Ezekiel Elliott clutched the Illibuck Trophy as if he expected to take it home so his dog Ace could lick it. That dream lasted a few seconds before offensive lineman Pat Elflein grabbed it, perhaps intent on taking it to the next team dinner at Hyde Park Steakhouse.
Quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones then got their moment with the prize, and Jones sprinted to the locker room with it as the No. 3 Buckeyes celebrated a 28-3 victory over Illinois in front of 51,515 at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
A woman working in a parking lot outside the stadium before the game foresaw this result, just as everyone else did.
“Don’t beat us too bad,” she told a reporter. “Let us score one touchdown.”
Illini fans didn’t get that wish, but they did frustrate the Buckeyes in much the same way that Northern Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota did. Ohio State fans wanted a 50-point victory to impress the College Football Playoff voters. They got another win with warts, a flawed offensive performance overshadowing a dominant defensive effort.
The Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) have won 23 straight games overall and 30 straight in the Big Ten, but they will have to be better next Saturday against No. 13 Michigan State and the following week against No. 14 Michigan. Here are five other takeaways from the victory:
1. Barrett in charge: Barrett returned from a one-week drunk-driving suspension and looked rusty, or little like the quarterback who engineered a 49-7 victory at Rutgers in his last start before the bye week.
Barrett completed 15 of 23 passes for 150 yards with one touchdown pass, an interception and a lost fumble. He carried 16 times for 74 yards and scored on a 6-yard run with 50 seconds left in the first half to give Ohio State a 14-3 halftime lead.
The Buckeyes rushed for 283 yards and gained just 157 through the air.
“We controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides,” coach Urban Meyer said. “The negative is we have to be more balanced. We know what’s coming down the road next week.”
2. Ready for Spartans: The Buckeyes will play Michigan State (9-1, 5-1) at 3:30 p.m. next Saturday at Ohio Stadium. The Spartans bounced back from a 39-38 loss at Nebraska to beat Maryland 24-7 on Saturday.
This will be the biggest test of Ohio State’s season to date.
“That’s a game we’ve been looking forward to all year,” defensive tackle Tommy Schutt said. “That’s a game we’ve been thinking about but couldn’t talk about until now.”
3. Lean on Zeke: Elliott stretched his 100-yard game streak to 15. It’s the longest active streak in the nation. He rushed for 181 yards on 27 carries with two touchdowns in the second half.
Elliott moved into third place on Ohio State’s all-time rushing list with 3,565 yards. He trails Eddie George by 203 yards.
“Zeke is something else, ain’t he?” Barrett said. “A positive run play is four yards, so when he’s popping out six, eight, nine yards on first or second down, that’s what you love in a running back. Also, the one I scored on, did you see the block he threw? He just throws himself out there and is willing to do anything for the team.”
4. Bend don’t break: After allowing Minnesota to rush for 33 yards last week, Ohio State held Illinois to 20. Defensive end Joey Bosa had three of Ohio State’s 11 tackles for a loss.
“The defense is playing lights out,” Meyer said.
5. Another Thomas TD: Michael Thomas caught six passes for 76 yards. His 24-yard touchdown catch, his fifth in the last five games, came on Ohio State’s second drive, proved to be the winning score and came one play after he took a hard hit after a catch in the middle of the field.
Thomas said he told the coaches he wanted to take a play off, but they told him to get back out there.
“I knew if they trusted me to be in that position and called that play,” Thomas said, “I had to somehow snatch the ball and come up with it.”