CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — J.T. Barrett was back from his one-game suspension, and some of his best plays turned out to be handoffs to Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott piled up 181 yards and two touchdowns, Barrett chipped in with 150 yards passing and 74 running and No. 2 Ohio State powered past Illinois 28-3 on Saturday.
“Boy, Zeke is something else, ain’t he?” said Barrett, suspended for last week’s game after being cited for driving while impaired. “A positive run play is four yards, so when he’s popping out six, eight, nine yards on first and second down, that’s what you love in a running back.”
Barrett wasn’t at his best after reclaiming his starting spot from Cardale Jones, and it took a while for the Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten, No. 3 CFP) to get rolling.
Enter Elliott. The 6-foot, 225-pound running back carried 27 times, and had 129 of his yards and both TDs in the second half. He gave his blockers all the credit, saying they were “blowing guys off the ball.”
Leading 14-3 at the half, Ohio State marched 75 yards in the third quarter. Elliott had seven carries for 50 yards on the drive.
Illinois interim coach Bill Cubit he knew Ohio State would turn to Elliott at some point.
“If you watch them, (they) do it every (game),” Cubit said. “They play fast-paced and they just pound, pound you.”
Ohio State held the Illini to 20 yards rushing. Illini quarterback Wes Lunt was 23 of 47 for 241 yards.
Now comes the hard part for Ohio State — games against No. 14 Michigan State and No. 15 Michigan.
Illinois (5-5, 2-4) had chances to stay in the game, but made too many mistakes against the Buckeyes.
Dawuane Smoot set Illinois up at the Ohio State 31 late in the second quarter when he recovered a Barrett fumble. Taylor Zalewski’s 50-yard field goal attempt banged off the right upright, and the Buckeyes maintained their 7-3 lead.
After a long drive fizzled in the second half, holder Ryan Frain failed to get the snap down for Zalewski’s 49-yard attempt. Frain tried to scramble for a first down but fumbled.
Elliott opened Ohio State’s next drive with a 16-yard blast through the Illinois line, and Buckeyes’ fans finally had something to cheer about.
And with 6:57 left in the third quarter, he ended the drive with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone.
“Obviously he’s a workhorse, he gets stronger as the game goes on,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.
Barrett had mixed results in his return.
He lofted a perfect pass just over cornerback Eaton Spence for a 24-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas in the first quarter. But he also fumbled twice and threw an interception.
With 1:45 left in the half, Barrett and the Buckeyes had the ball and a sudden sense of urgency.
On fourth-and-11 at the Illinois 38, Barrett dropped back to pass, saw no one open and darted left untouched for 16 yards.
Three plays later, he rumbled around the left end, cutting through a gap in the Illini defense and into the end zone.
The game was Illinois’ last home this season. Still looking for the sixth win that would make them bowl eligible, the Illini travel to Minnesota on Saturday and then face Northwestern at Soldier Field in Chicago.