CHAMPAIGN, Illinois — Illinois stayed closed to No. 2 Ohio State for almost an entire half. And then Ezekiel Elliott took over.
Wes Lunt threw for 241 yards, but the Illini managed just 20 yards on the ground and Elliott rushed for two touchdowns in the second half of the Buckeyes' 28-3 victory on Saturday.
Illinois (5-5, 2-4 Big Ten) lost two fumbles and was 5 for 17 on third down. It also came up empty on two trips to the red zone.
"When you're playing a great team like that, there were just too many mistakes," interim coach Bill Cubit said. "We didn't capitalize."
A win would have made Illinois eligible for a bowl and also might have helped Cubit win the job on a permanent basis, something he has made clear he wants.
"Time to take the interim tag off," offensive lineman Ted Karras said. "That should be the first order of business."
Cubit took over in August when Tim Beckman was fired over allegations of player mistreatment.
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett was 15 for 23 for 150 yards in his return from a one-game suspension. He also rushed 16 times for 74 yards, including a 6-yard TD that made it 14-3 with 50 seconds left in the first half.
Elliott had 27 carries for 181 yards for the Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0, No. 3 CFP). He gained 129 yards on the ground in the second half.
"Boy, Zeke is something else, ain't he?" said Barrett, who was suspended for last week's game after being cited for driving while impaired. "A positive run play is 4 yards, so when he's popping out 6, 8, 9 yards on first and second down, that's what you love in a running back."
Elliott gave his blockers all the credit, saying they were "blowing guys off the ball." He had a 1-yard TD in the third and a 10-yard score in the final period.
Cubit said he knew Ohio State would turn to Elliott at some point.
"If you watch them, (they) do it every (game)," Cubit said. "They play fast-paced and they just pound, pound you."
Now comes the hard part for Ohio State — games against No. 14 Michigan State and No. 15 Michigan.
The Illini had chances to keep up with the Buckeyes, but made too many mistakes.
Dawuane Smoot set Illinois up at the Ohio State 31 late in the second quarter when he recovered a Barrett fumble. Taylor Zalewski's 50-yard field goal attempt banged off the right upright, and the Buckeyes maintained their 7-3 lead.
After a long drive fizzled in the second half, holder Ryan Frain failed to get the snap down for Zalewski's 49-yard attempt. Frain tried to scramble for a first down but fumbled.
Elliott opened Ohio State's next drive with a 16-yard scamper through the Illinois line. He scored his first TD of the game with 6:57 left in the third quarter.
"Obviously he's a workhorse, he gets stronger as the game goes on," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.
Barrett had mixed results in his return.
He lofted a perfect pass just over cornerback Eaton Spence for a 24-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas in the first quarter. But he also fumbled twice and threw an interception.
With 1:45 left in the half, Barrett and the Buckeyes had the ball and a sudden sense of urgency.
On fourth-and-11 at the Illinois 38, Barrett dropped back to pass, saw no one open and darted left untouched for 16 yards.
Three plays later, he rumbled around the left end, cutting through a gap in the Illini defense and into the end zone.
It was Illinois' last home game this season. Still looking for the sixth win that would make them bowl eligible, the Illini travel to Minnesota on Saturday and then face Northwestern at Soldier Field in Chicago.
AP college football website: collegefootball.ap.org
This story corrects Ohio State's CFP ranking in ninth paragraph to No. 3.