an outright conference championship.
Now the Buckeyes are almost assured of missing out on a return engagement in the BCS championship game—one of their goals all season after getting lashed 41-14 by Florida with the title on the line a year ago.
Most of the postgame talk was about a quirky play with less than seven minutes left and the Illini facing a fourth-and-inches at their own 34. Zook decided to punt, but when Ohio State coach Jim Tressel called a timeout because he said the Buckeyes had too many men on the field, Williams talked Zook into going for it.
Williams then burrowed up the back of left guard Martin O'Donnell for the first down, and the Buckeyes never touched the ball again.
But Illinois didn't win the game on one play:
• Ohio State's rugged defense came in allowing 65 yards rushing a game. The Illini gashed the Buckeyes for 260 yards on the ground, with Daniel Dufrene going for 106 on eight carries (80 on the second play from scrimmage), Rashard Mendenhall for 88 on 26 attempts and Williams for 70 on 16 runs.
• Buckeyes quarterback Todd Boeckman came into the game being mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate he was playing so well. No more. Boeckman was intercepted three times and was never able to get anything going from the first quarter on against Illinois' snarling defense, led by linebacker J Leman.
• Williams was awesome, particularly on third and fourth down. Zook had pulled him from games in the fourth quarter because of his errant passing. But he was 12-for-22 passing for 140 yards without an interception and with just one sack, to go with those four TD passes.
``They made big third-down plays and that rips the heart out of you,'' said Ohio State's All-American linebacker, James Laurinaitis.
While Illinois can finish no worse than a tie for second in the Big Ten with a win at home against Northwestern on Saturday, the Buckeyes and Wolverines now find their backs to the wall.
``Both of us lost today; that makes the game even more exciting because it means winner gets it all,'' Buckeyes defensive end Vernon Gholston said.
Sorry, Vernon, but it was winner take all in the Big Ten even before both teams lost this past weekend.
``This stings, but we've got to pick up and move,'' said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who is 5-1 against Michigan but just 4-3 the week before Michigan.
The winner of Ohio State-Michigan on Nov. 17, 2007 will get a spot in the Rose Bowl. The loser is looking at the Capital One or Outbacks bowls.