With true freshman Braxton Miller at quarterback Ohio State (4-3, 2-1 Big Ten), Ohio State counted on Herron against Illinois (6-1, 2-1). The Buckeyes didn't throw a pass until late in the second quarter and didn't complete one until Miller hit Jake Stoneburner for a 17-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that put Ohio State up 17-0.
Stoneburner's touchdown was set up by an A.J. Jenkins fumble at the Illinois 37 and Herron's 12-yard touchdown run followed an interception by Bradley Roby that he returned to the Illinois 12. Herron's TD put Ohio State ahead 10-0 in the third quarter.
A week after Miller lost the fumble that gave Nebraska a way to get back into the game — which the Cornhuskers turned into an epic win — Ohio State played the kind of keep-it-simple style that the young quarterback and a stiff defense could win.
The Buckeyes didn't throw their first pass until the 7:22 mark of the second quarter. Miller, in fact, threw a total of four balls and that first completion to Stoneburner came with 13:06 left in the game. No Ohio State team had gone through a game with just one completion since 1976, a 22-21 loss to Missouri with Rod Gerald under center.
That Ohio State team was ranked No. 2, while this one was just trying to get its head above water, end a two-game losing streak and chalk up its first Big Ten win.
Enter Herron, who had to sit out six games as a result of his role in a cash-for-memorablia scandal — the matter that cost ex-coach Jim Tressel his job — and then for taking too much money for a summer job.
Interim coach Luke Fickell said during the week he wasn't sure how much the senior tailback would play and he wasn't listed as the starter.
But Herron was in the backfield from the beginning, and carried the bulk of the load on the opening drive, one that on a day of gusty 20-plus mph winds delivered a 45-yard Drew Basil field goal. It was the only score of the half.
The Ohio State defense, meanwhile, played big, holding an Illini offense that was averaging almost 450 yards and 34.7 points a game to 285 yards and, until the 6:22 mark of the fourth quarter, no points.
Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was 20 of 34 for 169 yards, with two interceptions and a late 3-yard touchdown pass to Evan Wilson that finally put the Illini on the board.
Illinois hasn't been shutout since losing 30-0 two seasons ago at Ohio State.
The Buckeyes also held Illinois other big weapon in check.
Roby said during the week that Jenkins, who was averaging 135.8 yards a game, was "nothing special, a product of Illinois' system. Jenkins, often covered by Roby, had 80 yards Saturday, but his eight catches didn't amount to much.
Illinois senior tailback Jason Ford left the game in the third quarter with an injured left shoulder after a big hit on a first-down carry. He finished with 30 yards on six carries.
Scheelhaase was Illinois' leading rusher with 16 carries for 49 yards.