Illini stun No. 1-ranked Buckeyes

By Mike Theodore

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Illinois put an exclamation point on its turnaround season, knocking off the No. 1-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes 28-21 at the Horseshoe.

“We did not come up here to try and play them close,” head coach Ron Zook said. “We didn’t come up here to have it be like last year. We came up here to win.”

It was the school’s first win against a top-ranked team since 1956.

“I know shock the world is pretty overused but it was shocking,” senior middle linebacker J Leman said.

“Everybody talks about the two big boys in the Big Ten and when you beat the number one team in the country in their place it demands respect.”

After a Miami Thomas interception gave the Illini the ball back in the fourth quarter, Juice Williams took over.

The quarterback led Illinois on a 16-play drive that chewed up the final 8:09 seconds of the game to seal the Illini’s eight victory on the season.

The Buckeye defense forced Illinois into a fourth and short on the Illinois 33-yard line with 6:53 remaining in the game. Buckeye head coach Jim Tressell called timeout and forced Zook and the Illini to make a decision.

It was Williams who insisted the Illini go for it on fourth down.

“I said, ‘Coach, you don’t think we can get a half of an inch? And he said, ‘If you don’t get it I’m going to hurt you,'” Williams said.

Williams made the decision pay off. He rushed up the middle for two yards, giving Illinois a first down. Three plays later it was Williams again rushing for a first down to help seal the victory. The sophomore ran for four first downs on the last drive before kneeling out the victory.

Ohio State came out of the gates strong. On its first play from scrimmage quarterback Todd Boeckman found a streaking Brian Hartline for a 65-yard gain. The Buckeyes scored a touchdown on the next play.

The Illini offense came right back and answered the Buckeye score with touchdown of their own.

“There was no panic in their eyes,” Zook said.

Illinois took a 21-14 lead into half time and played Ohio State even in the second half.

“We were able to withstand the onslaught,” Leman said.

Illinois finished the day with 260 yards on the ground – almost 200 more than the Buckeye defense allowed on average through its first ten games.

For the full story, check out Monday’s edition of The Daily Illini.