By DAVID MERCER
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) - Still stuck under the NCAA cloud hanging
over Ohio State and desperate for a way to end a two-game losing
streak, interim coach Luke Fickell drew up a game plan Saturday
that conservative Buckeye legend Woody Hayes would have loved.
Keep the ball on the ground and out of freshman quarterback
Braxton Miller's hands, lean hard on tailback Daniel Herron -
playing his first game since January after serving a pair of NCAA
suspensions - and count on the defense to stop No. 16 Illinois.
It worked, all of it, and the Buckeyes (4-3, 1-2) ground out a
17-7 upset over the Illini (6-1, 2-1).
"The game plan was to win - that's the ultimate, most important
thing," Fickell said. "However way we had to do it, we were ready
to do it."
The defense forced three turnovers - two of which set up the
Buckeyes' touchdowns - while Miller threw just four passes. Herron
carried the ball 23 times for 114 yards and the third-quarter score
that was the game winner.
"It was hard staying at home and watching the games," said
Herron, who missed the season's first six games. "Now that I'm
back out here, I'm doing everything I can to help this team, be a
leader and get some more wins."
The loss ended Illinois' perfect start, and, in a game the
Illini hoped would help them prove they were for real, raised
questions about how good they really are.
"We have got to regroup, and we're still in a position to
control our own destiny," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "I think
our guys have to understand that and they do."
A week after Miller lost a fumble that gave Nebraska a way to
get back into their game against Ohio State - which the Cornhuskers
turned into an epic win - the Buckeyes kept it simple, real simple,
and gave themselves a chance to win.
The Buckeyes didn't throw their first pass until the 7:22 mark
of the second quarter. Miller, in fact, didn't complete a pass
until he hit tight end Jake Stoneburner on a 17-yard TD pass with
13:06 left in the game for a 17-0 lead.
"Up 10-0, we were on the sideline saying, 'Man, we haven't made
a pass yet,"' Stoneburner said. "It was kind of funny, but we
were all saying, 'Who cares?' We're up, and if we complete one
pass, I'll take the catch."
No Ohio State team had gone through a game with just one
completion since 1976, a 22-21 loss to Missouri with Rod Gerald
That Ohio State team was ranked No. 2, while this one was just
trying to get its head above water, end the two-game losing streak
and chalk up its first Big Ten win.
Enter Herron, who had to sit out six games as a result of his
role in a cash-for-memorablia scandal - the mess that cost ex-coach
Jim Tressel his job - and then for taking too much money for a
Fickell said during the week he wasn't sure how much the senior
tailback would play and he wasn't listed as the starter.
But Herron was in the backfield from the beginning, and carried
the bulk of the load on the opening drive, one that on a day of
gusty 20-plus mph winds delivered a 45-yard Drew Basil field goal.
It was the only score of the half.
The Ohio State defense, meanwhile, played big, holding an Illini
offense that was averaging almost 450 yards and 34.7 points a game
to 285 yards and, until the 6:22 mark of the fourth quarter, no
Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was 20 of 34 for 169
yards, with two interceptions and a late 3-yard touchdown pass to
Evan Wilson that finally put the Illini on the board.
Illinois hasn't been shutout since losing 30-0 two seasons ago
at Ohio State.
"The biggest thing when you look at this is the turnovers,"
Zook said. "In the past we've held teams to field goals instead of
touchdowns and they were able to get two touchdowns off of the
Stoneburner's touchdown was set up by an A.J. Jenkins fumble at
the Illinois 37 while Herron's 12-yard touchdown run - which gave
the Buckeyes a 10-0 lead - followed an interception by Bradley Roby
that he returned to the Illinois 12. Scheelhaase threw to Jenkins
and the receiver appeared to ruin a shorter route than Scheelhaase
anticipated. The ball flew 10 yards past Jenkins and right at Roby.
"It was key," Roby said of his interception, "because we were
coming out of halftime and we needed a big play. I was in a cover
three, and I was backing up when I saw (Jenkins) on the curl, and
then I saw the ball come right at me."
In addition to stifling Scheelhaase, the Buckeyes also held
Illinois other big weapon in check.
Roby said during the week that Jenkins, who was averaging 135.8
yards a game, was "nothing special, a product of Illinois'
system." Jenkins, often covered by Roby, had 80 yards Saturday,
but his eight catches didn't amount to much.
Illinois senior tailback Jason Ford left the game in the third
quarter with an injured left shoulder after a big hit on a
first-down carry. He finished with 30 yards on six carries.
Scheelhaase was Illinois' leading rusher with 16 carries for 49
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)