Ohio State matched the school record for consecutive wins, reached an all-time program high for touchdowns in a season and finished the day with 60 points and nearly 600 yards on offense.
But the Buckeyes had an empty feeling as they trudged off the field at Illinois on Saturday, knowing they had a lackluster performance at a point in the year when they could least afford one.
“I think we definitely have to improve,” senior running back Carlos Hyde said. “We came out scoring points and, all of a sudden, we hit a wall and weren’t scoring. We were going three-and-out. We can’t come out and play like that again. You don’t know, a team might bring their A game and beat us.”
Hyde scored five touchdowns and ran for 246 yards — tying Archie Griffin for the third-highest rushing total in OSU history — and the Buckeyes built a 35-7 lead before sputtering to a 60-35 win.
The Illini, who have lost 20 straight Big Ten games, cut the deficit to 12 in the fourth quarter before Hyde broke away for two long TD runs in the final 4:03.
The third-ranked Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) tied the 1967-69 teams with their 22nd straight win, but nobody was celebrating afterward. Led by shifty quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, the Illini (3-7, 0-6) picked up 420 yards and posted the highest point total for an OSU opponent this year.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” senior safety C.J. Barnett said. “I feel good we won — it’s 22 (straight) games or something like that, so we’re a part of history. At the same time, that play is unacceptable from us.
“They have great athletes, and Scheelhaase made things happen. But we expect more from ourselves.”
Braxton Miller, who had a league-best completion rate of 72.5, was 13-of-29 passing for 150 yards, his first game below 57 percent this season. He passed for two TDs without a pick, but he lost a fumble that gave Illinois second-half momentum.
The game was played in an 18-mile-per-hour wind with gusts to nearly 30, and Miller had trouble uncorking his usual tight spirals.
“It played a big effect in the passing game because the wind was kind of tricky at times,” he said. “I throw a pretty decent deep ball, and the last one I threw was about 10 yards in front.
“We went back to basics because the passing game wasn’t working like we thought. We have the best offensive line in the country. So why not?”
Only Eddie George, who rushed for a school-record 314 yards in 1995, and Keith Byars, who had 274 in 1984, have had bigger outputs than Hyde, who scored on runs of 8, 1, 51 and 55 yards and also on a reception of 18 yards.
Miller also rushed 16 times for 184 yards, two short of his career high, as the Buckeyes piled up 441 yards on the ground.
“That was me. I called those,” coach Urban Meyer said. “He’s one of the best players on the team, and I used him way too much last year. I haven’t felt like we’ve used him much this year because we had to. But when you’re struggling throwing the ball, and they’re loading the box on you, you have to create some plays. He certainly did.”
The Buckeyes were coming off a bye week, and Meyer believes the players have begun putting pressure on themselves with all the BCS blather.
“I have to make sure we just keep getting better each week instead of (talking about) all the national stuff,” Meyer said. “I think I’m learning a lesson: Just shut your mouth … and let’s go get better.
“Quit worrying about style points. There’s scholarship athletes on the other side. There’s a really good quarterback on the other side. Just go win. When we focus on that, we’re pretty good. When our focus is on something else, we’re not very good.”
Indiana at Ohio State, Saturday, TBA, 1410