Downtrodden Illini no match for Buckeyes

By Wes Anderson

Perhaps the most impressive of Chris “Beanie” Wells’ 143 rushing yards Saturday were the four he spent flying through the air.

Around the start of the second half, Wells ran from the Ohio State 30-yard line and slipped past the Illini defensive front for 10 yards before encountering defensive back Donsay Hardeman, who went low, trying to make a tackle at the ankles. Wells countered with a spectacular hurdle over the crouched defender en route to a 25-yard gain.

“Last night during walkthrough, I got the feeling that coach (Jim Tressel) was going to want to run the ball and it got me excited,” Wells said.

The leap may have been the most humbling moment, as the Buckeyes went up, over and around the Illini in a decisive 30-20 victory. If nothing else, it was an exercise in contrast.

The Illini still appeared to be licking their wounds from a baffling loss to Western Michigan last week, while the sharper Buckeyes were determined to avenge last season’s shocking upset to Illinois.

Terrelle Pryor, the Buckeyes’ phenom freshman signal-caller, had yet to commit to a school when the Illini got their signature win last season. He was still fired up to get some payback.

On Friday night, the team was shown an Ohio State highlight reel, including the 2006 game against Illinois where Troy Smith led the Buckeyes to a 17-10 win in Champaign. The video ended, however, with the Illini celebrating on the Ohio Stadium field after last year’s game.

“I didn’t really like that,” Pryor said. “I fed off it and (it) made me want to lead this team to victory for a little revenge.”

The win also kept the Buckeyes within striking distance of a fourth consecutive Big Ten title. If they can defeat arch rival Michigan next week and Penn State loses to Michigan State, they will own a share of the conference title and a chance to play in the Rose Bowl. Even so, one thing came first in Ohio State coach Jim Tressel’s mind.

“What’s important about next week is the Ohio State-Michigan game,” he said. “The BCS stuff, bowl stuff and Big Ten stuff is really second.”

As for last year’s Rose Bowl representative, the Illini will take any bowl game – but a crucial sixth victory again proved elusive, and time is running out.

“I only know one way, and that’s to go back to work,” Illinois coach Ron Zook said. “We’ve got to keep grinding and push through this.”

Their future is now about as unpredictable as the blustery wind that blew across Zuppke Field on Saturday. A win against Northwestern next week would make Illinois bowl eligible, but it will be up to the various bowl committees affiliated with the Big Ten to decide whether or not to offer the Illini a bid.

Still, there are enough bowl slots available where the Illini could conceivably return to Detroit for the Motor City Bowl.

“Either way, if we lose, it’s our last game. If we win, it’s up to other people, it’s out of our control,” defensive lineman David Lindquist said. “All we can do is prepare and go out there and play our hardest.”