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Monday, October 17, 2011

Dan Wheldon dies after IndyCar crash - First BCS Standings


Two-time Indy 500 champ Wheldon dies in fiery crash at Las Vegas race
LAS VEGAS -- It was supposed to be a day of potential glory and fortune for Dan Wheldon as he had a chance to split a $5 million bonus with a fan if he could win Sunday's IndyCar World Championships at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Instead, it became one of the darkest days in the history of the sport as the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner was killed in a horrific crash on Lap 11.
Wheldon, who won the Indy 500 in 2005 and 2011, was driving one of 15 cars involved in a fiery massive crash between Turns 1 and 2. His car went airborne and flew high into the fence before landing upside down on the edge of the wall. Wheldon's helmet hit the wall, causing an "unsurvivable head injury," said IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, who announced Wheldon's death, at 33, just after 6 p.m. ET.
The impact was so severe the roll hoop broke off the top of his car. Wheldon was unconscious when safety workers arrived at the scene of his crash. A yellow tarp was quickly placed over his car to block the others from seeing the damage inside his cockpit.
The red flag was displayed by IndyCar Series officials, stopping the race. The remaining drivers later attended a meeting, where the decision was made to end the race. Approximately 10 minutes after that gathering concluded, they climbed into their cars and formed rows of three on the racetrack for a five-lap tribute to Wheldon. Crew members of every team, along with series officials, lined the edge of pit road as spectators stood politely and applauded on each of the five laps.
"Amazing Grace" and "Danny Boy" were played in a solemn tribute to the likable driver from Emberton, England, who earlier in the day had agreed to a full-time ride with team owner Michael Andretti for the 2012 season, to replace the departing Danica Patrick. Wheldon is survived by his wife, Susie, and two sons, Sebastian, 7, and Oliver, 7 months. They were at the race along with other family members.
As Dario Franchitti pulled into the pit area, his wife, actress Ashley Judd, awaited the driver on pit road. She pulled a floppy sun hat over her eyes to hide some of the tears. When Franchitti climbed out of the car, they hugged. Then Franchitti hugged his father, George, as both men broke down in tears. He then turned back to Judd and they shared a tearful embrace. Franchitti called Wheldon one of his best friends.
The race had been scheduled to be followed by the 2011 Championships Celebration, an awards banquet, on Monday night at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, but IndyCar officials announced late Sunday that the event had been canceled.
A public memorial for Wheldon will be held at a later date.
In a cruel twist of irony, the accident was grimly reminiscent of a championship battle Franchitti was involved in back in 1999. On that day, his best friend, Greg Moore, was killed in virtually the same type of impact in a single-car crash on Lap 10 in the final race of the season. Moore's father, Ric, was at Sunday's race, his first time attending an IndyCar race since his son was killed 12 years ago.
Franchitti finished second in that's year's championship and won this year's over Will Power, but had no reason to celebrate.
"One minute you're joking around during driver intros and then the next moment Dan's gone," Franchitti said. "I told [Dan's 2-year-old son] Sebastien Thursday night at the parade, that I've known his dad since he was your size. Dan was 6 years old when I met him. We lost -- I lost -- everyone in the IZOD IndyCar Series considered Dan a friend. He was just one of those special, special people. I'm trying to hold it together."
Wheldon entered the 2011 season without a full-time ride. He agreed to a one-race deal with his friend, Bryan Herta, for the 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 and was one of the fastest drivers in the weeks leading to the race. He won it in amazing fashion when race leader Hildebrand crashed in the final turn of the last lap heading to the checkered flag. Wheldon drove past Hildebrand's crippled car to win his second Indy 500.
Because of that victory, Wheldon was part of a promotion in which he would start last in Sunday's 34-car field, but if he won the race he would split $5 million with a fan.
And earlier Sunday, Wheldon had agreed to that full-time ride with Andretti for next season. "We had just literally inked the deal this morning for him to replace Danica Patrick in the No. 7 GoDaddy car," Andretti said. "He was a very close friend. We had great plans to do a lot of fun things together. It's part of our sport. He knew the risks. We all know the risks when we get in the car. We are going to miss him."
The crash was triggered when Wade Cunningham's car hit James Hinchcliffe's rear wheel, which caused Cunningham to slow down. Rookie driver J.R. Hildebrand's car slammed into the right rear of Cunningham's car, launching it into the air. That triggered a massive, fiery crash that involved nine other drivers (Townsend Bell, Jay Howard, Tomas Scheckter, Charlie Kimball, Paul Tracy, E.J. Viso, Alex Lloyd, Pippa Mann and Buddy Rice).
"In this kind of racing there is not much room for error," Cunningham said. "I'm not thrilled about it. But it is what it is, and at this point it's kind of immaterial because there are some people hurt in there. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed for everyone in the accident."
Entering the race, drivers feared that with speeds at 225 miles per hour and with a track so smooth and so wide, that it was too easy for all the cars on the track. It wasn't selective enough to separate the good drivers from the bad drivers. It created potentially dangerous pack racing.
"It's so brainlessly easy flat, but what it did do is put us back in the pack, which is not brainlessly easy," Power said Friday. "That's very tough. The race around here is going to be really difficult because it's going to be such a pack race, and that's what manufactures ... really tight knit racing, which is really quite intense.
"There is no real strategy. It's going to be three-wide, and I don't see the pack stringing out much at all. We'll have to play it the best we can to stay out of trouble. This oval racing, when you are flat-out 100 percent, is kind of ridiculous."
After the crash, cars were brought onto pit road. The drivers remaining in the race climbed out and tried to discuss the series of events.
"It was just a chain reaction, and everybody slowed down, got bunched up again and there were more crashes that started behind it," 2008 Indy 500 winner and IndyCar champion Scott Dixon said. "It's unfortunate because everybody knew it was going to happen. You could see from Lap 2 people were driving nuts. It doesn't even matter the speeds -- you can't touch with these cars. I was in the middle of that one, and it was pure luck that I wasn't in it."
A few laps before Wheldon's crash, Alex Tagliani and Ryan Briscoe made contact on the racetrack, but both were able to continue without crashing.
"It was like driving through a war zone," Briscoe said. "We all predicted something like this would happen. It was inevitable. Everyone can run so close at the moment. These open-wheel cars, there is no room for error. It's exciting and thrilling when it all goes well."
But at 225 miles per hour on a 1.544-mile oval, 34 cars may have been too many.
"I don't think anybody can predict this," Penske Racing president Tim Cindric said. "Racing is what we do. The more cars we have, the healthier the series is. It's unfortunate this happened. Racing is inherently a dangerous sport. That's the thrill of why these guys do it, why we do it and why it's entertaining to watch -- the unpredictable nature of it. We've all seen days like this before -- we just hope they are minimized."
Added Franchitti, "You know I love hard racing, but that to me is not really what it's about. I said before we even tested here that this was not a suitable track for us, and we've seen it today. You can't get away from anybody. There's no way to differentiate yourself as a car or a driver. People get frustrated and go four-wide and you saw that happened."
Wheldon's death drew a reaction from drivers in all forms of motorsports, including NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., whose father -- seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt -- was killed in a crash in the last turn of the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
"I had the pleasure of meeting Dan Wheldon at the National Guard Youth Challenge dinner about five years ago, and we crossed paths several times since then, mostly through our mutual partnership with the National Guard," Earnhardt said. "His success as a racer speaks for itself, but I will remember him as a true professional who was friendly, respectful and genuine. On behalf of everyone at JR Motorsports, I send condolences to Dan's family, team, and friends in the racing community."
Tony Kanaan was another of Wheldon's closest friends. Because he was the leader of the race at the time it was stopped, he was on pole position during the five-lap tribute to Wheldon
"What a cruel coincidence," Kanaan said. "God does things in a strange way. We were there through Greg Moore, and today I was picked for that role. Another one of my best friends went.
"I just pray that he rests in peace, and I give my support to all of his family. He was one of my best friends and greatest teammates. As race car drivers we have to block this from our thoughts. Unfortunately, racing is dangerous. This has been happening for years, for ages, for decades. It's just hard to swallow, but we have to move on. None of the drivers that lost their lives want us to quit.
"We're not quitters; we're racers."
Wheldon's death is the seventh to happen in this form of racing since 1996. Scott Brayton was killed in practice for the 1996 Indianapolis 500 after he won the pole one week earlier. Jeff Krosnoff was killed in a CART race at Toronto in July 1996. Gonsolo Rodriguez was killed in a CART practice at Laguna-Seca in 1999, and Moore was killed in the CART race at Fontana, Calif., two months later. Tony Renna was killed in a tire test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2003, and Paul Dana was killed in a warmup before the season-opening race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2006Wheldon became the fourth Indianapolis 500 winning driver to die the same season he won the world's biggest race.
Gaston Chevrolet won the Indianapolis 500 in 1920 and was killed in a race at Beverly Hills, Calif. In 1929, Ray Keech won the race and was killed the next month at Altoona, Pa. In 1946, George Robson won the Indianapolis 500 and was killed later that year in a race at Atlanta.

Dan Wheldon dies after IndyCar crash
LAS VEGAS -- Dan Wheldon, the 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner and one of the most popular drivers in open-wheel racing, died Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a horrific multi-car crash on Lap 11 of the IndyCar Series season finale.
Officials decided to call the race, but the drivers, many sobbing openly, did a five-lap tribute to Wheldon. IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard made the official announcement of Wheldon's death without further comment.
Hearts were heavy and tears flowed after Dan Wheldon died following a horrific 15-car crash just 11 laps into the IndyCar Series finale Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, writes John Oreovicz. Story
Every driver knows the next race could be his or her last, and Dan Wheldon was no different in Vegas on Sunday. His death leaves the sport much the poorer and in need of answers, writes Terry Blount. Story
"IndyCar is very sad to announce that Dan Wheldon has passed away from unsurvivable injuries," Bernard said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family today. IndyCar, its drivers and owners, have decided to end the race. In honor of Dan Wheldon, the drivers have decided to do a five-lap salute to in his honor."
Wheldon was airlifted from the Las Vegas track at 1:19 p.m. local time Sunday and taken to University Medical Center, becoming the first IndyCar driver to die on the track since rookie Paul Dana was killed in practice on the morning of race day at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2006.
"One minute you're joking around at driver intros. The next, Dan's gone," said Dario Franchitti, whose wife, actress Ashley Judd, had to bring him a box of tissues. "I lost, we lost, a good friend. Everybody in the IndyCar series considered him a friend. He was such a good guy. He was a charmer."
Wheldon, 33 and the 2005 series champion from Emberton, England, was competing in only his third IndyCar race of the season, trying to win the race and earn a $5 million bonus that was part of a league promotion for driver who didn't compete full-time in the series this year.
Wheldon was the only driver to accept the challenge. This year's Indy 500 was the second time Wheldon had won the prestigious event. He also won it in 2005.
Wheldon was expected to replace Danica Patrick next season in the Go-Daddy-sponsored car for Andretti Autosport. Patrick is moving to NASCAR full-time in 2012.
Andretti Autosport, the team with which Wheldon won the 2005 Indy 500, had agreed to a contract early Sunday for Wheldon to replace Patrick next season. The deal was supposed to be signed after the race.
The race was only minutes old when Wheldon, who started at the back of the 34-car field and was in position for a $5 million payday if he had won, couldn't steer clear of a wreck that started when two cars touched tires.
Within seconds, several cars burst into flames and debris covered the track nearly halfway up the straightaway. Some points of impact were so devastating workers had to patch holes in the asphalt.
Video replays showed Wheldon's car turning over as it went airborne and sailed into what's called the catch fence, which sits over a barrier that's designed to give a bit when cars make contact. Rescue workers were at Wheldon's car quickly, some furiously waving for more help to get to the scene.
"I'll tell you, I've never seen anything like it," Ryan Briscoe said. "The debris we all had to drive through the lap later, it looked like a war scene from Terminator or something. I mean, there were just pieces of metal and car on fire in the middle of the track with no car attached to it and just debris everywhere. So it was scary, and your first thoughts are hoping that no one is hurt because there's just stuff everywhere. Crazy."
Also injured in the crash were JR Hildebrand and Pippa Mann. Both will remain in the hospital overnight. IndyCar said Mann was being treated for a burn to her right pinkie finger and will be released Monday morning; Hildebrand was awake and alert but will be held overnight for further evaluation. Power was evaluated and released. An autopsy was planned Monday for Wheldon.
“There are no words for today. Myself and so many others are devastated. I pray for "What a tremendously sad day, my thoughts are with the entire Wheldon family... Dan's passion for IndyCar racing will be sorely missed...." Hildebrand said on Twitter Sunday.
The accident appeared to start when Wade Cunningham's car swerved on the track and Hildebrand drove over the left rear of Cunningham's car. Hildebrand appeared to go airborne, and Cunningham's car shot up into the wall, setting off a chain reaction among the cars behind him.
Some of those cars slowed, others didn't, and others spun in front of Wheldon and Power. There was so much chaos on the track it was hard to tell who was driving what car.
Power appeared to fly over Alex Lloyd's car, rolling into the catch fence and landing on its right side. His in-car camera showed one of the front tires coming toward him in the cockpit.
Wheldon then appeared to drive over a car driven by Paul Tracy, who seemed to be slowing down. Wheldon, however, went airborne and spun into the fence.
The track was red-flagged following the accidents while crews worked on fences and removed smashed cars.
"There are no words for today," Patrick tweeted. "Myself and so many others are devastated. I pray for suzi (Wheldon's wife) and the kids that god will give them strength."
"We are incredibly saddened at the passing of Dan Wheldon," Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation president and CEO Jeff Belskus said. "He was a great champion of the Indianapolis 500 and a wonderful ambassador for the race, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and all of motorsports. Most importantly, he was a fantastic husband, father and man -- a good friend to so many in this sport. His memory will live forever at the Speedway, both through the magnitude of his accomplishments on the track and his magnetism off the track."
Wheldon, who came to the United States from England in 1999, won 16 times in his IndyCar career and was the series champion in 2005.
Despite winning this year's Indy 500, Wheldon couldn't put together a full-time ride this season. He landed in this race thanks to Bernard's promise of $5 million to any moonlighting driver who could win the IndyCar season finale at Vegas. Although there were no takers, Bernard refused to scrap the idea and Wheldon was declared eligible for the prize.
Drivers had been concerned about the high speeds at the track, where they were hitting nearly 225 mph during practice.
"We all had a bad feeling about this place in particular just because of the high banking and how easy it was to go flat. And if you give us the opportunity, we are drivers and we try to go to the front. We race each other hard because that's what we do," driver Oriol Servia said. "We knew if could happen, but it's just really sad."
Asked about speed after the crash, Wheldon's former boss Chip Ganassi said, "There'll be plenty of time in the offseason to talk about that. Now is not the time to talk about that."
And Franchitti, who clinched the 2011 IndyCar title Sunday, said: "I agree. We'll discuss that and sort it out."
The race was ruled incomplete, and IndyCar officials ruled that the championship points would include races up through the Kentucky Indy 300 on Oct. 2. Franchitti held an 18-point lead over Power entering Sunday's race.
Wheldon had been providing blog posts for USA Today in the days leading up to the Las Vegas race, and in one posted Saturday to the newspaper's website he spoke of how he expected Sunday to be "pure entertainment."
"This is going to be an amazing show," Wheldon wrote. "The two championship contenders, Dario Franchitti and Will Power, are starting right next to each other in the middle of the grid. Honestly, if I can be fast enough early in the race to be able to get up there and latch onto those two, it will be pure entertainment. It's going to be a pack race, and you never know how that's going to turn out."
The accident spoiled what Bernard had hoped would be a showcase event for the struggling IndyCar Series.
The second-year CEO worked the entire season on turning the finale into a spectacle, and said he'd offer his resignation to the IndyCar board of directors if ABC's broadcast didn't pull a .8 ranking. His goal was to improve upon last year's season finale's horrible television rating and give the series some momentum for what's hoped to be a strong season in 2013 with the introduction of a new car and new manufacturers.
So Bernard poured everything into Las Vegas, renting the speedway from owner Bruton Smith and agreeing to promote the event himself. He landed enough sponsorship to at least break even on race, and the $5 million challenge bought him an enormous amount of publicity the entire year.
Bernard got the Las Vegas Strip to close to stage a parade of cars, hosted industry parties and a blackjack tournament all to boost interest in the race. He even got MGM Grand Resorts to offer a pair of tickets to anyone staying this weekend in one of the chain's 14 properties.
But what was hoped to be a day of celebration quickly turned somber.
When drivers returned to the track for the tribute laps, Wheldon's No. 77 was the only one on the towering scoreboard. Franchitti sobbed uncontrollably as he got back into his car for the memorial ride. The sound of "Danny Boy" echoed around the track, followed by "Amazing Grace." Hundreds of crew workers from each team stood at attention in honor of Wheldon.
"What can you say? We're going to miss him," Ganassi said. "Everybody in IndyCar died a little today."
Formula One champions Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton hailed Wheldon as a "true fighter" and an "inspirational" figure.
Button recalled Wheldon as being a star of the British karting circuit in the 1990s.
"I have so many good memories of racing with Dan in the early 90s, a true fighter," Button said on Twitter.
"We've lost a legend in our sport but also a great guy ... I can't begin to imagine what his family are going through and my thoughts are with them at this very difficult time."
Wheldon, who was born in Buckinghamshire, a county just north of London, was also an inspiration to Hamilton after deciding to try his luck in the U.S. following a successful junior career during which he won eight British karting titles.
"Dan was a racer I'd followed throughout my career, as I often followed in his footsteps as we climbed the motor sport ladder in the UK," said Hamilton, Button's teammate at McLaren.
"He was an extremely talented driver. As a British guy who not only went over to the States but who twice won the Indy 500, he was an inspirational guy, and someone that every racing driver looked up to with respect and admiration. This is a tragic loss at such a young age."
Hamilton finished second in Sunday's Korean Grand Prix, with Button fourth.
Wheldon died Sunday after a massive, fiery wreck at the Las Vegas Indy 300. He was involved in a 15-vehicle pile-up, his car flying over another and bursting into flames.
Wheldon was born in the small English village of Emberton and began driving go-karts as a 4-year-old.
Having failed to secure financial backing for his career in Europe, he moved to the U.S in 1999. In 2005, he became the first English driver since Graham Hill in 1966 to win the Indy 500. Wheldon won the race for a second time this year.
Despite his success and stardom in the U.S., Wheldon was relatively unknown in his home country. Formula One racing grabs all the media coverage in Europe, with IndyCar receiving little notice.
Wheldon had been scheduled to compete next weekend at Surfers Paradise, Australia, in the Gold Coast 600 race, teaming with V8 Supercar champion James Courtney as a co-driver for two 186-mile touring car races on Saturday and Sunday.
Five other IndyCar drivers were scheduled to compete on the Gold Coast, including Power. V8 series chairman Tony Cochrane said he expects some of the American-based drivers to pull out.
"If any driver wishes to pull out in respect, we would fully appreciate and understand that and be as supportive as we can," Cochrane said Monday. "And we will find replacement drivers for anyone who wishes to drop out this weekend. We will cross that bridge and worry about that when we get over the initial shock and deal with it in due course."
Cochrane said a memorial service would be held on Saturday morning at the Gold Coast track.
"He was very much looking forward to having his first ... go in a V8 Supercar this coming weekend," Cochrane said. "We have just been reminded in the most tragic of circumstances what can happen in motorsport. This is a terrible day."

First BCS Standings
1 LSU .9522 NR 1 2819 .9805 2 1410 .9559 3 3 1 4 5 2 3 .920
2 Alabama .9519 NR 2 2744 .9544 3 1403 .9512 2 2 3 3 2 1 2 .950
3 Oklahoma .9301 NR 3 2684 .9336 1 1426 .9668 4 4 2 2 4 5 5 .890
4 Oklahoma State .8568 NR 6 2315 .8052 6 1173 .7953 1 1 4 1 1 4 1 .970
5 Boise State .8027 NR 5 2339 .8136 7 1172 .7946 6 6 5 5 7 8 6 .800
6 Wisconsin .7708 NR 4 2463 .8567 4 1262 .8556 11 10 8 14 17 6 12 .600
7 Clemson .7582 NR 8 2063 .7176 8 1028 .6969 5 5 6 6 3 3 4 .860
8 Stanford .7484 NR 7 2291 .7969 5 1222 .8285 8 8 9 8 20 15 10 .620
9 Arkansas .6263 NR 10 1805 .6278 10 931 .6312 8 15 11 17 8 7 8 .620
10 Oregon .6190 NR 9 1955 .6800 8 1028 .6969 12 16 7 16 13 11 18 .480
11 Kansas State .5688 NR 12 1457 .5068 16 678 .4597 7 7 10 7 6 9 7 .740
12 Virginia Tech .5048 NR 16 1259 .4379 14 688 .4664 10 12 13 9 9 14 9 .610
13 Nebraska .4972 NR 11 1484 .5162 11 775 .5254 15 17 12 15 16 12 16 .450
14 South Carolina .4914 NR 13 1396 .4856 12 765 .5186 13 9 15 13 12 20 17 .470
15 West Virginia .3730 NR 14 1359 .4727 14 688 .4664 21 23 25 20 18 19 24 .180
16 Michigan State .3288 NR 15 1290 .4487 13 690 .4678 24 25 19 23 0 0 23 .070
17 Texas A&M .3074 NR 19 779 .2710 18 415 .2814 18 18 18 22 10 16 15 .370
18 Michigan .2995 NR 17 914 .3179 17 458 .3105 20 14 20 10 23 0 20 .270
19 Houston .2863 NR 22 562 .1955 20 359 .2434 16 11 0 12 19 18 13 .420
20 Auburn .2645 NR 21 565 .1965 23 202 .1369 14 19 14 25 14 10 11 .460
21 Penn State .2311 NR 24 293 .1019 22 253 .1715 16 20 0 11 15 13 14 .420
22 Georgia Tech .1968 NR 18 839 .2918 19 396 .2685 27 24 0 24 25 0 0 .030
23 Illinois .1516 NR 20 571 .1986 21 260 .1763 22 22 22 18 0 0 0 .080
24 Texas .1348 NR NR 77 .0268 NR 26 .0176 19 13 0 19 11 17 19 .360
25 Washington

AP Top 25
1 LSU (41) 7-0 1452 1
2 Alabama (11) 7-0 1411 2
3 Oklahoma (6) 6-0 1372 3
4 Wisconsin 6-0 1252 4
5 Boise State (1) 6-0 1218 5
6 Oklahoma State 6-0 1186 6
7 Stanford 6-0 1164 7
8 Clemson 7-0 1064 8
9 Oregon 5-1 1020 9
10 Arkansas 5-1 946 10
11 West Virginia 5-1 778 13
12 Kansas State 6-0 762 17
13 Nebraska 5-1 748 14
14 South Carolina 6-1 690 15
15 Michigan State 5-1 610 23
16 Virginia Tech 6-1 597 19
17 Texas A&M 4-2 467 21
18 Michigan 6-1 442 11
19 Auburn 5-2 374 24
20 Georgia Tech 6-1 281 12
21 Houston 6-0 238 25
22 Washington 5-1 221 NR
23 Illinois 6-1 207 16
24 Georgia 5-2 144 NR
24 Arizona State

10 Things We Learned in a Gritty Win over Illinois
brandon castel

1. A win is a win. It wasn’t pretty, but let’s face it, the team needed this. After all the adversity they have had to deal with, the last thing they want to be talking about heading into the bye week was a three-game losing streak. There is still going to be a lot of frustration amongst the fan base over why it took Ohio State so long to at least attempt a pass, but it’s hard to argue with the game plan after seeing the final result. They squeezed out a win, on the road in tough conditions against a 6-0 football team. They showed some heart and some grit and they made a statement that this team isn’t going to fall apart after all the adversity. Just win, baby.

2. Passing is overrated. So Ohio State really completed only one pass all game and still found a way to win? That’s what Woody does. He is the master…oh wait. This wasn’t Woody and this isn’t the 1950’s. This is 2011 and Ohio State won a football game against a pretty decent team with one completion? Maybe passing is overrated. The Illini had to know the Buckeyes were going to come out running early and often. They saw what Michigan State did to this team two weeks ago, and even with a healthy Braxton Miller, Ron Zook had to know that this staff wasn’t about to sling the ball around in the swirling win. It didn’t matter.

3. Braxton Miller needs some time to develop. All we heard about Braxton before the start of the season was how much better he was at passing than Terrelle Pryor at this stage of his career. Miller may have a quick release and a strong arm, he may even learn to throw a nice spiral, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to pass the ball at this level. One of the most critical parts of being a good passer is knowing where to go with the football and having confidence to get it there. Miller has a long way to go with both aspects right now. He showed very little confidence throwing the ball at Illinois, and everyone knew it. He’s not the first quarterback to struggle up there, but there is a reason he only attempted four passes. This is his learning year. Ideally, he wouldn’t even be playing right now. That’s not an option, obviously, but let’s not forget how the 2008 season unfolded. That team went to the BCS because they had a veteran coach a fantastic running back and a solid defense. This team may have one part of that equation now, but it is going to take some time for Miller to get comfortable with what he can do. Let’s not be quick to pass judgment on his passing.

4. Boom Herron is the best player on the offense. We will never know how this game would have turned out without the return of Boom Herron, but the Buckeyes were thrilled to have him back. After missing the first six games of the season, he stepped in and ran for 114 yards on just 23 carries. He showed great vision, good toughness and just enough quickness to make him elusive in the open field. His 12-yard touchdown was a thing of beauty and he’s only going to get better. Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde did a very nice job filling in over the last six weeks, but there is a reason I’ve been saying Herron is the best back on the team all season long.

5. The offensive line carried the day. Herron and Hall are going to get most of the credit for the win, especially with Ohio State racking up over 200 yards on the ground. Herron went for 114 and Hall had 56 yards on 12 carries, but let us not forget the real heroes in this game. They gave up a lot of sacks, but the OSU offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage in the run game against a pretty good defensive front and despite the fact Illinois knew they were going to run. That is a lot harder to do than it sounds. Very few teams are able to have success on the ground without at least the threat of balance. Fickell talks every week about how the offense needs to be balanced, and it was anything but this week. Andrew Norwell had a couple rough patches and Jack Mewhort got dinged up, but having those two first-year starters playing between three seniors has really solidified things up front.

6. This team needed some guys to make a play. After last week’s loss at Nebraska, a number of the coaches—including Fickell—talked about the fact they just didn’t make a play in the fourth quarter. For as poorly as they played all around after Braxton went out of the game, all they really needed was one big play. If one player steps up and does something to change the momentum, maybe the Buckeyes pull out a victory in that game. The message was received this week, and the OSU defense came up with a few big plays to swing the momentum in their favor. Cornerback Bradley Roby made the big one, picking off Nathan Scheelhaase and returned the interception to the Illinois 12-yard line to set up Herron’s touchdown. Travis Howard also had an interception on the other side and Tyler Moeller stripped A.J. Jenkins after a short reception on the Illini half of the field. Storm Klein fell on the ball at the 37, setting up Miller’s lone completion to Jake Stoneburner in the end zone.

7. How about Hankins and Simon? Ohio State’s two best players on defense were everywhere Saturday against Illinois. They were constantly in the Illini backfield and were wreaking havoc on the running game. Solomon Thomas didn’t play a great game in his return, but it allowed Simon to move back over and play his more nature position on the defensive line. He had been playing the Leo spot since Nathan Williams went down, which really is not the best use of his strengths, but he was the only veteran guy they had who could play the spot. Simon and Hankins seemed to benefit from the move, and both those guys are developing into stars right before our eyes. They give it all when they are out there, and that’s what you want from your best players.

8. There are still some concerns with the defense. All that being said, there are still some concerns after watching this defense in the fourth quarter Saturday. It looks like tackling is going to continue to be an issue for this team the rest of the year. They are going to need to create turnovers and make big plays, because when they don’t, it is going to be tough for them to get off the field. After building up a 17-0 lead through three quarters, the OSU defense struggled in the fourth. They allowed an 80-yard drive that ended with the Illini’s first touchdown and they surrendered 134 yards in the fourth quarter after allowing just 151 over the course of the first three.

9. This is one of Heacock’s best coaching jobs. In reality, this defense should be too young and not talented enough to win games for Ohio State. They have a lot of good young players on the defense, but that youth has shown in their three losses this season. When Christian Bryant is a senior, he probably doesn’t sell out for that big tackle in the fourth quarter against Nebraska. With all the attrition, Jim Heacock has had to make the best out of what he has. The loss of Nathan Williams should have crippled this team, but Heacock and his staff are finding ways to get the most out of this group. The shoddy tackling will hurt them if they don’t get it figured out, but give Heacock credit for the job he’s doing. This is not the typical Ohio State defense fans have become accustomed too over the last sis years.

10. Somebody give Ben Buchanan some love. I know he had a rough 30-yard punt in the fourth quarter that gave Illinois the ball near midfield, but Ben Buchanan played a heck of a game Saturday. It has never been easy to kick the ball in Champaign. It’s cold, the wind is swirling and it’s really hard to get a gauge on exactly where it will be blowing at any given moment. It’s dangerous to kick the ball high into that wind, but Buchanan did an excellent job Saturday of giving the Buckeyes much-needed field position. Their offense wasn’t working, but Buchanan and Drew Basil made some big kicks. Basil’s 43-yarder to get things started was huge, and so were some of the punts Buchanan made. He averaged 39 yards on a really tough day and pinned two of his seven kicks inside the 20.

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