Ohio State-Illinois tilt: A journey to the Bizarro World

To sit in the stands at Memorial Stadium on Saturday was to step into the Bizarro World, a place where bewilderment reigns and opposites are the norm. Those 60 minutes of game time had to have taken place in a DC Comic-inspired parallel universe. Or at least in apartment 5A across from a man named Kramer.

How else could we say that a high-flying Illinois team ranked No. 16 blew the game against some limping underdog from Columbus, Ohio?

How else could we believe that this Illinois bunch allowed one pass completion and somehow, by some incomprehensible series of events, lost the game?

(Sanity note: When this issue went to press, Ohio State had not applied for service academy status).

This, all after every Joe and Jane Armchair knew the One-Eyed Offense was coming to the circus. Illinois head coach Ron Zook and his staff sure knew. They even praised the Buckeyes during the week as the best rushing team the Illini had faced this year.

Yet nothing. Not after the first drive of repeated gashes up the middle. Not after quarterback Braxton Miller showed no signs of throwing the ball in earnest.

The team simply had no answer for the Ohio State run game, one-sidedness and all.

Let’s be clear, the Buckeyes didn’t “give away” games against Miami and Michigan State — even Nebraska. You can talk about missed tackles, quarterback play and the suspension aftermath all you want, but these games were taken from them. Forcibly. Systematically. By a trio of teams that saw a serious offensive weakness and exploited it. Where was that in this game?

Illinois was going to shut down backs Jordan Hall and Daniel Herron just like the Illini had against their opponents to near perfection this season (four opponents with 85 yards on the ground or less) and make Miller beat them with his arm.

Most other teams had a talent level well below the Buckeyes, but most, well, had a passing game, too.

This Ohio State offense was a gift of a matchup — one the Illini should have limited no matter the imposing size of the Buckeye line. But they didn’t.

Granted, Illinois’ defensive front did a marvelous job of getting to Miller in his limited number of drop backs (four sacks and four passes thrown), but the explosive group allowed Ohio State to break off yardage from start to finish when Herron and company should have instead been fighting through eight to nine bodies at the line of scrimmage on every play.

Four passes? The fact Tavon Wilson and Terry Hawthorne have emerged as All-Conference stars at cornerback makes this all the more difficult to process.

Everyone knew the Buckeyes couldn’t pass, and Ohio State fullback Zach Boren alluded to this fact when he outlined the team’s focus leading up to Saturday.

“We had to go out and run the ball. That’s what we had to do,” the burly junior said after the game. What came after his analysis of the team’s gameplan sent me right back into Bizarro mode.

“I’ve never seen a more excited team after this game than I have since I’ve been here,” he said. “You know, we’ve won some big games with the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl.”

Just so we have this straight, a Week Seven game in Champaign brought the Buckeyes the same rush as taking down Oregon and Arkansas in January?

One question: Which way is up again?

How else could we say that the coaching staff didn’t go to its go-to senior with the golden leg, Derek Dimke?

Not just in that controversial final 4th and 3 call in Illinois’ final offensive possession. What about the one in the second quarter with the ball on the Ohio State 32-yard line?

Dimke allegedly said he wasn’t in favor of kicking it in that situation, but how do you not motivate your senior and special teams leader with a rousing vote of confidence?

Things could have been very different on Illinois’ final offensive possession down one score instead of two. Alas, hindsight is 20/20.

How else could we say that Jason Ford was running with vim and vigor — only to exit the game with a shoulder injury early in the third quarter?

How else can we explain the follies of Mr. Efficient, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who uncharacteristically fired two crippling interceptions in the second half — one of which set up Ohio State at the Illinois 12-yard line and the other on the first play of a drive with 3:55 remaining and a 10-point deficit?

Following the game, the coaching staff and players alike showed signs of bewilderment for really what was the first time this season.

Almost as if they had spent three hours in a parallel universe.

_Gordon is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @GordonVoit._