OSU's Offense Steps Up Big At Crunch Time

It didn't look good for Ohio State, but the Buckeyes made big plays when they needed to and emerged with a 35-24 victory over visiting Michigan State. Troy Smith set a career high in passing yards and Santonio Holmes made two huge touchdown receptions. We have reaction from Smith, Holmes, Antonio Pittman, Rob Sims and Jim Tressel.

Ohio State's offense stepped up big when it needed to as the Buckeyes escaped with a 35-24 victory over Michigan State Saturday.

With OSU trailing 24-21, quarterback Troy Smith connected with receiver Santonio Holmes for a 46-yard touchdown at the 4:56 mark of the fourth quarter.

On the play, Smith faked an option to the right and dropped back to pass. He then threw a deep out across the field to Holmes, who broke one tackle and sped down the home sidelines for the go-ahead score.

Overall, the Buckeyes accounted for 386 yards of total offense (249 passing, 143 rushing) and were able to move the ball effectively for most of the afternoon.

Smith was 10 of 15 passing for a career-high 249 yards. He threw three touchdowns and did not throw an interception. He added 42 rushing yards on seven carries.

Holmes had a huge day with five receptions for 150 yards and two scores.

Ted Ginn Jr. had four catches for 78 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown. Antonio Pittman had another solid game with 18 carries for 101 yards. He also added a key 21-yard reception in the fourth quarter.

But this day belonged to Holmes, who shook off an early muff on a kickoff return.

"The main thing I think our protection unit was great on both of those plays," Holmes said of his touchdown grabs. "I think the offensive line did a real good job. Troy did a great job getting the ball out there where it's supposed to be and ran a good route and worked for the ball, and like (OSU head coach Jim Tressel) said, you know, yards after catch is what's important. It was big for us and we scored touchdowns."

As for Smith, he is an up and down quarterback. One week he can look shaky and the next week he can look smooth. Against MSU, it was the latter.

"I think me, first and foremost, I want to give every bit of respect and the whole way around to the offensive line," Smith said. "Without that protection, without the line holding its strength for that amount of time, Santonio wouldn't have been able to get open."

The fake option almost worked against Penn State last week, but Smith overthrew Holmes on what could have been a touchdown.

"Just being disciplined within the play," Smith said. "Week before, we tried to run that play, I didn't get enough depth in my drop, you know, and we emphasized that throughout the week. Depth on that, selling that play, and Santonio made a great play on the ball, offensive line blocked great."

The Buckeyes were playing without sophomore right tackle Kirk Barton who was injured last week against PSU. Filling in for him and receiving his first collegiate start was true freshman Alex Boone.

"Yeah, Kirk Barton was questionable all week and, you know, we were hoping and waiting for that -- sometimes you get a breakthrough after a few days, and we knew he wasn't going to practice much early in the week but you never know about those things," Tressel said. "We've had some guys with the same injury be able to be back in a week and just turned out that he wasn't. I'm fairly certain that he'll be back this weekend coming up.

"Alex Boone stepped in and we'll have to look at the film to see exactly how he did, but, I don't know that we had any major problems. I'm sure he made a great effort and I'm sure he learned a lot of lessons as the game went along, and there was never really a time that stuck out, you know, that, ‘Hey, there's a true freshman out there and we're struggling.' I thought the things we tried to do both run and pass were fairly effective. We just needed to convert a little bit better on third down. You know the first one we're third down, a yard and a half, and we don't make it, and another one, you know, I thought we could have converted. Maybe we would have a lot more than 47 plays, but the O-line did a great job of adjusting."

Ginn's touchdown came at the 10:21 mark of the third and gave the Buckeyes their first lead of the game at 21-17.

"Two guys tried to hit me and it actually gave me some bounce," Ginn said. "I was at a little bit of a standstill and they kind of got me back on the go. When I saw there was nobody ahead of me I was off. It felt great."

Smith thinks it's the kind of win that can turn OSU's season around. The only other two tight games the Buckeyes have been in this year, they lost.

"I hope this is the turning point in the season for us," Smith said. "The guys showed up and played today. I give a lot of respect to the team."

Smith is now 2-0 starter against Michigan State, but has a lot of respect for the Spartans.

"Michigan State is a great team that is very physical and tough," he said. "I was upset that we were not able to get Pittman a touchdown. He's the cornerstone of the team and I thought he deserved a touchdown."

Pittman was asked to rate Smith's performance.

"It was a good game for him," Pittman said. "He hung in the pocket a lot, especially on that last touchdown. Santonio made a great play after that. But as far as Troy, he never got down on himself in the game last week. He came out this week and rallied the team. He's a great leader."

Pittman says the Bucks never felt like they were going to lose. The situation was looking bleak late in the game, but they hung together.

"No we didn't have any doubt," Pittman said. "Just stick to the game plan and everybody go hard for these last few minutes. And it all paid off."

A tailback is always going to be pleased when he goes over 100 yards, and Pittman was all smiles afterwards.

"It was a great game for me and I owe it all to the offensive line," he said. "They did their jobs, as well as the fullbacks. The receivers made some good blocks downfield and they helped me out a lot."

Pittman was asked if the Buckeyes had one particular running play that they felt would always work against the Spartans.

"I wish we would have done the toss more," he said. "But hopefully we come back with it next week, or another week. But there really wasn't one play that was our bread and butter. I was just hoping to get the ball."

Pittman also reflected on his big 21-yard reception during the Buckeyes' game-winning drive.

"That was a big play," he said. "The only guy that was outside blitzed and once he blitzed, Troy threw me the ball and I had to make something happen."

A loss would have likely ended any hopes for a Big Ten championship for Ohio State. But with the win, the Bucks are still in the hunt.

"That would be huge for us," Pittman said. "Huge for the seniors. This win still gives hope. We have to go watch the Michigan-Penn State game and see how that turns out. But we just have to keep taking it week-by-week and hope that it works out for us."

But is it going to be hard for Pittman to root for Michigan?

"Yeah, it's going to be tough, but hey, we've got to," he said.

Senior left guard Rob Sims said OSU never gave up hope.

"We just knew we had to battle back – we always knew we had a chance," he said. "I think that play right before the half (blocked field goal, returned for a TD) really lifted everybody's spirits and got us right back in it. We came out there and kept fighting and got the W."

Sims says the Buckeyes were able to drive the ball with ease against the Spartans for the most part.

"I thought so," he said. "A couple drives had some penalties which pushed us back. And turnovers never help. But we just kept fighting and got it done."

As a captain, Sims knows it was a big step for Smith in his maturation as a quarterback. Leading the team to a comeback victory could reap benefits down the line.

"I think so," Sims said. "I think he was calm and relaxed and as you can see when he's like that he can throw the ball around and do his thing. I think it is, because now he knows how he has to play."


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