Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett drops back to pass Saturday against Illinois. Barrett, playing in his final game in Columbus, threw two touchdown passes and ran for another in the Buckeyes' victory.
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COLUMBUS — Ohio State’s seniors stepped onto the field at Ohio Stadium for the final time as players and promptly gave themselves a parting gift.
Most of the day off.
The No. 8 Buckeyes’ final home game of the season Saturday lost its appeal almost as soon as it started, as Ohio State overwhelmed visiting Illinois immediately and never let up in a 52-14 victory.
"You're trying to enjoy the moment and the people you're with, especially on senior day," center Billy Price said. "You don't want to take anything for granted and let anything slip by."
With the win, Ohio State clinched the Big Ten East Division and will meet No. 5 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game Dec. 2 in Indianapolis.
Ohio State finished the first quarter with more points (28) than Illinois gained yards (16). The Illini gained one first down in the first 30 minutes of the game, and the Buckeyes’ offensive starters — quarterback J.T. Barrett and Price among them — were out of the game by the six-minute mark of the second quarter.
Ohio State offensive lineman Billy Price, right, blocks for running back J.K. Dobbins during Saturday's win over Illinois.
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Despite miserable weather and coach Urban Meyer’s brief irritation with the Buckeyes’ second unit, OSU (9-2, 7-1 Big Ten) showed no signs of a letdown before playing at rival Michigan next week.
Running back Mike Weber scored on a 4-yard touchdown run on Ohio State’s first drive. Barrett followed with a 3-yard scoring run, followed by Weber’s 43-yard touchdown, followed by Barrett’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Binjimen Victor that gave OSU a 28-0 lead just more than 12 minutes into the game.
After a Sean Nuernberger field goal, running back J.K. Dobbins joined the party, scoring from a yard out as Ohio State took a 38-0 advantage into halftime.
Torrential rains began during halftime and made passing an adventure during the second half. The Illini (2-9, 0-8) ended the shutout thanks to backup Dwayne Haskins’ fumble, which defensive back Ahmari Hayes corralled and ran 54 yards into the end zone.
Meyer put his starters back into the game after the fumble. Barrett said he saw Meyer — fuming about the turnover — and the quarterback knew he was headed back into the game.
“I saw him, and it was like, well, he's definitely known for sending the starters back in, so let me find my knee brace, go find the helmet, because I didn't have any of those things,” Barrett said. “I wasn't shocked by any means. I knew when my man [Haskins] fumbled the ball, I was like, 'This is not about to be good.' ”
Barrett threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Marcus Baugh to stake a 45-7 lead, and the starters went back the sideline for the rest of the game.
Haskins’ second attempt went better. He threw a 21-yard touchdown to Victor, and OSU’s reserves played out the string.
“I just didn't want it to turn into a clown show, which it looked like it for a minute,” Meyer said of putting the starters back into the game. “And I gotta give Dwayne a lot of credit, he bounced back like that.”
Going into the final week of the regular season, the Buckeyes cannot be passed in the East Division. They hold a two-game lead over the Wolverines with one game to play, and they own head-to-head tiebreakers with Penn State and Michigan State, both of which have two losses in the Big Ten.
Ohio State will finish the regular season next week at Michigan.
The Buckeyes’ first goal — winning the division — is crossed off, but there is much more ahead.
That starts with a trip to Ann Arbor next Saturday.
“Our focus is on celebrate this win with your family and friends and let's get back to business,” Meyer said. “It's rivalry week.”
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