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Published: Sunday, 9/27/2009

OSU defense stepping up

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Ohio State linebacker Brian Rolle avoids Illinois' Jon Asamoah after an interception in the first half. OSU had consecutive shutouts for the first time since 1996. Ohio State linebacker Brian Rolle avoids Illinois' Jon Asamoah after an interception in the first half. OSU had consecutive shutouts for the first time since 1996.
TERRY GILLIAM / AP Enlarge

COLUMBUS - After two straight shutouts, and allowing only one touchdown drive in the past three games, the Ohio State defense is getting noticed.

The Buckeyes put the wraps on Illinois quarterback Juice Williams yesterday, limiting him to 18 yards rushing, 77 passing yards, picking him off twice and sacking him four times. Ohio State dominated the Illini while winning 30-0 and holding Illinois to just 170 total yards.

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said the Buckeyes' defense, nicknamed the Silver Bullets, was a big part of the victory that made Tressel 8-1 in Big Ten openers.

"There's a lot of pride and legacy in being a Silver Bullet at Ohio State," Tressel said. "That's something that has been going on for many, many years, and they take a lot of pride in making sure they can uphold that tradition."

The Buckeyes probably won't win the national championship this season, and they might not even claim their fifth straight Big Ten title, but on a miserable day in late September, they will remember how their defense put the "ill" in Illinois.

"It feels great to shut them out," Ohio State defensive tackle Todd Denlinger said. "Illinois has a high-powered offense, and we knew we had to take the game out of Juice's hands. He's a great player and he killed us in 2007."

Williams engineered a 28-21 upset of then No. 1 Ohio State two years ago, but yesterday the Buckeyes took it to him.

"We were hitting every chance we got," Ohio State senior safety Kurt Coleman said. "We are thriving. We always have that 'go get 'em' attitude. I feel like we are the best of the best out there right now, and we have to prove that each and every week."

Coleman said the Silver Bullet name came about back in 1996 - the last time the Buckeyes recorded back-to-back shutouts. "We fly around and make plays and hit like bullets do," Coleman said.

The Buckeyes have allowed the opposition fewer than 10 points 22 times since the start of the 2006 season. Ohio State has held its opponents to fewer than 21 points 43 times since 2006 - the best among the BCS conference teams. The Buckeyes have gone 40-3 in those games.

NO SWEET REVENGE: Illinois played the spoiler two years ago, knocking off a previously unbeaten and top-ranked Ohio State team. OSU junior linebacker Brian Rolle, who had an interception and a 39-yard return to set up the Buckeyes' first score yesterday, said revenge was not his motive.

"We didn't come into today with revenge on our minds," Rolle said.

"We knew what had to get done and we came here to prove ourselves, and win a game. We knew they would come in strong and fighting."

DANE'S DAY: Ohio State junior wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher had three receptions for 36 yards and a touchdown against Illinois, and leads the Buckeyes with four touchdown receptions this season. Sanzenbacher also served as the offensive captain for the Buckeyes yesterday.

CROWD CONTROL: Yesterday's game drew an announced crowd of 105,219 despite a steady rain during the first half accompanied by a prolonged downpour. Crowds of more than 100,000 have been on hand at Ohio Stadium for the past 51 games.

500 CLUB: Ohio State coach Jim Tressel won the 221st game of his career yesterday and moved his family into very select company. The Tressel family - Jim, his brother Dick, and their father Lee, have combined for 500 career coaching wins. They are just the second father-sons combination to achieve that many victories, following the Bowdens. Florida State coach Bobby Bowden and sons Tommy and Terry have a combined 589 wins. The Tressel records are: Jim, Ohio State, Youngstown State - 221-77-2; Dick, Hamline University (Minn.) - 124-102-2; Lee, Baldwin-Wallace - 155-52-6.

Contact Matt Markey at

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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