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Game Thread Game Eleven: #1 tOSU 54, Northwestern 10 (11/11/06)


11 and 0; big one to go

Buckeyes cash in on Wildcats? mistakes

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Ken Gordon


OSU defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock pulls down Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton.
OSU?s Antonio Smith, left, prepares to pounce on a fumble that Jay Richardson, top right, forced from Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher.

Brandon Mitchell?s interception and return for a touchdown put the Buckeyes up 21-0 in the first quarter. It was one of two picks for Mitchell.

EVANSTON, Ill. ? Northwestern managed a neat trick yesterday: The Wildcats gave Ohio State a game while also giving OSU the game.
The Wildcats moved the ball well on the Buckeyes, but they also committed five turnovers and had a punt blocked.
Coming off a shaky win last week at Illinois, the Buckeyes thanked the Wildcats very much, converting all six mistakes into points and winning 54-10.
The result for the top-ranked Buckeyes was a good, stiff workout but also a much-needed shot of confidence as they head into their winner-take-all showdown next week against No. 2 Michigan.
"You can?t have two games like that in a row and expect to go into a game like next week in that type of shape," tailback Antonio Pittman said of a 17-10 win at Illinois in which OSU went to the ground in the second half.
The point total was the Buckeyes? highest since a 72-0 victory over Pittsburgh on Sept. 21, 1996.
Troy Smith threw for 184 yards and four touchdowns, tying his career high. Two scores were to Brian Hartline, and one each went to Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez.
Pittman went over 1,000 yards rushing for the season with 80 yards and a touchdown, and freshman back Chris "Beanie" Wells atoned for his recent fumbling problems with a mistake-free day (99 yards, TD).
It was impressive, considering the offensive line played a second straight game without left tackle Alex Boone (knee). Tim Schafer and Jim Cordle rotated at the spot.
"This was a good game after the game that happened last week," center Doug Datish said. "It was good to kind of answer some questions and get things rolling and get a better vibe."
But this wasn?t a case of Ohio State (11-0, 7-0) simply returning to its regularly scheduled blowout. The Wildcats (3-8, 1-6) made the Buckeyes sweat a bit.
Northwestern outgained Ohio State in the first half, 235 yards to 229.
Behind sophomore quarterback C.J. Bacher (17-of-28 passing, 212 yards), the Wildcats put together some impressive drives, including 69 yards for a field goal and 75 yards for a touchdown.
The problem was, that made the score just 27-10 late in the first half because the Wildcats spent the rest of the half messing up.
Northwestern turned the ball over twice on its first five plays and three times on its first 14 snaps ? two fumbles and an interception. The pick by Brandon Mitchell was returned 46 yards for a score and a 21-0 lead by the end of the first quarter.
"We moved the ball well in the first half, but you have to respect the ball," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "You cannot gift-wrap it like that for them. Christmas isn?t for a month and half yet, but Merry Christmas."
But after pulling to 27-10, Smith gave the Wildcats a present, tossing up a long pass intended for Ginn that Sherrick McManis made a nice play on and intercepted.
"Probably a poor call, asking him to throw a home run into the wind," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said.
No worries. Bacher fumbled it right back to the Buckeyes, and Smith then unleashed his weekly Heisman Trophy moment.
On third-and-20 from the Wildcats 34-yard line, Smith stood in against a fierce blitz, got popped as he threw, yet feathered a perfect pass into the hands of a tightly covered Ginn down the left sideline.
It was 33-10 at the half, and Northwestern finally was subdued.
"Ted made a great play on the ball," Smith said. "What more can you ask for from a guy who?s fighting off a defender (McManis) and he?s making plays? "
The Buckeyes finished off the Wildcats after halftime. An interception by Ross Homan ended Bacher?s day early in the third quarter.
Wells had a 33-yard rumble and capped the drive with a score that made it 47-10. Thirdstring quarterback Todd Boeckman ran in for the final TD.
The most telling final statistic was 127-0 ? as in, OSU now has scored 127 points off its opponents? turnovers, to zero points against the Buckeyes after their miscues.
"Our defense does a great job of putting pressure on," Tressel said. "Our guys keep coming, and we always talk about that you better have a relentless defense ? and that?s the way our defense is."
Most important to Tressel, his crew got the wheels back on track after the speed bump last week in Champaign. Just in time, too.
"It was good to get a decisive win," Tressel said. "When you have a rivalry like (Ohio State-Michigan), you?re hoping you?re playing your best football in the last game, and I think we?ve progressed."
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Mistakes lead to Bacher?s early exit
Quarterback had fumble, two picks

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Aaron Portzline

EVANSTON, Ill. ? Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher was ready to cry uncle long before Ohio State completed its 54-10 rout of the Wildcats yesterday in Ryan Field.
After getting benched only two throws into the second half, Bacher said he stood on the sideline counting down the game clock, which he said didn?t move nearly fast enough.
"I couldn?t wait for the game to just get over so we could get on to Illinois (next week)," Bacher said. "I was pretty disappointed in my performance."
Bacher, a sophomore, helped Northwestern pile up 235 yards offense in the first half, 6 yards more than the Buckeyes gained.
But he also stopped the Wildcats cold, fumbling a shotgun snap and throwing two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Brandon Mitchell.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald replaced Bacher with redshirt freshman Mike Kafka.
"We weren?t making real good decisions with the football," Fitzgerald said, explaining the switch.
Bacher finished 17 of 28 for 212 yards and a touchdown.
Not bad numbers, certainly, but his decision-making has to improve before the Wildcats (3-8, 1-6) can hope to compete in the Big Ten.
"I try to force the ball," Bacher said. "It?s a problem I need to get over."
Bacher said his first interception ? returned 46 yards for a touchdown by Mitchell ? was a case of him not giving Mitchell?s speed enough credit.
Rolling out of the pocket, he was trying to hit receiver Ross Lane in the flat, but Mitchell stepped in front of Lane, picked off the pass and was off to the races, giving the Buckeyes a 21-0 lead with 3:38 left in the first quarter.
As for the fumbled snap, recovered by Ohio State?s Antonio Smith at the Northwestern 27-yard line with 10:49 left in the first quarter: "I don?t know what happened on that," he said. "I just lost it."
It was the Wildcats? second lost fumble of the game.
Bacher?s last interception was just a bad throw, he said.
Ohio State linebacker Ross Homan picked it off at the Northwestern 39 with 11:02 left in the second quarter.
"I left the pocket too early, for one thing," Bacher said. "I thought I could get it over the linebacker?s hands ? and I didn?t."
Kafka was 4 of 8 for 17 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
Still, Fitzgerald said he?ll likely go back to Bacher next weekend, when the Wildcats play host to the Illini in their season-ending rivalry game. The winner of that game gets to keep the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk Trophy.
"I don?t know why I wouldn?t go with Bacher," Fitzgerald said. "He?s our quarterback. He?s our guy.
"We just need him to make better decisions with the ball, that?s all."
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Confidence in cornerback led to blitz

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Aaron Portzline

</IMG> NEAL C . LAURON DISPATCH David Patterson, left, Malcolm Jenkins and James Laurinaitis gang up on Northwestern?s Tyrell Sutton.

EVANSTON, Ill. ? Trailing 27-10 in the final seconds of the first half, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald decided against playing it safe.
The Wildcats blitzed Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, leaving freshman cornerback Sherrick McManis in single coverage with receiver Ted Ginn Jr.
It backfired.
Smith hit Ginn with a 34-yard touchdown pass, giving Ohio State a 33-10 lead three seconds before halftime.
"We were trying to make a play," Fitzgerald said. "Sherrick made a couple of plays earlier, and I?ll put Sherrick on anybody in the country.
"The only way you grow and learn is to go out there and experience it. Sherrick?s fearless, and I?m fearless putting him in any situation."
McManis had stood out on two plays just before Ginn?s TD.
He intercepted Smith at the Northwestern 24-yard line with 44 seconds left in the half, but the Wildcats gave it right back two plays later with a fumble.
On the play right before the touchdown, McManis broke up a pass intended for Ginn.
The Buckeyes tried a third time, and succeeded.
"(He) did a good job of not showing his hands until the ball was there," McManis said. "Nice play."
Scarlet and purple ?

Ryan Field, decked in purple, was taken over by a mob of scarlet and gray, maybe 20,000 plus.
"Didn?t notice," Fitzgerald said, abruptly. "I have no idea what you?re talking about."
Then, in full deadpan mode, he looked about the room for a few seconds before breaking the silence.
"C?mon, guys, that was a joke. That was my joke, and you guys didn?t get it. You guys have to have a better read on me than that."
Getting through

In addition to five turnovers, a Wildcats punt wasblocked at their 16 midway through the second quarter. It led to an Ohio State touchdown.
"We just didn?t block them," Fitzgerald said. "It looked like it was just a total bust." [email protected]
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It's time to make history

Ohio State can finally concentrate on Michigan game

By Marla Ridenour

Beacon Journal sportswriter


(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Ohio State's Antonio Smith (14) recovers a fumble as Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher, right, is unable to reach the loose ball during first quarter college football action in Evanston, Ill. Saturday, Nov. 11, 2006.
More photos

EVANSTON, ILL. - History is upon us.
Neither No. 1 Ohio State nor No. 2 Michigan stumbled. After six weeks of the Buckeyes tip-toeing around the only game that anyone cared about, OSU senior right guard T.J. Downing can finally dye his mohawk blue and get away with it.
After a 54-10 stomping of Northwestern on Saturday at Ryan Field, the nation's top-ranked team since the first day of the season could turn its thoughts in the long-awaited direction. With a trip to the BCS national-championship game on the line, Saturday's 3:30 p.m. showdown with the Wolverines will arguably be the biggest in a 103-game series that dates to 1897.
``It was real hard for us not to look forward,'' OSU senior strong safety Brandon Mitchell said. ``Now that it's here, it's surreal. It's probably the biggest game anyone on the team will ever play in.''
OSU (11-0, 7-0 Big), which turned back No. 2 Texas on Sept. 9, will become the first team since Army in 1945 to take on two No. 2s in the regular season. For the first time since 1973, both OSU and Michigan enter the game undefeated.
``The fact that it's one versus two, we think that's the way it should be,'' Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. ``But when you think Ohio State-Michigan, it's not about the BCS, it's about the Big Ten championship and playing against your rival. You think about trying to get good enough to prepare for that.
``Not many teams still have a chance to reach all the goals they set. We handled a lot. Some said in September we didn't have any tough games until Michigan.''
Buckeyes senior quarterback Troy Smith has a chance to go 3-0 as a starter against Michigan.
``It's bigger than anything I've played in the past and I'm actually a part of it,'' Smith said. ``That really blows my mind.''
While OSU ran the nation's longest winning streak to 18 games, this week's practice will not be without its rants from the coaching staff. OSU botched two extra points -- one when Aaron Pettrey's kick was blocked and the other when holder A.J. Trapasso mishandled the snap. Smith threw four touchdown passes, and the Buckeyes rolled up 425 yards of offense, but they got their first 40 points off five Northwestern turnovers and a blocked punt.
For the day, the Wildcats lost three fumbles and threw two interceptions, one that Mitchell returned 46 yards for a touchdown. But OSU also had two giveaways, one on what Tressel described as an ill-advised ``home-run pass into the wind'' to Ted Ginn Jr. (``That's probably on me,'' Tressel said.) and another when tailback Antonio Pittman tried to stretch the ball over the goal line after a 5-yard catch.
But there were pluses, especially in the wake of OSU's 17-10 escape last week at Illinois. Pittman, a junior from Buchtel High School, carried 19 times for 80 yards and a touchdown and became just the fifth Buckeyes running back to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Freshman Chris ``Beanie'' Wells of Garfield gained 99 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown and didn't fumble after dropping four this season. Redshirt freshman receiver Brian Hartline of GlenOak caught the first two touchdown passes of his career. Smith connected on 12-of-19 passes for 185 yards, including a perfect 34-yard scoring strike to Ginn with three seconds left in the first half, as Ginn fought off cornerback Sherrick McManis.
The Buckeyes hit the 50-point mark for the first time since the national-championship season of 2002 (twice) and recorded their highest point total since a 72-0 rout of Pittsburgh in 1996.
``We thought it was real important to come here and play sharp on the road,'' Tressel said.
Now it's time to do the same at home and earn a chance to battle for OSU's second national title in five seasons.
``Every week friends said, `If you don't get me a ticket for this game, just get me one for the Michigan game,' '' Pittman said. ``There's going to be a lot of unhappy people.''
As sophomore linebacker James Laurinaitis said, ``We haven't looked forward at all and now we finally get to.''
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Ohio State notebook

Hartline catches 2 TD passes

Pittman tops 1,000. Wells avoids fumbles

By Marla Ridenour

Beacon Journal sportswriter

EVANSTON, ILL. - Until Saturday, Brian Hartline's biggest impact for Ohio State came when he won the Jack Tatum hit of the week on special teams against Indiana. His biggest catch had been on the first pass of the season opener against Northern Illinois.
But the redshirt freshman receiver from GlenOak made a big splash with the first two touchdowns of his career in Saturday's 54-10 victory at Northwestern.
Coming in with 10 catches for 175 yards in 10 games, Hartline pulled in three for 47 yards against the Wildcats. But he made his opportunities count.
On the Buckeyes' first possession, quarterback Troy Smith found him in the right corner of the end zone for a 14-yard score. The closest defender was strong safety Reggie McPherson, who couldn't stop OSU from capitalizing on the first of the Wildcats' five turnovers.
Then with 4:35 left in the first half, Smith found Hartline underneath the goal posts for a 9-yard touchdown to give OSU a 27-3 lead. That play came out of a five-receiver formation.
``Brian Hartline is a player,'' OSU coach Jim Tressel said. ``It doesn't matter what position you want to put him in -- three wides, four wides or five wides -- he's a competitor, and he's going to be where you tell him to be. Troy found him in that same spot in practice this week. Troy read it and found him a couple times in the seam. He goes up and makes the tough catches and gets hit.''
Pittman in rare air
With 80 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown, junior Antonio Pittman of Buchtel became just the fifth running back in Ohio State history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Pittman, now with 1,030 to follow his 1,331-yard campaign a year ago, joined Archie Griffin (1973-74-75), Tim Spencer (1981-82), Keith Byars (1983-84) and Eddie George (1994-95).
``That's huge,'' Pittman said. ``The offensive line has worked hard for me all year. I owe it all to the offensive line.''
Sutton's screens
Northwestern sophomore tailback Tyrell Sutton of Hoban was held to 57 yards on 12 carries, but he gashed the Buckeyes on screen passes for 75 yards on seven catches, including an 8-yard touchdown.
Beanie holds on
OSU's leading rusher was freshman Chris ``Beanie'' Wells of Garfield, who picked up 99 yards on 11 carries, including a season-high 33-yard run. He also scored his sixth touchdown on a 1-yard run. More important, Wells didn't fumble after losing three in the previous four games and four this season.
Tough trip to game
Ohio State didn't arrive at its hotel until after 10 p.m. Friday when heavy rain and wind closed O'Hare International and Midway airports. The Buckeyes' plans were originally thwarted when their charter plane was hit by a truck at the Columbus airport. They watched the Adam Sandler movie Click during the three-plus hours they sat on the second plane before takeoff. The team had to fly to Milwaukee and bus to suburban Chicago.
``Any time it takes half a day to get here, it concerns you,'' Tressel said.
Senior Tim Schafer started at left tackle in place of injured Alex Boone, who missed his second consecutive game after a knee procedure. Backup center Jim Cordle, a redshirt freshman, also rotated in.... The crowd of 47,130 was at least 60-40 in favor of Ohio State.... Tressel lifted Smith with 12:55 remaining for senior Justin Zwick. Sophomore Todd Boeckman also got in for a series.
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Countdown on for Buckeyes and Wolverines
Sunday, November 12, 2006


Ohio State?s Brian Hartline celebrates with teammate Anthony Gonzalez (11) after Hartline?s first-quarter touchdown catch Saturday. Hartline, a GlenOak graduate, would add a second TD during the Buckeyes? 54-10 win over Northwestern.​

EVANSTON, Ill. The Ohio State Buckeyes made quick work of Northwestern, and now it?s finally time to turn their attention to Michigan.
?It?s the biggest rivalry in college football,? running back Antonio Pittman said after the top-ranked Buckeyes routed Northwestern, 54-10, on Saturday. ?And it?s been talked about for the last six weeks.?
And it will be talked about day and night before Saturday?s showdown in Columbus ? No. 2 Michigan (11-0) vs. No. 1 Ohio State (11-0).
?It?s what you dream about as a little kid, playing in that game,? defensive tackle David Patterson said.
The stakes have never been higher, either, with the winner getting to play in the Bowl Championship Series title game Jan. 8.
James Laurinaitis set the tone for the Buckeyes when he forced a fumble on the opening possession, and Troy Smith threw four touchdown passes.
The 54 points were the most for Ohio State since a 72-0 victory over Pittsburgh on Sept. 21, 1996, and the defense played a major role in that.
The Buckeyes converted four turnovers and a blocked punt into touchdowns en route to a 33-10 halftime lead and their 18th consecutive victory ? the nation?s longest winning streak.
Smith matched a season-high with his TD passes and threw for 185 yards while completing 12-of-19 with one interception. Pittman ran for 80 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, and Chris Wells ran for a season-high 99 yards and a touchdown. Brian Hartline caught two touchdown passes.
Laurinaitis jarred the ball from Shaun Herbert after a catch near midfield on the fourth play from scrimmage, setting up Hartline?s 14-yard touchdown catch, and the Buckeyes forced a season-high five turnovers.
C.J. Bacher was 17-of-28 for 212 yards with a touchdown for the Wildcats but threw two interceptions before being replaced by Mike Kafka midway through the third quarter. Tyrell Sutton carried 12 times for 57 yards and caught seven passes for 75, but Northwestern (3-8, 1-6) couldn?t hang onto the ball.
?We moved the ball up and down the field, but a fumble here, a fumble there, an interception here and an interception there ? you can?t make mistakes like that against the No. 1 team in the country,? Herbert said.
Two years after a 33-27 overtime loss at Ryan Field ? its first to the Wildcats in 33 years ? Ohio State led 21-0 after the first quarter. Unlike last week, when the Buckeyes allowed 10 points in the fourth and hung on to win 17-10 at Illinois, there was no drama.
Their only difficulties were getting to Evanston.
Scheduled to leave Columbus at 3:30 p.m. Friday, they had to wait for another plane to arrive from Miami after a truck backed into the nose of their charter. Bad weather then kept them on the ground until 8 p.m. and forced them to land in Milwaukee instead of O?Hare International Airport. They finally arrived at their hotel at 10:30 p.m.
With the stands colored in Buckeyes red, Ohio State made itself at home and recovered fumbles on Northwestern?s first two possessions.
After Laurinaitis forced the fumble, Smith started the ensuing drive with a 28-yard pass to Anthony Gonzalez that put the ball on the Northwestern 27. Four plays later, Hartline had his first touchdown, and Ohio State had a 7-0 lead.
Northwestern, which upset Iowa a week earlier, immediately gave the ball back.
This time, Bacher fumbled away the snap on the second play, and Antonio Smith recovered, giving Ohio State possession at the Northwestern 27. After Pittman ran 14 yards to the 1, he bounced off the line and turned right for the second touchdown. And Brandon Mitchell made it 21-0 with 3:38 left in the first quarter when he picked off Bacher in front of the Northwestern sideline and returned it 46 yards.
The Michigan game was an annual nightmare for the Buckeyes in the recent past. Ohio State was 2-10-1 against the Wolverines and never had a perfect November in 13 seasons under former coach John Cooper. But they?ve had better luck since Jim Tressel took over, winning four of five against the Wolverines, who beat Indiana 34-3 earlier Saturday.
If Ohio State was looking ahead, it was tough to tell. The Buckeyes did a good job staying in the moment even though several players admitted it wasn?t easy.
?It was real hard not to look forward,? Mitchell said. ?Now that it?s here, it?s a surreal feeling.?

No. 1 Ohio State 54, Northwestern 10
Ohio St. 21 12 14 7 ? 54
Northwestern 0 10 0 0 ? 10
First Quarter
OSU?Hartline 14 pass from T.Smith (Pettrey kick), 11:28.
OSU?Pittman 1 run (Pettrey kick), 9:25.
OSU?Bra.Mitchell 46 interception return (Pettrey kick), 3:38.
Second Quarter
NU?FG Howells 29, 13:59.
OSU?Hartline 9 pass from T.Smith (kick blocked), 4:35.
NU?Sutton 8 pass from Bacher (Howells kick), 2:10.
OSU?Ginn Jr. 34 pass from T.Smith (run failed), :03.
Third Quarter
OSU?Gonzalez 6 pass from T.Smith (Pettrey kick), 8:52.
OSU?C.Wells 1 run (Pettrey kick), :15.
Fourth Quarter
OSU?Boeckman 4 run (Pretorius kick), 2:29.
First downs 22 17
Rushes-yards 44-231 24-68
Passing 194 229
Comp-Att-Int 14-24-1 21-36-2
Return Yards 60 21
Punts-Avg. 2-38.5 4-25.3
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 3-3
Penalties-Yards 3-30 2-17
Time of Possession 28:08 31:52
RUSHING?Ohio St., C.Wells 11-99, Pittman 19-80, M.Wells 7-32, T.Smith 5-15, Boeckman 2-5. Northwestern, Sutton 12-57, Conteh 4-17, Jordan Jr. 2-8, Bacher 3-(minus 2), Kafka 3-(minus 12).
PASSING?Ohio St., T.Smith 12-19-1-185, Zwick 2-4-0-9, Boeckman 0-1-0-0. Northwestern, Bacher 17-28-2-212, Kafka 4-8-0-17. RECEIVING?Ohio St., Hartline 3-47, Ginn Jr. 2-40, Gonzalez 2-34, Nicol 2-27, M.Wells 1-25, Robiskie 1-6, Pittman 1-6, Hall 1-5, Ballard 1-4. Northwestern, Sutton 7-75, Herbert 4-57, Ward 4-38, R.Lane 4-28, Cobb 1-26, Peterman 1-5.
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The Game is on

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Doug Lesmerises
Plain Dealer Reporter

Evanston, Ill. -- Apologies to Northwestern, but the Wildcats probably slipped out of the heads of Ohio State's players and fans soon after that three-touchdown barrage in the first quarter Saturday. Michigan week is here, and finally the No. 1 team in the country can embrace the game that everyone's been thinking about, whether they admitted it or not, for months.
"It's bigger than anything I've known in the past, and I'm actually a part of it," Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith said. "So it really blows my mind."
Finishing their season-long appetizer, the Buckeyes dispatched the Wildcats, 54-10, at Ryan Field, Ohio State posting its first 50-point game since 2002 and its largest point total since a 72-0 win over Pitt in 1996. It wasn't perfect, helped by five turnovers pried loose from the mistake-prone Wildcats, but it was enough to restore any confidence shaken by a tighter-than-expected 17-10 win at Illinois last week.
"This was a good game after what happened last week to answer some questions and get things rolling," OSU center Doug Datish said.
Smith threw four touchdown passes, two to Brian Hartline and one each to Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez. Running back Chris Wells worked through his fumbling problems with a 99-yard effort.
Antonio Pittman broke the 1,000-yard mark for the season by running for 80.
Then the countdown was on for next Saturday?s No. 1 vs. No. 2 game against Michigan, the first time the greatest rivalry in college football has included the top two teams in the country. Each team is 11-0 and 7-0 in the Big Ten, the first time they?ve met as unbeatens since 1973.
?The Ohio State-Michigan game is always big,? Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. "It doesn?t matter what the records are or what?s on the table for the outcome. The fact it?s 1 vs. 2, we think that?s the way it should be for the Ohio State-Michigan game.?
Tressel said he?s been impressed with the way the Buckeyes have kept their heads down during a humdrum stretch the last six weeks. The only noticeable letdown on the field was against the Illini. Players stuck to the Tressel script, but the coaches can't control their minds.
?Your mind wanders from time to time, but then you realize we have to focus week to week,? safety Brandon Mitchell said.
?You maybe look at [Michigan?s] defense and think, ?Ohh, I can?t wait to play that game,? but I think the coaches do a good job focusing on everyone playing one game at a time.?
It was hard not to stumble when the Wolverines were all that their friends and family have wanted to talk about.
?Every week, they say don?t worry about getting me tickets to this game, just get me one for the Michigan game,? Pittman said. ?But I only have four, so there?s going to be a lot of unhappy people. Everybody asks you questions about it, and you find yourself thinking about it a lot, but it was always one week at a time. Now that week is here, so we can think about it a lot now.?
The goal against Northwestern was to give Michigan more to think about. Playing with a wrap on his right thumb, Smith was solid again, with spectacular sprinkled in. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 185 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 26 on the season. He also threw his fourth interception of the year on a deep ball that Ginn said got caught up in the wind. He made up for that with a perfect sideline lob to Ginn for a 34-yard score with three seconds left in the first half, which put Ohio State up, 33-10.
?Our coaches always say to beat your man first before you look back, so that?s what I was doing,? Ginn said. ?And when I turned around, it was right there, and I just stuck my hands out.?
Linebacker James Laurinaitis reached his hand in to force a fumble on Northwestern?s first possession, Malcolm Jenkins forced another fumble and Wildcats quarterback C.J. Bacher dropped a shotgun snap for a third miscue. Mitchell intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown, linebacker Ross Homan?s pick made it 21 interceptions this season for the Buckeyes, and you can?t forget the blocked punt by Larry Grant.
Ohio State turned every single mistake by Northwestern (3-8, 1-6 Big Ten) into a touchdown.
But the Buckeyes turned it over twice themselves, on Smith?s pick and on a fumble near the goal line when Pittman was stripped after catching a swing pass.
?We need to straighten that out,? Tressel said. ?That cannot happen next week.?
Next week is finally now. No more wandering, no more week at a time, just every reason for every player on the best two teams in college football to play the game of his life.
?It?s the biggest game I?ll ever play in my whole football career,? said Pittman.
What else could it be?
To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:
[email protected], 216-999-4479
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Touchdown club receives Hartline

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Doug Lesmerises

Plain Dealer Reporter

Evanston, Ill. -- Freshman receiver Brian Hartline joined the club Saturday, becoming the eighth Buckeyes player and sixth wide receiver to catch a touchdown pass this season. Then he did it again.
After grabbing a 14-yard pass from Troy Smith for the first score in Ohio State's 54-10 win over North western, he fol lowed it with a 9-yard touch down in the sec ond quarter as he finished as Ohio State's leading re ceiver, with 47 yards on three catches.
"He's a compet itor, and he's going to be where you want him to be," said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, noting that the touch downs came on plays that the Buckeyes figured out in practice this week would likely be open.
"Any time a young guy can make key plays for you, it's a tre mendous boost for his confidence and also the offense, knowing we have another guy we can lean on," Smith said. "Hartline has been there the whole season, and he's going to continue to blossom as a great receiver."
Ted Ginn Jr. leads the Buckeyes with eight touchdown catches this season, Anthony Gonzalez has seven, Brian Robiskie has four, tight end Rory Nicol has three, Hartline has two and Roy Hall, Ray Small and tight end Jake Ballard each have one.
Pittman goes back-to-back:
Antonio Pittman ran for 80 yards, giving him 1,032 rushing yards on the season. That made him the fifth Ohio State rusher to record consecutive 1,000 seasons, joining Eddie George, Archie Griffin, Keith Byars and Tim Spencer.
"That's huge," Pittman said. "With all the weapons on this team, it's still possible for me to get 1,000 yards for the second year in a row. That was one of my goals, and now I've accomplished that. I owe it all to the offensive line."
In and out:
Freshman linebacker Ross Homan saw more much action than he has in recent weeks, playing several series alongside James Laurinaitis with the first-team defense. Marcus Freeman, who's normally the starter there, did play some with the first team and saw more action later in the game when the Buckeyes backups came in. Laurinaitis said Freeman wasn't injured, that the coaches just went with a little more Homan. The freshman responded with an interception and five tackles, which tied Laurinaitis for second-most on the team.
"That's the strength of our defense," Laurinaitis said. "We have so much depth, and Ross had a tremendous game today. He made a lot of player, and anytime you have depth as a team, it helps."
The Buckeyes also reached for some depth on the offensive line in the absence of starting left tackle Alex Boone for the second straight game. Tim Schafer started at left tackle as he did last week, but freshman Jim Cordle saw his first major action of the season, rotating with Schafer from series to series with the first team. Cordle was primarily working as the No. 2 or No. 3 center early in the year, but he's been the second-team left tackle in practice ever since Boone went down.
Tressel said earlier in the week he thinks Boone will be able to play against Michigan.
To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:
[email protected], 216-999-4479
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4 things I thought about the game

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Getting a grip

I may be getting too caught up in the Chris Wells fumble saga, but as Ohio State's biggest back, he's a piece the Buckeyes will really need against Michigan's tremendous defensive line. He was made for a game like that one, just to pound it on short yardage and to give Antonio Pittman a break, because you know Pittman is going to need a breather at times against that defense. So what Wells did Saturday, rushing 11 times for 99 yards, a touchdown and no fumbles, was a big, big deal, even if most of it came at the end of the blowout.

Flat-out good play

Jim Tressel and the rest of the Buckeyes know fully the role Wells could play against the Wolverines, and they weren't overstating what Saturday did for him. "That was good," said Tressel. "That was huge," said Troy Smith. Does it guarantee Wells won't fumble against Michigan next week? No, but there was nothing more the Buckeyes could do to boost his confidence than what they did. Did you see him flatten that safety on his 33-yard run in the third quarter?

Mr. Smith doesn't go

He got away with it, but I don't understand why Tressel still had Smith in the game late in the third quarter, when Smith had a sore throwing thumb, the Buckeyes had a 30-point lead and Michigan was waiting. Justin Zwick took over on the first drive of the fourth quarter, but that was one drive too late. I'm not saying take the guy out before halftime, but you had nothing to gain and everything to lose by keeping the most important Buckeyes player on the field that late. And Smith did absorb a big sack on his final drive.

One, two, ready, go

We won't see it or hear about it because the players will be off limits after giving interviews Monday. But you hope all the Buckeyes and all the Wolverines enjoy what should be the best week of their young lives. We're all going to hype this thing until our ears bleed, but to be part of the first 1 vs. 2 game in the history of college football's biggest rivalry is a rare treat, and they should suck that up before any of them have to walk off the field at Ohio Stadium in defeat Saturday.

- Doug Lesmerises
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Five bests

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Best strip

There wasn't much to the drive yet, but Northwestern receiver Shaun Herbert had just gained 13 yards on a third-and-8 play early in the first quarter when he met Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis. The Wildcats would have had the ball near midfield on the first possession of the game, trying to knock the Buckeyes back on their heels. But with his left hand, Laurinaitis reached in and ripped out the ball, forcing the first of what would be five Wildcats turnovers on the day.
"We work a lot of that in practice," Laurinaitis said. "We do drills on that kind of play, and Jamario [O'Neal] already had him held up, and it just came back to practice and trying to get the ball out."

Best fake

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel pulled out another wrinkle, like the little step-up pass that looked like an option run last week. This time it came out of the shotgun, with Antonio Pittman and Ted Ginn Jr. flanking Troy Smith in the backfield. Smith faked a throw, hard, to the right to Ginn, then handed off to Pittman inside. Pittman busted it up the middle for a gain of 14, down to the 1-yard line, then scored on the next play for a 14-0 Ohio State lead.
When you fake a short pass to Ginn, defenders react.
"That just comes from our coaches," Ginn said. "They do a lot of studying and a lot of work on and off the field. They put the plays in, and we just run them."

Best block

Larry Grant plunged through the line for Ohio State's first blocked punt of the season in the second quarter. The most recent punt block by the Buckeyes was by Quinn Pitcock against the Wildcats last season. Grant practically took the ball off the foot of punter Slade Larscheid and then landed on top of it on the 16-yard line. Two Pittman runs and a 9-yard pass to Brian Hartline then gave Ohio State a 27-3 lead.
Grant started the season actually getting to play a couple series each week as the backup middle linebacker behind Laurinaitis. But as Laurinaitis turned into a Butkus Award finalist, Grant's playing time disappeared. That block showed off the athleticism that led Ohio State to take him as a rare junior college transfer in the first place.

Best grab

After letting an onside kick go right through his hands last week, forcing teammate Brian Robiskie to bounce on the ball to avoid a potential Illinois comeback, Buckeyes safety Brandon Mitchell vowed to grab every ball that came near him this week.
On an underthrown sideline pass in the first quarter, Mitchell jumped the route, picked off the pass and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown, joining Malcolm Jenkins and Antonio Smith as Buckeyes who have scored defensive touchdowns this season.
"Anytime you're put in the limelight, you want to make a play for the team, and last week I didn't make a play," Mitchell said. "So I made sure I caught every ball this week just to get my confidence back up, and I think that really helped me today."

Best pass

It's hard not to talk about that perfectly lofted touchdown pass from Smith to Ginn with three seconds left to play in the first half. Smith was only 12-of-19 on the day for 185 yards, his third consecutive game passing for fewer than 200 yards. And a few of his passes had been caught in the wind. But that 34-yard score, hitting Ginn perfectly in stride, was the play that seemed to let Buckeyes fans know that Smith, despite his sore right thumb, was OK. And that's all anybody wanted to know heading into the Michigan game.
Smith will enter that game having completed 170 of 256 passes (66.4 percent) for 2,191 yards, with 26 touchdowns and four interceptions.

- Doug Lesmerises
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Smith, Ginn connect for 'spectacular' touchdown

By Lucas Sullivan
Staff Writer

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Evanston, Ill. ? Ohio State coach Jim Tressel didn't think Ted Ginn Jr. was going to get his head turned around in time. Quarterback Troy Smith didn't see the play because he was smacked in the mouth by a Northwestern defender as he threw the football.
It didn't matter. Ginn caught the ball just in time and turned it into a 34-yard touchdown pass just before halftime. It was Ohio State's most productive play from scrimmage of the half and salvaged what seemed like a sluggish start by the offense.
"Troy was in control and in command the whole time," Tressel said. "He knew that Teddy was taking off, but he was reading some things first. To me, the athletic part about dropping it in there ? I'm not sure Teddy knew it was coming because he was working so hard to get off coverage ? and all of the sudden, as soon as he turned his head, it dropped in his bread basket. It was just a spectacular play by a great quarterback."
Buckeye fans might have recognized the play as the same one run against Texas, when Smith touched his helmet with both hands after noticing Ginn was one-on-one with a defender, then threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to him just before halftime.
Smith said the one-on-one coverage wasn't something he noticed right away and credited Ginn's athleticism for the score.
"Ginn made a great play on the ball," said Smith, who tied a career-high against Northwestern with four touchdown passes in a game. "What more can you ask for from a guy who's fighting off a defender and then makes a play right at the end of the half."
Wells rebounds
After being benched during the Illinois game after his fourth fumble of the season, running back Chris Wells was let out of Tressel's doghouse and proved why he is worth a second try.
The OSU freshman rushed 11 times for 99 yards, 97 of those in the second half, and scored a touchdown.
After the game, Tressel had nothing but good things to say about his young tailback.
"I've said for quite some time he's going to need to be a part of something big if we're going to be the best we can be," Tressel said and then joked, "He looked to me like he stumbled and he almost had a chance to go to the house a couple times."
Delays and more delays
Ohio State was scheduled to arrive in Chicago sometime Friday evening, but severe weather in the Windy City delayed its flight by several hours. Not wanting to get in too late for the 3:30 p.m. kickoff, the Buckeyes decided to fly into Milwaukee and were bused to their Wyndham Suites hotel in Glenview, Ill., in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
It didn't seem to affect the Buckeyes, but put some stress on the coaching staff.
"Any time you head out and it takes you half a day to get here, that concerns you," Tressel said.
Like a second home
As the crowd started filtering into Northwestern's Ryan Field it became obvious who bought most of the 47,130 tickets ? Ohio State fans.
More than half that were on hand to watch the Buckeyes' trounce Northwestern were wearing scarlet and gray, and the "O-H-I-O" chant was heard at its normal times during the game.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald didn't notice the difference and seemed irritated when asked about it.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he said. "That's a joke, everyone in the Big Ten travels well. We travel well when we go on the road, too."
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OSU wins big, prepares for Michigan

The 11-0 Buckeyes put the Wildcats away early, then all attention turns to OSU's battle with 11-0 Michigan.

By Lucas Sullivan
Staff Writer

Sunday, November 12, 2006

EVANSTON, Ill. ? The Ohio State football team won, but, more importantly, it's officially Michigan week.
The Buckeyes defense and special teams served up four first-half turnovers and a blocked punt Saturday en route to a 54-10 beating of Northwestern at Ryan Field.
The win makes way for what everyone in college football has been clamoring for since mid-October ? the battle of the unbeatens in the fiercest rivalry in all of sports ? No. 2 Michigan (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) against top-ranked Ohio State (11-0, 7-0).
It took just one question hurled at Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel in the post-game press conference before the win turned into an afterthought and immediately to the Wolverines, who beat Indiana, 34-3, Saturday.
"The fact that it's 1 vs. 2, you think that's the way it should be for the Ohio State-Michigan game," Tressel said. "We're excited."
Exciting, too, was the way Ohio State's defense performed, forcing five turnovers while terrorizing Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher all day.
"Last week, we didn't play as well as we wanted to," OSU senior free safety Brandon Mitchell said. "We talk about taking a step forward each week. Last week, we talked about how we took a step backward."
Mitchell scored a touchdown on a 46-yard interception of Bacher in the first quarter. Ohio State scored three touchdowns in that time frame on just 12 plays that amassed 84 yards.
"Defensively, I say time and time again, 'What more could we ask for?' " Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith said. "The defense shows up day in and day out holding (teams) back."
Smith tied a career high with four touchdown passes, completing 12-of-19 attempts for 185 yards.
Ohio State tallied 425 yards of offense in the game, while holding Northwestern (3-8, 1-6) to 297 yards, 62 in the second half.
Stat of the game
Ohio State was 8-of-13 (62 percent) on third down and 2-of-3 (67 percent) on fourth down.
He said it
OSU senior co-captain and starting center Doug Datish on playing No. 2 Michigan on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Columbus, arguably the biggest game in the rivalry's storied history: "It's called 'The Game' for a reason. It's going to be physical and everything it's been made out to be."
Tough tickets
Are you going to the Ohio State-Michigan game? If you're not a season-ticket holder and have gone ? or will go ? to great lengths to secure tickets, we'd like to hear your story. E-mail us at [email protected].
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