Pittman's Career Day Boosts OSU Run Game

OSU sophomore tailback Antonio Pittman enjoyed his biggest day as a Buckeye in Saturday's 31-6 rout of visiting Iowa. Pittman notched career highs in carries (28) and yards (171) during the win. He talks about how the offense put things together as well as his progression. We also have comments from various players and coaches on Pittman, the running game and the offense in general.

The Ohio State offense may have turned a corner in Saturday's 31-6 win over Iowa as the Buckeyes rushed for more yards in that game than in any they have played in more than three years.

Leading the way was sophomore tailback Antonio Pittman, who rushed for 171 yards on 28 carries. Joined by quarterback Troy Smith's 18-carry, 127-yard effort, OSU ended up with 314 yards on 60 rushing attempts (5.2 average per carry). That total was OSU's largest ground game since it went for 317 yards on the ground in the 2002 season opener, a 45-21 win over Texas Tech.

The Buckeyes had not even rushed for 200 yards as a team in any of their three previous games this year.

"If you can't run the ball and you have to pass it, it's going to be a long day for the offense," said Pittman, who enjoyed career highs in carries and yards. "That's what happened last year at Iowa (in a 33-7 loss). We couldn't run the ball at all. We just took a beating up there. That was the main focus today, to get the run established. We got it established on the first drive and just kept it rolling."

Pittman, an Akron Buchtel product, saw action as a freshman last year behind seniors Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall. He even cracked the 100-yard mark with 144 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries in a 30-7 win over Indiana. But it was his improved consistency that helped Pittman nail down the starting job in the spring. He tallied 100 yards on 14 carries in the season opening win over Miami (Ohio).

He was asked if this game against Iowa could be considered his coming-out performance.

"I don't know about that," Pittman said. "I don't think I've established myself yet. We have a long season to go. I just want to take it week by week."

Pittman credited the offensive line for creating running lanes for him.

"Our offensive line came out ready to play," he said. "They were firing out on every play. None of this would have happened without them. They never stopped blocking from the beginning to the end. I think they have more confidence in me.

"They did their job from the first play to the last play. They worked hard for me to get those yards and for Troy to get them as well. They were fired up all week. They talked about how we had to get back after it and last year was an embarrassment. Rob (Sims) and Nick (Mangold) are two captains on this team. They are great leaders. And everybody on the offensive line did their job."

Pittman and the running game were on display early and often against Iowa's undersized and inexperienced front four. OSU moved 81 yards on 12 plays on its opening touchdown drive. Pittman carried seven times for 44 yards, including a 12-yard gain on OSU's first offensive play.

"It started with the first play of the game," Pittman said. "We ran an iso play and Dionte (Johnson) clinked the linebacker. The O-line pushed everybody off the ball 5 or 6 yards and I had some nice little running room.

"We pounded it. We ran the ball a lot on the first drive. It's like, 'We can do that the whole game. Let's go.' Once you get in that groove, it's like 'Feed me.' "

It has been Pittman's goal to become a 20- to 25-carry per game back. But his season high prior to this game was 18 carries against San Diego State.

"I feel it," Pittman said after his career day. "This is the most carries I've ever had in my career here. I feel all right after it. I'm ready to go home and lay down for a little bit. But I'll be ready for Penn State.

"I prepared myself in the weight room and working out hard. I feel like if I shut down now, I'd let my team down. My offensive line was working hard."

OSU also went with more I-formation as well as two-tight end looks to aid the running game.

"I was happy to see that," Pittman said. "The fullbacks got some work, Dionte Johnson and Stan (White Jr.). We were just pounding it up in there. We like that, how we ran out of the I.

"I'm comfortable with any formation. But today was maybe more about being patient and letting it develop."

Pittman's longest runs this season had been 17-yard gains against Miami (Ohio) and Texas. But in this game he had carries for 20, 26 and 29 yards. He took advantage of cutback lanes on several plays.

"We run off instinct," he said. "That's nothing you can develop. You just have to let it happen. As a running back, you can't be out there thinking. You just have to run."

The 100-yard games by Pittman and Smith mark the first time since 1976 Ohio State had a 100-yard rusher at quarterback and running back in the same game. The last time Ohio State accomplished that feat was against Michigan State on Sept. 11, 1976, in Ohio Stadium when quarterback Rod Gerald had 104 yards and running back Jeff Logan went for 112. This game marked just the eighth time Ohio State has had 100-plus rushers at running back and quarterback in program history.

Pittman was also happy to see how Smith was able to find success running the ball on the option and also on quarterback draws and sweeps.

"That's a great thing," he said. "My hat goes off to Troy. He's a great player and he makes things happen. It's good for us. (Defenses) have to beware. There's speed back there and two guys who can get the job done.

"We see that every week with him. He's fired up. He's a great leader. Just having him around fires you up."

This game was a far cry from last year's Iowa game, where the Buckeyes netted just 27 yards on 29 rushing attempts.

"We had to fight back," Pittman said. "We were embarrassed there last year. But today, we had over 300 yards rushing as a team. That's the best I've seen. We controlled the clock and wore their defense out. It was a great day for us."

Pittman kept the pressure on as the game wore on. He accounted for 63 of the 78 yards on the Ohio State touchdown drive to open the second half. He finished with six runs in excess of 10 yards.

"It wasn't easy at all," he said. "It was a great battle. My offensive line and my fullback did their jobs and that gave me room to run. It feels great to have a good game. When everything is clicking, you feel good as a team.

"We're ready to do this and just keep it rolling. It was a great day for the offense."

Pittman believes OSU's bye week comes at the right time. The Buckeyes will have this weekend off before resuming Big Ten play at Penn State Oct. 8.

"We have a bye week this week," he said. "We have to practice hard this week and next week and get ready for Penn State. They are a physical team. The off-week will prepare us even more. We can work out the little kinks that we have with the offensive line and get ready to go."

The Players' Take

We have comments on Pittman's emergence and the play of the offense from several players:

* OT Kirk Barton on Iowa's young front -- "They had four new starters on the defensive line and we had everybody back. We felt like we had to take advantage of that after they took advantage of us last year."

* Barton on the improved run game -- "We have to get back to Ohio State football. We rushed it for 300 and threw it for 200. We should do that every week. Our coaches are great at using our weapons."

* Barton on Pittman's emergence -- "Tony, he's going to be our feature back for the next three years. I never questioned his heart or anything else about him. I think we were finishing blocks. We just needed to finish them more than we had in previous weeks. That helps him to get the extra 2 or 3 yards on every carry."

* Center Nick Mangold on Pittman -- "He really took the ball and ran with it today. When you're running back gets 171 yards, he gets a lot of the accolades. But it also comes back on the offensive line, too, and it was a great feeling to help him do that."

* OG Rob Sims on paying back Iowa in kind -- "We just got embarrassed last year out there at Iowa. We wanted to come back here and make a statement and hit them hard. We've been playing well all season, but this was like a coming-out party today."

* Sims on Pittman -- "I think he's been there all season for us. I think it's been more on our part as an offensive line, not opening up holes for him and helping him out. He's a great back, one of the best I've been around. I'm excited about him for this season and for his future."

The Coaches' Take

* OSU head coach Jim Tressel on the improved line play and offensive showing -- "Jim Bollman was talking to them all week long that they were going to be the difference in the game and if they could take care of the tempo of the game and handle the line of scrimmage, it was going to make it possible to run and even more possible to pass protect, which is the key to the passing game. So they responded to that."

* Tressel on cutback runs by Pittman and Smith -- "I think as the guys were coming off the ball and so forth, our guys were doing a good job of getting some movement, the idea was the line of scrimmage was getting pushed a little, and the backs ... good backs read those things, they read the head gears of the other people and so forth, and they've been well schooled, and I thought they did a good job. I thought there were a lot of good decisions. There were a few in there as we sat there and listened to the guys upstairs that said we should have hit it here and there, but I think for the most part pretty fair."

* Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman on the use of the I -- "Yeah, on occasion, we did have a little bit of change of tempo kind of things, where we had been a little bit more spread out earlier just to get a little bit of, as you said, old school stuff, just to get back in and get after some people, really play hard at the line of scrimmage, which we did.

"Later in the game when we were ahead and trying to run the ball without giving them as many chances to get as many extra people in the box, this was one game when you had a lead like that to maybe batten down the hatches a little bit and kill some time on the clock."

* Bollman on Pittman stepping up -- "Well, he did a good job, obviously, and he did finish some runs a little bit better. But this was a game where everybody felt we had some step-up. We needed to play our best game and I think he did. I mean, thus far you guys would probably agree with me that he probably did play his best game thus far.

"There were some guys that did a good job blocking for him. I'd like to see him do (become a 20-carry back). But I think we have to be wise and keep some other people ready and keep some other people improving in their experience. Maurice Wells played some. Brandon Schnittker as well. I don't think we want to be in a situation where Pitt's the only guy carrying the ball ever."

* OSU running backs coach Dick Tressel on Pittman -- "He's an explosive guy. He can get you first downs catching the ball and get first downs carrying the ball. As he grows and gets stronger, he can be a 20- or 22-carry guy per game."

* Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz on the OSU running game -- "We were surprised only in the sense that they haven't run the ball this well all year. It was a good strategy. They executed very well. One year ago, the offensive line was very young, but now they are veterans and today they played like it."

Pittman's Totals

Here are Pittman's game-by-game stats for 2005, followed by his line for 2004 and his career totals.

Sept. 3, Miami (Ohio) (W, 34-14), 14 carries, 100 yards, 0 TDs

Sept. 10, Texas (L, 25-22), 17 carries, 75 yards, 0 TDs

Sept. 17, San Diego State (W, 27-6), 18 carries, 58 yards, 0 TDs

Sept. 24, Iowa (W, 31-6), 28 carries, 171 yards, 0 TDs

2005 Totals: 77 carries, 404 yards, 5.2 average, 0 TDs

2004 Totals: 72 carries, 381 yards, 5.3 average, 1 TD

Career (14 games): 149 carries, 785 yards, 5.3 average, 1 TD

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