The “But the beat goes on da da dum da dum da da”- Eminem from “Lose Yourself”
Troy Smith ran his record as a starter in Ohio Stadium to 14-0, Antonio Pittman moved to within 106 yards of another 1000-yard season and the Buckeye defense finally pitched that elusive shutout to move into the #1 spot in the country in scoring defense as Ohio State blanked Minnesota 44-0 on Homecoming Saturday.
It only took the Bucks about 4 minutes to set the tone on one of the most blustery afternoons I can remember in the ‘Shoe. OSU’s initial first down of the day brought back a few memories as Troy Smith threw towards the east sideline for Antonio Pittman. Fullback Stan White, Jr. was between Smith and Pitt and he reached up, caught the ball and rumbled to the Minnesota 45. Shades of Brandon Schnittker against TBGUN in 2002 when the freshman went up and snagged a Craig Krenzel throw intended for Michael Jenkins, launching the memorable go-ahead drive.
After Ted Ginn, Jr. picked up 6 on a reverse, Pittman carried for 6, 11 and 8, setting up a 2nd-and-2 at the Gopher 14. Chris Wells converted the first down with a 4-yard plunge to the 10, and on the next play Pitt broke through the left side and raced to the corner for his ninth touchdown of the year, putting the Scarlet and Gray up early 7-0.
Glen Mason’s offense, hampered by the loss of tight end Matt Spaeth, quickly went 3-and-out. Punter Justin Kucek launched a 47-yard rocket to the OSU 27 that took a bad hop backwards or it would have easily gone 50+. Two Troy Smith runs moved the chains to the 40, and then Pitt worked a beautifully executed screen pass for 30, his longest reception of the year so far. The march bogged down, and despite the swirling winds Aaron Pettrey entered and drilled a 42-yard field goal off the flagpole at the north end, extending Ohio State’s lead to 10-0.
Gopher QB Bryan Cupito was able to engineer a pair of first downs, but Curtis Terry’s tackle-for-loss on freshman tailback E.J. Jones helped disrupt the drive, and Kucek again punted away with Ginn returning it 11 yards to his 20. Pittman motored for 11, and two plays later Anthony Gonzalez got involved with an 8-yard, first-down catch. Stan White, Jr. hauled in another toss for 11, and then it was back to the screen to Pitt, this time for 17 more to the Gopher 30. The Bucks have never been much of a screen team under Jim Tressel, but these were flawless and give TBGUN even more to think about, considering how active their defensive front seven is. Two plays gained nine to the 21, but on 3rd-and-1 Chris Wells plowed for 6 before fumbling on a play where it didn’t appear he really got hit. Dominique Barber recovered for Minnesota to quell the Buckeye threat.
Cupito overcame a 3rd-and-8 with a nice slant throw to Eric Decker for 12, but a 3rd-and-15 pass to Mike Chambers moments later only produced 10 and the Gophers were forced to punt. Kucek’s boot only went 28 yards, rolling out of bounds at the Ohio State 44.
The Buckeyes inserted their second-string “O”-line and Minnesota took advantage immediately as Steve Davis stripped the ball away from Troy Smith and Neel Allen pounced on the pigskin at OSU’s 38. After two incompletions, Cupito hooked up with Logan Payne for 9 yards on a crossing route, leaving the Gophers a yard shy of the first down. Tailback Amir Pinnix got the call but was hit by Jay Richardson and then swarmed under by Jamario O’Neal and Vernon Gholston short of the first.
Coming off fumbles on back-to-back plays, Ohio State did what they seem to do on those rare occasions that the offense isn’t clicking- feed Antonio Pittman. Three straight totes by the junior tailback gained 11 yards to the OSU 40, and then Smith danced for 11 into Minnesota territory at the 49. The next dice roll came up 11 as well, literally, as Anthony Gonzalez snared his second reception of the day at the 38. Smith found Ginn wide open at the sideline for 15 and a first down at the Gopher 20, and then two plays later Troy fake-pumped to his left and let fly back to the right with a rainbow to Brian Robiskie for an 18-yard scoring strike. 3:49 remained in the first half and the Bucks were up 17-0.
Minnesota got decent field position to their 35 as a personal-foul facemask penalty was tacked on to Keith Massey’s kickoff return. Two runs by E.J. Jones netted a first down at the Gopher 46, but Cupito’s pass for tight end Jack Simmons was too high and Malcolm Jenkins made an easy pick, bringing it back 29 yards to Minnesota’s 35. It was Jenkins’ 4th interception of ’06, tying him with James Laurinaitis for the team lead. Two Antonio Pittman carries gained 7, but a third-down aerial for Ginn was off the mark, bringing up a 4th-and-3. Smith found Gonzo for 11 to move the sticks, and the Buckeyes were in good shape on the Gopher 17.
Troy Smith hit a quick out left to freshman wideout Ray Small, but corner Dominic Jones, a Columbus Brookhaven grad, timed it perfectly and absolutely planted Small at the 20, knocking him out cold. Roy Hall got to Small first and gestured for medical attention from the OSU sideline, and the Minnesota staff had already come off their bench to help. After a few nervous seconds, Small moved his legs, then was able to sit up and then walk off with assistance. Mason called the hit “horrific” afterwards and Small’s day was finished on a hard, but clean, hit. The play left Ohio State with a 2nd-and-13 situation, and things looked good as Smith scrambled down to the two, but guard Steve Rehring was called for hands to the face, and after the flag the Bucks were back on the Minnesota 35. Instead of running a play to try and get a few more yards before calling time to get Pettrey out, the Bucks burned that final timeout then came up empty as Troy Smith’s running throw towards the endzone was short. The Scarlet and Gray went into the locker room with the 17-0 lead, finishing a half where they only ran four third-down plays. They converted two, although Chris Wells’ fumble occurred after one of them. Pettrey’s field goal resulted from one of the misfires, while a Gonzo reception on fourth down kept the final drive of the first half alive.
Minnesota had the ball to begin the second half and it took the Bucks just three plays to gain control of the game for good. Jay Richardson, who had batted down a Bryan Cupito pass on second down, brought the heat again, resulting in Cupito floating a throw right into the arms of Antonio Smith, who returned the pick to the Gopher 23. On 3rd-and-8, Troy Smith found no one open and took off, juking Deon Hightower at the 15 and cruising untouched into the endzone for his first rushing score of the year. While I have no complaints with Troy’s patience in the pocket this year, it was refreshing (and hopefully unsettling for TBGUN) to see the Troy of old on the run, making it 24-0, OSU.
The Gophers scratched out one first down on their next series, but with Curtis Terry bearing down on him, Cupito heaved back across field towards tight end Jack Simmons, who was outfought for the football by Jamario O’Neal at Minnesota’s 41. It was J-O’s first career interception, and Tressel went for the jugular immediately as Troy Smith fired deep for Ted Ginn, Jr., but again they couldn’t hook up. On the next play Troy checked off, but Antonio Pittman didn’t get the audible and broke right as Smith looked to handoff to the left side. Smith was able to save face by scrambling for 4, then Ginn ran about 100 yards to get three on an out route which was all for naught as Pitt was called for a block in the back. Facing 3rd-and-14, Smith fired one of his best passes of the season down the seam to Brian Hartline at the Gopher 20. Hartline danced down to the 13 for a first down, and with Minnesota’s defense reeling, Pittman atoned for the penalty and missed audible as he circled left end for his second touchdown of the afternoon. Aaron Pettrey capped off the successful, if sloppy, scoring drive by missing his first extra-point kick of the year, keeping the count at 30-0, Bucks.
Ohio State’s next drive stayed mostly ground-bound, as Chris Wells picked up a first down on an 8-yard gain where he dragged half the Gopher defense along for the ride. Maurice Wells had to leave the game with a shoulder stinger two plays later (eerily reminiscent of “you know who”), but Chris Wells again converted a first down, carrying Dominique Barber for the last 5 of a 15-yard pickup to midfield. On the final play of period three, Brian Hartline bobbled, then caught, an 18-yard strike from Troy Smith, setting the Bucks up at the Gopher 17 as play resumed. Pittman took an option pitch for 10, and then it was Chris Wells for 4 and the final three to paydirt. Pettrey’s kick was true and Ohio State’s advantage bulged to 37-0.
The Buckeye second-team defense did their part, forcing Minnesota to punt on their next possession, but Malcolm Jenkins tried to field the kick on the dead run and fumbled it away at the OSU 36. Not wanting to give up a late score and wreck the shutout like in East Lansing, Jim Heacock sent the first-team “D” back out.
The Bucks held Eric Decker to only six yards on a 3rd-and-8 pass, but they were called for holding to give Minnesota a fresh set of downs. Two passes went incomplete before Cupito and Simmons teamed up for a 9-yard reception. With 4th-and-1 at the Buckeye 15, Glen Mason rolled the dice and had Cupito run for the first down, but freshman Ross Homan stood the quarterback up for no gain and OSU took over.
Justin Zwick entered to call signals, and after three Chris Wells runs gained 10 and a first down, “Z” hit Roy Hall with a 16-yard dart to move the sticks again. Wells powered for 11 with a 5-yard facemask penalty thrown in, and then Hartline continued his terrific afternoon with a 10-yard snag, giving the Buckeyes a first down at the Gopher 30. After Wells lost a yard, Zwick went with the hot hand, going back to Hartline for 11 more to the Minnesota 20. Wells shook off a tackle and steamed to the Gopher 5, then picked up 4 yards on first-and-goal to put the ball on the doorstep. Justin Zwick took matters into his own hands, sneaking across for, believe it or not, his first career rushing touchdown, much to the delight of Troy Smith and everyone on the west sideline. Pettrey’s PAT upped the margin to 44-0, and it stayed that way as the Gophers threw in the towel and ran out the clock. It was Ohio State’s first shutout since blanking Northwestern 20-0 in 2003, and it allowed the Bucks to assume the #1 spot in the nation in scoring defense.
The Buckeyes head to Champaign Saturday to tangle with Illinois, with kickoff on ESPN-2 set for 3:30. It will be Ohio State’s first visit to Memorial Stadium since their first ever overtime game, a 23-16 win over the Illini on November 16, 2002. Minnesota finds themselves in the unenviable position of needing to win their last three games just to go bowling, the first of which will be a visit from Indiana at noon Saturday.
RANDOM THOUGHTS- The gentleman who scored the winning touchdown in OSU’s last visit to Champaign in 2002, Maurice Hall, will be the honorary captain this Saturday…While Ray Small’s status for Saturday is up in the air, Jim Tressel also announced during his weekly media get-together that DT Quinn Pitcock and OT Alex Boone are questionable against Illinois. Anthony Gonzalez, who didn’t play the entire second half against Minnesota with a mild concussion, should be good to go…USC’s much overdue first loss of the season to Oregon State puts the Buckeyes and Wolverines solidly #1 and #2 in both the polls and the BCS standings, and makes Thursday night’s West Virginia-Louisville matchup even bigger…
DÉJÀ VU?- Illinois’ freshman quarterback Isaiah Williams is nicknamed “Juice”. It’s believed to be the first time Ohio State has faced anyone called “Juice” since throttling O.J. Simpson and USC 27-16 to win the 1968 national title. The “Super Soph”-led defense kept Simpson in check after he knifed through them for an 80-yard touchdown romp early in the contest
TBGUN UPDATE- The Wolves scraped up just enough offense to handle Northwestern 17-3, running their record to 9-0. UM closes out their home schedule with a noon contest against Ball State this weekend. Word has it that Ohio State may use police on horseback to assist with crowd control when TBGUN invades November 18th.