"We've got to figure out how we can get better and keep working on it and keep studying it and keep trying to come up with that right fit for the right guys at the right times," said OSU coach Jim Tressel, whose team improved to 4-3 overall and 1-3 in Big Ten play. "I hope we made a little step toward that."
Sophomore Troy Smith made his first career start at quarterback for Ohio State, starting in place of the ailing Justin Zwick. He ended up 12 of 24 passing for 161 yards with two touchdowns. One of those was an awe inspiring 59-yard hook-up with freshman Ted Ginn Jr., Smith's former Cleveland Glenville teammate. Smith took a short tipped pass and turned upfield for the game's first score.
Smith also rushed for 58 yards on 11 carries.
"Troy did the number one thing you have to do – no turnovers," Tressel said. "He did a good job. He knew what was going on. They fooled him a couple of times with the coverages, but he learned from it. It was a solid performance."
Although freshman Antonio Pittman did not start, he filled in admirably for suspended senior tailback Lydell Ross. Pittman finished with a career-high 144 yards on 20 carries, including a late 28-yard touchdown run – his first career touchdown. Senior Maurice Hall started and had 43 yards on seven carries.
Santonio Holmes added four catches for 42 yards with a 5-yard touchdown grab for the Buckeyes, who scored on their first four possessions. Roy Hall also had three catches for 39 yards. Mike Nugent added three field goals for OSU.
The Buckeyes had 270 yards at halftime, when they held a 20-7 lead. That yardage total was just shy of their previous average of 285.2 yards per game of total offense over the season's first six games.
OSU outgained Indiana (2-5, 0-4) 443-242 in total yardage. The Buckeyes got a season-high 282 of those yards on the ground after averaging a paltry 97.7 yards rushing per game coming in.
"Our game plan was to be balanced," Tressel said. "Typically, they loaded the box. They held Michigan to 80 yards rushing. The only teams that had run on them had been option teams."
Indiana quarterback Matt LoVecchio was 14 of 25 passing for 156 yards with an interception. He also had IU's only touchdown on a 1-yard run.
OSU had the ball to open the game and moved 80 yards in six plays in a quick 1:54 for the game's first score. Smith converted a third down with a 10-yard completion to Anthony Gonzalez. The Buckeyes then appeared to lose possession as Pittman was ruled to have fumbled. The offense left the field, only to return when the Big Ten's instant replay procedure showed his knee was down before the ball came out.
The Buckeyes got new life, but still faced third-and-4 from their own 41. Smith took a three-step drop and rifled a pass to the right flat toward Ginn. An Indiana defender tipped the ball up in the air. Ginn recovered to catch the pass. He then made Indiana's Herana-Daze Jones miss on a tackle attempt. He cut back and also made IU's Aaron Mitchell miss. Ginn, a world class sprinter, then kicked it in gear down the right sideline. The footrace was on and he just got into the end zone to complete the 59-yard TD before being shoved out of bounds. OSU led 7-0 with 13:06 left in the first quarter.
"How important was that play?" Tressel asked rhetorically. "It was probably 14 points important. Instead of seven that way, it went seven that way. That was a huge play. Their corner was playing soft. They felt the corner was going to bail even softer, but the corner made a nice break on the ball and tipped it.
"It was huge, but that's what players like Ted Ginn and Santonio Holmes do. That was electrifying for the ball to be up in the air, he catches it, hits a couple of guys. That's what big time guys do. Teddy's going to be, I think, one of those extraordinary players."
The touchdown marked the first time this year OSU scored on its first possession of a game and the first time it did not end on a punt.
OSU's Mike Kudla then sacked LoVecchio to force an IU punt. The Buckeyes took over on their own 15 and proceeded to drive 85 yards in 10 plays. Pittman got the drive going with a 28-yard run. He then had a 15-yard scamper and the Buckeyes were aided by a personal foul on Jones. Smith converted a third down with a 12-yard pass to Holmes down to the IU 9. Three plays later, OSU went to five receivers on third-and-goal at the 5. Smith dropped and hit a wide open Holmes in the right end zone for the 5-yard TD and a 14-0 lead with 6:02 left in the first quarter.
"I knew he was going to give a quick (pass) call," said Holmes, who hauled in his team-high fifth touchdown catch. "My objective was to get into the end zone as quick as possible and beat (the defender) to the pylon. He put it right in there."
Indiana answered with its only scoring drive of the day. The Hoosiers went 80 yards in 11 plays. The key play was LoVecchio's 42-yard pass to Courtney Roby. The Hoosiers churned toward the goal line and LoVecchio capped the drive with his 1-yard quarterback sneak to cut the lead to 14-7 with 1:24 left in the first quarter.
Ohio State answered with a 12-play, 64-yard march. Hall had a 21-yard run and Smith completed passes of 11 yards to Roy Hall and Gonzalez. But the drive stalled at the 12 and Nugent hit a 29-yard field goal to push the lead to 17-7 with 11:08 left in the first half.
The Buckeyes tacked on another field goal midway through the second half. OSU got possession at midfield following an Indiana punt. Smith found Holmes for a 20-yard gain. But after he was sacked at the IU 34, Nugent came on and hit a 52-yard field goal to make it 20-7 with 7:42 left in the half.
Indiana then drove from its own 20 to the OSU 23, but Bryan Robertson's 40-yard field goal was wide right with 3:41 left in the half.
Indiana then had the ball to open the second half, but OSU linebacker Bobby Carpenter made an easy interception of a LoVecchio pass.
The Buckeyes extended their lead with a nine-play, 44-yard march. The drive was fueled by three straight 12-yard runs by, in succession, Smith, Pittman and Maurice Hall. But when Smith's third-down pass led Gonzalez too much in the end zone and fell incomplete, Nugent came on and drilled a 35-yard field goal to make it 23-7 with 1:45 left in the third quarter.
OSU tacked on another touchdown late as a Holmes punt return gave the Buckeyes possession at the Indiana 28. On first down there, Pittman went around left end, down the sideline and soared into the end zone for the touchdown and a 30-7 lead with 4:52 left in the game.
* Ohio State now leads the all-time series 63-12-5, including in 41-10-4 in Columbus.
* OSU defeated Indiana for the 12th straight time, dating to a 1988 loss.
* The win allowed the Buckeyes to avoid what would have been their second-ever 0-4 start in Big Ten play. The only other time that happened was in 1922.
* Since 1984, OSU is now 7-1-1 against the Hoosiers in weeks after suffering a tie or loss.
* OSU has now won 19 of its last 20 games at home.
* Nugent enjoyed his 18th career multi-field goal game and he now has made three field goals in nine career games. Nugent is also 8 of 9 in his career on kicks of 50 yards or beyond. He is now 15 of 17 on the year.
"He's amazing," Tressel said of Nugent. "When we lined up for that one from 52, I thought, boy, I can't believe we're putting him in this situation so far all the time, and what if he misses, we give them the ball on, I don't know, the 35 or thereabouts. And, bang, it goes through. And I think, why would I ever doubt him?"
* The Buckeyes played without defensive end Jay Richardson (leg) and fullback Stan White Jr. (shoulder stinger), each sidelined with injuries. Each is expected back within the next couple of weeks, Tressel said.
"Jay got a little bit of an injury that I think we should have him back pretty quickly," Tressel said. "As you say, he wasn't dressed, and we're hoping he gets back quickly."
* A trio of freshmen, offensive tackle Steve Rehring, linebacker Chad Hoobler and fullback Dionte Johnson, saw their first action of their careers in this game.
"Anthony Schlegel was a little bit banged up and (Mike) D'Andrea is gone for the year and we thought realistically (Hoobler) is going to have to play," Tressel said. "I think in his situation, because Stan White was out a little bit from a special teams standpoint, you lose a real linebacker, fullback-type guy from there.
"Branden Joe hasn't responded health-wise to 100 percent, so Dionte Johnson needs to come in because Stan White is out and Brandon Schnittker is banged a little bit. With Steve Rehring, I just have felt that Steve Rehring is a guy that can add to what we're doing and will help us get better."
* Tressel did not fully address the nature or duration of Ross' suspension. Media reports in the Columbus area have said Ross was disciplined after he was named in a Columbus police report for passing fake tokens at a strip club in the city. He has not been charged, however, with a crime.
"Anytime anything doesn't go as to plan, it's a distraction," Tressel said. "But you have to decide if you allow things to be distractions, and I didn't notice anyone allow it to be a distraction. Simply at this point in time, he's suspended. How long it will be, I really don't know. And I guess as I begin to gather information -- we were busy with other agendas when it came up -- we'll address that at the proper time when we have some time.
"I can't really elaborate on what it was, other than it was not what we would hope that any one of our people would be involved in and go from there."
* In terms of royalty, former OSU star Jim Marshall was the honorary captain for the homecoming game and junior linebacker Chibundu Nnake, a walk-on, was crowned the homecoming king.
* OSU hosts Penn State, a 6-4 loser to Iowa Saturday, next Saturday at noon. The game will be televised by either ABC or ESPN.