Ohio State completed one pass today. For now, they’ll take it.

Dr. Saturday

Ohio State 17, Illinois 7.
Somewhere, Jim Tressel is sitting in the dark, drinking a bottle of reasonably priced cabernet and listening to Shostakovich with his eyes closed. He wants to savor this: In his absence, arguably the most Tresselian triumph of them all.

Total yards for Ohio State's offense: 224. Punts: Seven, including one from the opposing 31-yard line. Three-and-outs: Five. Completed passes: One. Victory: Total.

Not that OSU is relieved of any of the angst that defined the first half of its season. After last week's come-from-ahead loss at Nebraska, the one and only hope for Buckeyes' woebegone offense seemed to be freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, leader of an improbable 27-point run in Lincoln before being forced out with a bum ankle in the third quarter. After today, it looks like it's back to hopelessness. Miller dropped back to pass roughly a dozen times in Champaign, and was sacked on four of them. He scrambled on approximately four more. Of the four passes that actually left his hand, three fell incomplete.

His lone completion of the afternoon: A 17-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jake Stoneburner, immediately following an Illinois fumble that set the Buckeyes up at the Illini 22-yard line in the third quarter.{YSP:MORE}

The Buckeyes' only other touchdown came on a 12-yard run at the start of the third quarter by Dan "Boom" Herron — fresh from an NCAA-mandated six-game suspension — set up by an interception on the previous play. And that, fans, is how a 3-3 team whose freshman quarterback almost literally cannot complete a pass managed to upset a 6-0 team on the road, and salvage some vague sense of purpose for the rest of the season: Defense, turnovers and field position. Viva Tresselball.

If it gets them a tough road win that pushes them back over .500, you know, a win is a win. As a template for the rest of the season, well, it would still be nice to be able to complete a few passes by the time Wisconsin comes thundering in in two weeks, just to keep it respectable. After that, a defense, a punter and the ability to not throw the ball to the other team may carry Ohio State through the finish line yet: Indiana and Purdue should be automatic outs for bowl eligibility, and no one plays bite-and-hold with more enthusiasm than Penn State. Which leaves… Michigan, possibly with a winning record on the line.

With their first conference win and the Wolverines' hard fall today in East Lansing, the Buckeyes have to feel better about that trip than it has in a month. Now: With their fate tied inexorably to Braxton Miller's sore ankle, will it still feel that way in another month?

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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