Defensive woes contribute to football’s loss

Illini defensive coordinator Vic Koenning doesn’t remember the last time one of his defenses lost a game when the opposing offense completed just one pass.

In Illinois’ 17-7 loss to Ohio State on Saturday, Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller completed one of four pass attempts for 17 yards and a touchdown. Ohio State hadn’t completed just one pass in a game since 1961.

“We knew they were going to run the football,” Koenning said. “We knew that was their forte. When they did try and throw it, for the most part we weren’t allowing it.”

Last weekend against Indiana, the Illini defense held the Hoosiers to 83 yards rushing. On Saturday, the Buckeyes totaled 211 rush yards on 51 carries despite repeated attempts by Koenning to limit their success on the ground. Koenning said he hopes Ohio State’s offensive line is the best the Illini have to face this year, crediting the squad with at least four players who could make it to the professional rank.

Whitney Mercilus, however, disagreed with Koenning. The junior defensive end said the Illini offensive line, which he goes up against in practice every week, is the best one he’s played against. He pointed to missed tackles as the reason the Illini had trouble stopping the run on Saturday.

“If they are having success, they are going to keep running it and running it,” Mercilus said. “That’s mostly what an offensive coordinator is going to do. If you have success with a play a few times, they are just going to keep running it down the throat of the defense if they can’t stop it. Basically, that’s what happened to us. We shot ourselves in the foot and didn’t wrap up or put our heads down when we were trying to make a tackle. It’s on us.”

In his first game back from a six-game suspension for accepting improper benefits, Buckeyes running back Dan Herron rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Illini safety Steve Hull called Herron a physical runner with great vision whose experience helped him overcome the time he missed earlier in the season.

“I think one of the things they were excited about was getting No. 1 (Herron) back,” Illini head coach Ron Zook said. “He did a great job, and I can see why he’s one of the better backs in the Big Ten. He was one of the better backs in the Big Ten last year, and I think in five games he’ll be one of the better backs in the Big Ten this year.”

While Illinois had trouble stopping the Buckeyes’ rushing attack, Saturday was the first time it held an FBS opponent under 300 total yards this season. The Illini defense didn’t force a turnover against Ohio State, ending its streak of 21 consecutive games with a forced turnover. The streak was the longest in the nation.

“I know I’m going to be let down,” Koenning said. “Players are going to be disappointed. We got to get it behind us. When you have adversity is when you see what you’ve got.”