It was a miserable Saturday for Illinois. But backup quarterback Cam Miller provided a small amount of joy in a 52-14 loss to Ohio State.
As the rain poured down and the wind whipped around Ohio Stadium, Miller weaved his way through the Buckeyes defense for a 9-yard touchdown run on the first play of his career. His teammates rushed to the south end zone to congratulate him, as Miller celebrated like it won the game.
It was heartwarming considering Miller’s story. A walk-on from Evergreen Park, a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, Miller said Illinois was his dream school growing up. He was originally a running back but was moved back under center before last season.
Miller’s chance was only made possible because of an unfortunate play for Chayce Crouch of Newark Catholic. He limped off the field after taking a late hit from freshman safety Isaiah Pryor on Ohio State’s sideline. Crouch was filling in for injured quarterbacks Cam Thomas and Jeff George Jr.
The defense recorded the Illini’s first points, when safety Stanley Green poked the ball free from Ohio State backup quarterback Dwayne Haskins on a run. Ahmari Hayes recovered the fumble and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown.
What went right?
Dre Brown provided a glimmer of hope for the Illinois backfield. He received most of the carries from the second quarter on and recorded 76 yards on 15 carries.
Illinois’ longest play came on a shotgun draw play in the fourth quarter, in which Brown stalled in the backfield for a second before receiving the handoff. The hesitation left Ohio State defensive lineman Nick Seme flatfooted, and Brown burst past him and a host of tacklers for a 30-yard run. That play advanced Illinois into Ohio State territory for the first time.
Who will be under center against Northwestern for the season finale? Illinois coach Lovie Smith said Thomas and George could return next week after being held out. Crouch is unlikely after being injured. But if Thomas and George are unable, Miller would get the call.
The Illini’s leading receiver, Ricky Smalling, was nonexistent. The freshman was targeted twice and had no catches.
“If you stay in coaching long enough, you have games like this where the team is better than you from start to finish, and you just keep fighting.” — Smith
1: Illinois first downs in the first half