Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Buckeye stops here: Illinois topples No. 1 Ohio St.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- In this season of upsets, top-ranked Ohio State was the latest to fall.

Juice Williams provided the big plays on the ground and through the air, spurring Illinois to a stunning 28-21 victory on Saturday night and throwing open the national title race.

It was the first time Illinois (8-3, 5-2 Big Ten) had ever beaten a No. 1, losing all 17 previous games. The defeat also ended a record streak of 20 Big Ten wins in a row by Ohio State (10-1, 6-1).

Williams, criticized all year because of his errant passing, tossed four touchdown passes. On the Illini's last drive, Williams used his leg to keep the ball away from the Buckeyes, running for several first downs and burning up the final 8:09.

The Buckeyes, who were in first-place in the BCS standings and two victories away from a second consecutive trip to the national title game, became the second No. 1 to lose this season. Only Kansas and Hawaii remain unbeaten in major college football.

Who will be No. 1 now. Maybe, LSU - again. The Tigers lost as the top-ranked team to Kentucky earlier in the season. Count Oregon, Oklahoma, Missouri and even West Virginia among the others happy to see the Buckeyes get beat. All now have a better chance at reaching the national title game, thanks to coach Ron Zook's Illini.

The Illini rushed for 260 yards against an Ohio State defense that came in allowing just 65 yards on the ground per game. Rashard Mendenhall set an Illinois season record while rushing for 88 yards on 26 carries.

Although the defeat crippled Ohio State's dreams of a national championship, it merely knocked them into a tie for the top spot in the Big Ten because of Michigan's earlier loss to Wisconsin.

Not since Nov. 14, 1959, had Michigan and Ohio State both lost the week before their annual year-end grudge match, which once again this season will decide the champion.

But this was not the way either team wanted to come into the game.

Marcus Thomas' second interception of the game gave Illinois the ball with 8:09 left at its own 24. And Ohio State would never get it back.

The Illini lined up to punt on a fourth-and-inches at their own 34 with 6:53 left, but Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel called timeout and Zook reconsidered after being prodded by his quarterback.

``I will get it,'' Zook said the sophomore quarterback told him. ``You better get it,'' the coach said told Williams.

Williams sneaked for the first down and twice more he converted third-and-long on quarterback draws.

After the game, Illinois players flooded the field to celebrate at midfield. The two teams got into a small skirmish before order was restored.

Source:; Photo Credit: Collegiate Images