Buckeyes Blank The Wildcats

Scott McMullen solid, completes 16 of 25 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown as Buckeyes roll to 20-0 win over Wildcats in Big Ten opener. Check out this updated story with stats, notes and quotes on OSU's win in the Big Ten opener.

Many regarded Northwestern, Ohio State's opponent in Saturday's Big Ten opener, as a cream puff.

But OSU defensive end Will Smith had another pastry in mind after the Buckeyes blanked Northwestern 20-0 before 104,680 at Ohio Stadium.

"We call it a doughnut," Smith said after the shutout. "That's what we always shoot for."

Playing without a number of its key personnel, the biggest thing Ohio State needed to do in Saturday's Big Ten opener was get the win and begin defense of their conference championship.

That is, in fact, what happened as the Buckeyes won their 24th straight meeting over Northwestern, the longest active winning streak for one Big Ten school over another.

The shutout victory was OSU's first since a 41-0 win over Illinois on Oct. 10, 1998.

"Any time you defense pitches a shutout, you have a chance," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "They got a lot of help from our special teams. They knocked the ball down in there. A couple of times they had to start inside their own 10, and, playing against our defense, it's hard enough when you get good field position."

Fifth-year senior quarterback Scott McMullen made his third career start and second consecutive start in place of injured starter Craig Krenzel. McMullen was solid, completing 16 of 25 passes for 166 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

"It felt pretty good," McMullen said. "That was my second full game in there. There was a couple throws I might like to have back and I wish we could have scored (a touchdown) when he had it in the red zone and I overthrew it. But it was a good experience."

OSU (5-0, 1-0) also played without starting center Alex Stepanovich and starting defensive end Darrion Scott. They still outgained Northwestern (2-3, 0-1) 311-186 in total yardage, containing the Wildcats who were averaging 424 yards per game coming in.

But, again, the ground game was less than effective. OSU netted 125 yards on 35 attempts.

"I felt better about the fact we didn't have a bunch of turnovers," Tressel said. "One of our goals offensively was to become a zero turnover football team. Obviously, we wanted to run the football better, throw it more effectively and score when our great defense gave us opportunities.

"I think, perhaps, we will have seen a little bit of improvement, but nearly as much as I think we need to have to be a Big Ten championship team."

Top rusher Lydell Ross had 43 yards and a touchdown on nine carries before leaving the game with an injured right knee in the third quarter.

"I strained my knee," Ross said. "It was a slight sprain. I think I could have toughed it out and played if need be."

Split end Michael Jenkins had five catches for 51 yards, while tight end Ben Hartsock added five catches for 50 yards.

Northwestern tailback Jason Wright was averaging 118.2 yards per game coming in. But OSU held him to 55 yards on 16 carries.

Quarterback Brett Basanez completed 10 of 24 passes for 64 yards.

"Ohio State had the momentum today and we were not able to establish it for a long enough stretch, but I never saw us lose heart," said NU coach Randy Walker.

OSU used a number of its younger players throughout the game with, for instance, redshirt freshman Justin Zwick getting his first career completion. Zwick completed 3 of 7 passes for 20 yards. True freshman Donte Whitner filled in as the nickel back in place of Brandon Mitchell, while true freshman Ira Guilford saw his first work at tailback since the opener after Ross' injury. Guilford had eight carries for 29 yards.

Ohio State opened the scoring on its first possession, moving 59 yards in an efficient 11 plays. McMullen completed all four of his pass attempts on the drive for 40 yards, including two for 25 to Jenkins. He found Drew Carter for a 10-yard gain on a slant, converting a third-and-9 predicament at the NU 29.

After Maurice Hall, who finished with 12 yards on nine carries, got 7 yards on first down at the 19, Ross went up the middle, found nowhere to go and bounced around the left end. Ross won a footrace with NU's John Pickens and Tim McGarigle to the goal line pylon to complete the 12-yard touchdown and give the Buckeyes a 7-0 lead with 8:39 left in the first quarter.

"Once again, it was congested up in there," Ross said. "I knew we were on the far right (hashmark), so I looked left and saw nothing but green grass. I cut it back and was able to score."

OSU then got a break as NU's Ashton Aikens attempted a reverse. But OSU cornerback Dustin Fox forced a fumble, which teammate Robert Reynolds scooped up at the Northwestern 46-yard line with 7:04 left in the first quarter.

McMullen went to work, converting a third-and-7 predicament with an 8-yard pass to a sliding Roy Hall. Then, he threw a 17-yard pass to tight end Ben Hartsock, giving OSU a first down at the NU 18. Ross got 3 yards on a draw, but McMullen threw incomplete on the next two plays. Mike Nugent came on and hit a 32-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead with 4:24 left in the first quarter.

Northwestern took possession on its own 22 after a punt late in the first quarter. The Wildcats held the ball for 18 plays and eight minutes, 52 seconds of clock time, but came up empty. Basanez converted three straight third-down plays with impressive completions. Backup tailback Noah Herron converted a fourth one with a 1-yard run for a first down at the OSU 10.

On first-and-goal at the 10, Basanez kept the ball around left end and skirted into the end zone for an apparent touchdown. But NU right tackle Zach Strief was flagged for holding on OSU linebacker A.J. Hawk, who briefly had contact with Basanez in the backfield. The penalty backed the Wildcats up to the 18. Then, OSU's Bobby Carpenter and Will Smith sacked him for a 5-yard loss. Basanez got 11 of it back on third down, setting up fourth-and-goal at the OSU 17. But Slade Larscheid's 34-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left with 6:27 left.

Smith said he was relieved the defense was able to get off the field with the shutout intact after such a long possession.

"They were doing some things that we weren't used to," Smith said. "We just felt them out and eventually stopped them when we had to."

OSU was unable to add to its lead before halftime, going three-and-out on its next possession before McMullen threw a tipped pass interception to NU's Bryan Heinz at the NU 44 with 1:30 left in the half.

Ohio State did pad its lead on the opening possession of the second half, moving 80 yards in 15 plays. McMullen was again sharp, completing 5 of 7 passes for 46 yards. Plus, he ran twice for 24 yards, including a 16-yard gain on a quarterback draw that converted a third-and-12 predicament at the NU 19. That gave OSU a first-and-goal at the NU 3. Ross got 1 yard on first down, but left the game on the play with the injured knee. Branden Joe, who saw his first action of the year in this game, then got 1 yard on second down. Finally, McMullen hit tight end Ryan Hamby on a crossing route for the 1-yard touchdown and a 17-0 advantage with 8:31 left in the third quarter.

"I came across from the right side," Hamby said. "At the start of the play, I was going to the left side. Ben (Hartsock) told me to go right and to take the shallow route. I bet after the play he regretted sending me on the shallow route. It was just a quick over route and Scott hit me."

Northwestern then had another prolonged possession, keeping the ball for 12 plays and netting 50 yards. But, again, Larscheid missed badly on a 47-yard field goal attempt with 3:50 left in the third quarter.

Nugent's 42-yard field goal with 8:34 left, set up by McMullen's 19-yard pass to Drew Carter, put OSU up 20-0.

Quick Kicks

* OSU upped its lead in the all-time series with Northwestern to 55-13-1. OSU has won 12 games in a row in Columbus dating to a 1971 loss (14-10) in Columbus. OSU is now 30-8 all-time against NU in Columbus.

* OSU improved to 40-0 all-time against NU when it scores at least 20 points.

* Since OSU eked out a 17-15 win over Northwestern in 1994 in Evanston, OSU has won the last five meetings between the schools by an average of 23.6 points per game.

* OSU's 19-game winning streak is the longest active streak in the country and stands as the second longest in school history. The record for consecutive wins at OSU is 22, set in 1967-69. OSU has also won 13 straight home games at Ohio Stadium. That is the longest home winning streak for the Buckeyes since they won 14 straight in the Horseshoe from October 1994 through November 1996. The school record for consecutive home wins is 20, running from October 1982 to November 1985.

* The Buckeyes have now won four straight Big Ten openers with wins over Penn State in 2000, Northwestern in 2001 and Indiana last year. OSU has also won 11 of its last 12 conference openers (only loss was to Wisconsin in 1999), dating to a 1992 loss at Wisconsin.

* OSU defensive tackles Quinn Pitcock and Marcus Green and offensive lineman Mike Kne each made their first career starts. Green, playing in place of Scott, had a career-high seven tackles.

* Hawk led OSU with a career-high 13 tackles. Safety Nate Salley also had a career-high nine stops.

"It definitely feels good to get the shutout," Hawk said. "That's the defense's first goal. For a team not to score any points is definitely something special, especially for the first game in Big Ten play."

* Sophomore defensive end Mike Kudla notched his first career sack.

* On the career charts, Nugent moved into fourth place on OSU's field goal list with 39. Jenkins moved into fifth place on the career receptions chart with 133.

* Tressel is now 26-5 in his third year as the OSU coach, including 16-2 at home.

* The Buckeyes have not allowed an opposing player to rush for 100 yards in 14 straight home games, dating to a 112-yard game by San Diego State's Larry Ned on Oct. 20, 2001.

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