COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Something was missing, Ohio State cornerback Donald Washington said. And it's something that has to be found, and soon.
As Illinois continued to run the ball, making just enough yardage on third down time after time to continue piling up first downs, the Buckeyes grew more and more dispirited.
How was this possible, for Illinois to pile up 260 rushing yards against a team that was only giving up 65 a game? How did Juice Williams, previously known as a guy defenses loved to force into passing situations, pass for four touchdowns in what would be the top-ranked Buckeyes' 28-21 undoing last Saturday? Against a team that had given up only five passing TDs in its first 10 games?
"It was something we lacked from the beginning of the game," Washington said. "I don't really know exactly what it is but we weren't ourselves."
Now the seventh-ranked Buckeyes (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) have the opportunity to redeem themselves or add to their miseries when they travel to archrival Michigan (8-3, 6-1) on Saturday. The Big House will be a big stage.
After Todd Boeckman threw his third interception with just more than 8 minutes remaining, Illinois ran out the clock. Ohio State blitzed, it gang-tackled, it smothered the line -- nothing seemed to work.
The Illini went from their own 24 to the Ohio State 34 in the march, running 16 plays that covered the 42 yards. They converted a fourth-and-1 on a Williams sneak, and on third-and-7, third-and-10 and third-and-2, picking up first downs when Williams went right up the middle on quarterback draws.
All-American linebacker James Laurinaitis said it was one of the most frustrating segments of his career.
"We just weren't in position and just didn't make the play," he said. "They made the plays, that's all that matters. They made more plays than we did. Obviously, it does frustrate you, but as long as we have the effort and guys are trying and doing their job, we'll take that every day."
Asked what the Ohio State defenders learned about themselves against Illinois, cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, victimized on at least two of the touchdown passes, said the lesson was clear.
"That we're not invincible. We knew that coming in but it was an eye-opener as far as if we don't play our best every week we can't even get away with it playing our 'A' game or we can fall short of what we want to accomplish," he said.
Jenkins said there's no moaning and groaning. The past is passed.
"We've already let it go. We're focused. We know dwelling on the past isn't going to get us a win this week," he said. "We're going to take what we can from the last game and learn and try to improve on those things this week."
The failure to hold the line down the stretch allowed many to again question Ohio State's defense. A year ago, in a perfect regular season, they gave up 39 points while holding off Michigan in the regular-season finale and then were torched for 41 points in a 41-14 loss to Florida in the national championship game.
Some say this year's defense is tired and is bound to give up points, just like last year.
"When you look at it, you could easily say that, but we don't want to fall into that category and fall off at the end of the year," linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "We're gonna have to step it up this weekend and play our best ball that we have all year."
The Michigan team they'll be facing is dramatically different from Illinois.
The swift and elusive Williams is as good a running quarterback as there is in the country and tailbacks Rashard Mendenhall and Daniel Dufrene make for a powerful 1-2 punch.
The Wolverines counter with Chad Henne, who has a sore right (throwing) shoulder, or true freshman Ryan Mallett at quarterback. Neither is a runner of Williams' stature, but both have strong arms.
Mike Hart, if he recovers from a high ankle sprain, is among the elite tailbacks in the land. If he remains hobbled or even less than 100 percent, the Wolverines' running game isn't the same even with quality backup Brandon Minor.
It is out wide where Michigan has many more weapons than Illinois, led by native Ohioan Mario Manningham, along with Adrian Arrington and Greg Mathews.
The Buckeyes say they've tightened things up this week, that they're ready to overcome any mistakes from last week and to make up for shortcomings at the end of last year and this.
"We have a huge chip on our shoulders because of what happened last week and because we didn't play good at all against Michigan last year," Jenkins said. "We have a lot of things to prove and not only to ourselves but to a lot of other people."
He added, "I'm pretty sure everybody will be locked and loaded and we'll be ready."