Taking a look back at a game Ohio State played on this date:

Illinois 18, Ohio State 16

Setup: Lest anyone is shaky on the memory front, John Cooper was a rather unpopular country cat early in his tenure as Ohio State coach not only because he didn't beat Michigan, couldn't win a bowl game and hawked hot tubs. Coop also was a Captain Ahab with a white whale of a problem beating Illinois. Entering the 1992 home game against Lou Tepper's crew, the Buckeyes had lost four straight to the Illini — a laughable notion now, but back then, no one was chuckling about having withdrawal pangs for the Illibuck trophy.

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Stars: Kirk Herbstreit had a solid, 182-yard passing game for Ohio State, but most of the standouts played defense. For Illinois, Dana Howard was in on 15 tackles and helped force a decisive fourth-quarter fumble. For the Buckeyes, Dan Wilkinson made himself a whole lot of NFL money with a three-sack performance, and Walter Taylor recovered a fumble and blocked a punt.

Turning point: Ohio State had three possessions inside the Illinois 10-yard line that netted zero points. Two ended on fumbles by freshman tailback Eddie George: one in the first quarter (returned 96 yards for a TD by the Illini's Jeff Arneson) and the other in the fourth quarter, setting up a 15-play, 81/2-minute drive to the go-ahead field goal. OSU, trailing by 2, then moved downfield, but Tim Williams hooked a 44-yard field-goal try with 48 seconds remaining.

Impact: Cooper ended up second in Ohio State in coaching victories with 111, so he hung around for a while, although he never really did win over the masses. George did, though, and by 1995 he also had won the Heisman Trophy. As for the 1992 season, the Illinois loss meant an 0-2 Big Ten start that essentially eliminated the Buckeyes from the Rose Bowl race. They didn't lose to Michigan -- the famous 13-13 "win" -- but dropped the Florida Citrus Bowl to Georgia.

Quotable: "We beat ourselves. You can't turn the ball over twice on the goal line and expect to win. … That's the way this game goes sometimes. If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, what a merry Christmas it would be." — Cooper after the game, though not really in a holiday spirit.

rstein@dispatch.com