Shut the Bucks up



By Mike Theodore

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Illinois grabbed the national spotlight Saturday night and put an exclamation point on its turnaround season with a 28-21 victory on the road against the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.

“We didn’t 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 have an opportunity to win.”

It was the school’s first victory against a top-ranked team since 1956 and its first ever win against a No. 1 on the road.

“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.”

Freshman cornerback Marcus Thomas – playing in place of the injured Vontae Davis – intercepted Todd Boeckman at the Illinois 24-yard line to give the Illini possession halfway through the fourth quarter with a seven-point lead.


photo DI multimedia



Illini shut the Bucks up

Click to view an audio slideshow of the game.

Enter Juice Williams.

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

Three plays into the drive Illinois faced a game-changing decision.

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

It was the sophomore 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’ moxie paid off. He rushed up the middle for two yards, giving Illinois a first down.

“Juice is a winner,” Zook said. “He’s a competitor and that’s why he’s been our starting quarterback.”

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 to keep the clock moving and end Ohio State’s run at a perfect season.

The Illini offense held possession for an impressive 13:46 in the final quarter thanks to the steady rushing attack. Illinois finished the day with 260 yards on the ground against Butkus Award finalist James Laurinaitis’ defense that came into the game allowing an average of 43.2 rushing yards per game in the Big Ten.

“When you have the added challenge of the quarterback being part of the run game, that certainly adds another challenge and they did a good job of executing,” Tressel said.

Williams used playaction passes to score on three of his four touchdown passes to four different receivers. His four passing scores was just one short of what Ohio State had allowed on the entire season.

The Illini played the second half without Arrelious Benn, who left the game with a concussion. In his place fellow freshmen Marques Wilkens and Brian Gamble stepped in and each found the end zone.

Trailing by a touchdown at halftime, Ohio State moved the ball well on its first possession on the second half and had a first-and-goal situation from the 9-yard line. On third down Thomas deflected Boeckman’s pass in the end zone and Illinois senior linebacker Antonio Steele made a diving interception.

Williams then drove the Illini 80 yards in nine plays on the ensuing possession and found a wide open Wilkins over the middle for a touchdown to extend the Illinois advantage to 28-14.

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

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

The Illini offense answered the Buckeye score with a touchdown of its own.

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

After the game Zook said his team can still improve.

“I don’t know if we’re there yet,” he said. “We’re a pretty good team but, we got to get some more ballers and we will (get there).”

In his first two years at Illinois Zook compiled a 4-19 record but eight victories with one more game to be played this season all but guarantees a New Year’s Day bowl berth.

“We want to take this program to places it’s never been,” Leman said.


Following Saturday’s win over the No. 1-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes, Illinois found its way back in the polls. The Associated Press has Illinois ranked at No. 20. Illinois had last been in the polls in week six of the season after beating Penn State and Wisconsin, climbing to No. 18. The Illini then fell out of the polls after losing to Iowa the next week. During its hiatus from the polls, Illinois received votes every week except week eight.