Starting tight end Ben Hartsock enjoyed a career day with seven catches for 65 yards, including a touchdown in first overtime of OSU's 44-38 triple overtime win over the Wolfpack.
"Ben had a field day, a career day," said backup tight end Ryan Hamby, who also came up big with a 2-yard touchdown grab in the second overtime.
The N.C. State defense stacked up to stop the run, holding OSU to a net of 44 yards rushing on 32 attempts. But in doing that, the linebackers left the middle of the field available, and Hartsock took advantage of it.
"It's difficult for those linebackers to trade off the tight end when we're coming across the middle like that," Hartsock said. "So I was able to get open a couple of times. We figured that out late in the game."Hartsock had one grab in the first half, two in the third quarter, one in the fourth quarter and three for 28 important yards in the overtime periods.
"You're always looking for a big day as an individual," Hartsock said. "We're happy we won the game, but we're not happy with how it had to happen. I don't go into each game and say, `This is the game where I'm going to have (seven) receptions.' Hopefully I go into the game saying I need to do whatever I need to do to help the team."
Hartsock came into the game with just one catch for 1 yard in OSU's two previous games after catching 17 balls a year ago. His touchdown in the first overtime allowed OSU to forge ahead 31-24. On the play, he just seemed to drift to the back of the end zone and quarterback Craig Krenzel eventually rifled in the 10-yard touchdown pass.
"I ran my route and Krenzel started to scramble," Hartsock said. "They were in man coverage. The guy saw him starting to scramble, so I rolled deep. We're taught that whenever there is a broken play to roll deep or come to the ball. I found an open spot in the back of the end zone and he found me."
Likewise, Hamby's 2-yard touchdown grab in the second overtime allowed OSU to tie the game at 38-38 and force the third overtime.
"That's a play we went over in practice, a hurry-up play to the line," Hamby said. "I just got lost in the back of the end zone and Krenzel found me. If you look, No. 52 (linebacker Pat Thomas), the ball went right over his fingertips. I thought he was going to tip it. All of a sudden, I saw it in the left corner up here and grabbed it. It was a three-receiver pattern. Whoever was open was going to get it."
Hamby had two receptions last year as a redshirt freshman and came into the game with two catches for 52 yards in OSU's first two games of the year. After catching one of the team's biggest touchdowns of the season, Hamby was pretty excited.
"It's big," he said. "It helps my confidence a lot to know that Coach Tressel trusts me enough to call that play and that the quarterback trusts me enough to throw it to me in the end zone."
The Buckeyes must be hoping that their showing with the passing game will hope open some running lanes for the tailbacks.
"A lot of what is wrong with our offense isn't physical," Hartsock said. "We just need to develop a spark. We can't allow ourselves to need that to be consistent. We need to be prepared before the game so we don't need a spark."
Hamby said he has faith the OSU offense will get on track.
"We're just going to keep going with the game plan and do what the coaches say week to week and just go from there," Hamby said.
When asked if the tight ends are part of the offense, Hamby replied, "They are every week. It's just a matter of Cover-1, Cover-2 or Cover-3, how they're guarding us. Today, they didn't seem to be guarding Ben very much. He seemed to be open a lot. Every week, it's in the game plan and they just have to find us."
In the course of the overtime periods, OSU did not hand the ball to the tailback once in 13 plays. Instead, OSU relied on the passing game to pull the team through.
"It's definitely not the Ohio State everybody is used to," Hartsock said. "But I guess that's a credit to this team and we're able to show some different facets. I imagine Coach Tressel isn't going to want to keep it like that. I bet Woody (Hayes) is not looking down real smiley right now. But we got the win and we're happy about that. We've got a lot of work to do."
Another Tight Win
In the course of OSU's 17-game winning streak, the Buckeyes have now won nine games by a touchdown or less. Some may consider these games as struggles, but the players believe they build character.
"We've been through some tough ones like Purdue and Illinois last year and now N.C. State this year," Hamby said. "Hopefully, we can keep pulling them out."
Hartsock said it is par for the course for the Buckeyes to handle adversity.
"Coach Tressel read a quote from a newspaper or something before the game," he said. "Someone was questioning this team's resilience and chemistry and things like that. When it gets down to crunch time, people who come to this school tend to step up. You've got to either step up or you're going to get beat. That's what we've been able to do. Now what we need to do is make that happen earlier in the game."
Hartsock shared his mind-set during the overtime periods.
"I wouldn't say I was completely relaxed," Hartsock said. "It was definitely a sense of urgency -- if we don't score we're not going to win. When your back is against the wall like that, the only thing you can do is fight. I think that's the spark we've been looking for."