Pittman Seeks End To Touchdown Drought

OSU tailback Antonio Pittman told reporters his teammates have teased him in a good-natured way about his inability -- at least so far this year -- to put the ball in the end zone. Plus, OSU assistant Dick Tressel talks about coaching against his son, Minnesota assistant Luke Tressel, and much more.

The watch is on – could this be the week that Antonio Pittman reaches the end zone for Ohio State?

Pittman, a sophomore, has become a true success story for the Buckeyes in his first season as the starter at tailback. Through seven games, he has amassed 696 yards on 136 carries. Those totals compute to an average of 5.1 yards per carry and 99.4 yards per game.

When looking at the Big Ten season, Pittman has averaged 115.8 yards per game. He has gone for 100 yards in three of OSU's four conference games and is coming off a 26-carry. 133-yard performance in last Saturday's 41-10 win at Indiana.

But Pittman is still waiting for his first chance to score a touchdown this season. (He had one last year as a freshman.)

OSU coach Jim Tressel does not sound stressed about Pittman's lack of touchdowns.

"I think Antonio Pittman is good and is getting better and I don't know that I'd say he's got recognizable problems inside the 20," Tressel said. "I think he's a good back. And I guess I take that a little bit more -- we need to find a way -- we, the guys designing it, we, the guys blocking, and then, of course, he's got to do his part. But Antonio I think's coming along. I really do."

By contrast, OSU quarterback Troy Smith leads the Buckeyes with eight rushing touchdowns.

"I'm sure vision is part of it," Tressel said. "I'm sure pad level is part of it. I'm sure circumstances are part of it. Troy Smith's gotten a lot of opportunities in the end zone and has found his way into the end zone. That doesn't mean he's got the knack, so every time he gets down there, he's going to get in the end zone, you still have to do things to get in.

"I'm sure Antonio thinks about it because Troy does. Troy will say give it to Antonio, we're on the 1-1/2 inch line or whatever. But I'm sure he'll have his days."

Pittman's teammates have razzed him a bit about his inability to get into the end zone.

"I don't want to talk about it," Pittman said with a smile. "It's all in fun. It makes me laugh. It's very funny. When I get down there – since I haven't been in there yet – I don't want to lose my focus. I need to play the same way I would play from the 50.

"It really doesn't matter. You just go with the flow. Regardless of whether I score or not, I just have to keep running the ball. I'm sure I will score. As long as we win and we're moving the ball and there aren't any turnovers, I'm satisfied."

Offensive guard Rob Sims said the teasing is all good-natured.

"It's more like in practice and in the locker room," Sims said. "It's all in good fun. We're still proud of him. He goes out there every game and doesn't complain about not having any touchdowns. He gets his 100 yards and keeps it up. He'll get in there."

Ted Ginn Jr., who is coming out of a scoring drought of his own with touchdowns the last two games, added, "We always joke about it, but I want him to score just like he wants me to score. We just push one another to get each other into the end zone. I try to do good blocks. There is always one little block stopping him from getting into the end zone. I try and make sure I pick up all the blocks that I can so he can score. He's going to get there.

"We always tell him, ‘You have to bust a big one to get one.'

"But I think Pitt is a real strong guy. For him to not have a touchdown but still get 100 yards a game, that's great. He's still coming out and doing what he has to do and playing hard," Ginn said.

Pittman said he is looking forward to Saturday's game at Minnesota (noon, ABC).

"I'm just excited to get a chance to go up there and play," he said. "I've never been to Minnesota. I've seen a lot of people go up there and play well. I hope it goes well for me.

"They have the number one rushing offense in the country. Hopefully, our D can go up there and handle their job and we can just go up there and get after it. Maybe they can showcase me a little bit."

The 26-carry game at IU was two carries shy of his career mark of 28, set when he had 171 yards against Iowa earlier this year.

"I was all right," Pittman said. "I was a little tired after the game. I laid down a little bit. But Sunday morning, I was all right."

Pittman said he admires Minnesota tailback Laurence Maroney, who has been known to log 40 carries in a game, for his durability.

"I'd be dead after a game like that," Pittman said. "But that just comes with it. You really don't realize how many times you carry the ball until after it's over."

Pittman discussed his success during the Big Ten campaign.

"The offensive line is coming together more," he said. "They are opening up big holes and I have no choice but to run through them. I give all the credit to them.

"We have a lot of weapons in this offense. If we can keep jelling together, hopefully we can put it all together and come out and play a complete game and put a lot of points on the board."

OSU center Nick Mangold said the Buckeyes know their offense must match whatever Minnesota does.

"You have to get it going," he said. "We'll be away from home and playing a defense that goes against a great rushing offense every week. I know we're excited as an offensive line. I know Tony is excited to get up there, get the ball and get going.

"I think he loves being back there and being behind us. He tells us that every day. We're excited for him."

Running backs coach Dick Tressel said the Buckeyes want to see if the Metrodome field works as well for them as it seems to for the Gophers.

"We're excited to play in Minnesota," he said. "As offensive backs, you have to be excited to play where they are averaging 350 yards per game running the ball. The bar is high for the running game. Maybe it's downhill both ways, I don't know."

Family Feud?

The Minnesota game takes on new meaning for Dick Tressel since his son, Luke, is Minnesota's wide receivers coach. All three of Dick's sons have or are serving as college coaches. His son Mike is on the staff at Cincinnati, while another son Ben worked for him as an assistant at Hamline College. Ben is now working in the public schools, Dick Tressel said.

When reporters tried to grill a tight-lipped Dick Tressel for OSU's game plan on Thursday, he laughed and replied, "I didn't tell Luke."

He did, however, say hi to his son by phone earlier this week.

"Connie, my wife, handed me the phone and said Luke would like to say hi," Dick Tressel said. "I said hi and handed it back to her. That was it. I think I would be willing to talk to him, but I doubt he would be willing to talk to me."

Dick Tressel was asked if there would be a family reunion on Saturday after the game. Unfortunately, time does not dictate such during the competitive season.

"I'm going to get on a plane or I wouldn't have a ride home," he said. "We won't be going out to dinner. My wife will be staying there. She'll take this advantage to see a couple grandkids and two boys who live up there. It's definitely not a Hatfield and McCoy kind of thing, but it is a serious football competition."

Dick Tressel spent 23 years at Hamline, working there from 1978-2000. That gave him a chance to watch the Minnesota program, where Glen Mason – a former OSU player and assistant – has led the Gophers to five bowl games in the last six years.

"Minnesota's tradition in football was the 1940s and early ‘50s," Dick Tressel said. "But they had a period of time there where they just couldn't get around the corner there. They had some even records. They didn't accept even records at a time when maybe they should have. They let some guys go who were pretty good coaches.

"Mase is in the same situation. He's inching above .500 and he's doing a great job. He has to travel to get a lot of Big Ten-caliber football players. They probably have to fly past the 10 other Big Ten schools to visit him, and that's a challenge. They have done a wonderful job and taking the kind of kids they could get and molding a football team that is competitive with everyone.

"I was glad to see them get the Little Brown Jug this year. They had Michigan in their hands two of the last three years. Those kind of victories are, I'm sure, the kind of thing that make Coach Mason and his staff realize that, ‘Hey, we really are doing a pretty good job.' I think people in Minnesota are like everywhere else. They'd like to have it a little bit better.

"When I was up there, I never had anything but positive opportunities going over to learn from those guys. They do a great job."

Offense, Player Updates

Dick Tressel shared insights on the OSU offense and several individual players:

* On the emerging offense, which tallied 478 yards at Indiana last week -- "I think there is a great deal of confidence. Some of that is because of the younger guys, who are growing and playing with each other and seeing a great deal of success. With Alex Boone out there and Troy starting double digits and Pittman is probably close to that as well, some of those guys that are critical pieces have had some time."

* On Troy Smith, who graded a winning performance at IU -- "He is growing as you would expect him to grow. He had significant numbers of great games and plays last year. All of a sudden, people had him beyond where he was as a quarterback. You would expect him to be growing at this time, and I think everybody on our team sees that."

* On freshman tailback Maurice Wells, who had five carries for 50 yards with a 25-yarder at IU -- "He's been in a learning process. You could see earlier when you were able to get him the ball he was an explosive guy. One of the things is a transition period for a freshman football player at Ohio State that not everybody understands. After about game three, you have to start going to college.

"He got the ball in some of those early games. Then, all of a sudden, he sees I've got to go to college. I have to go to study table. I think that slows them down a little. They don't lose their focus, but that splinters it a little bit. He was a much better player the last few weeks and I think that showed up in the game."

* On the status of redshirt freshman tailback Erik Haw, who is not on the travel squad this season -- "I can clarify that. He's not in the dog house. He's in the Buckeyes' house. I think Erik continues to see how he's going to be involved with this football team and how he's going to contribute. He has to keep working on those things. And as soon as he is ready to roll, he will get his opportunities."

* On Shaun Lane, a defensive back-turned-tailback traveling ahead of Haw -- "He's on four special teams. When you have a case where you only have 70 people there, those kind of pieces of the puzzle and who you're going to shove into that plane come into play. Erik hasn't been involved in the special teams. That doesn't mean he couldn't or won't."

* On the status of tackle Kirk Barton and who would enter the game if another lineman was injured -- "I'd be surprised if Kirk Barton was a piece to that puzzle. Rob Sims has been a starting tackle. It wouldn't surprise me if the next best lineman would go in and Rob would go to tackle. John Conroy would probably be that guy right now. Andree Tyree is also doing some nice things."

* On OSU's stated goal to end every offensive possession with a kick -- "We'll take any of the three. Extra point is number one, field goal is two and punt is three. We just don't want to turn it over. Hey, if they have to go a long way against A.J. Hawk and the boys, good luck."

* On two early clipping penalties against OSU last week -- "It was unbelievable. The last time I looked, we were at the bottom of the Big Ten in yards penalized for our opponents and in our favor. But you know what, teams play their best game against Ohio State, so that doesn't surprise me."

Also Quotable

More viewpoints on the OSU offense and the challenge ahead at Minnesota:

Jim Tressel

* His general comments on the UM defense -- "I think their defense has made a little bit of an evolution. They changed some linebackers around and made some changes in the middle of their secondary.

"Someone asked on the Big Ten call what kind of defense does Minnesota play, the kind that loaded up the box and dares you to throw or the kind that doubles your receivers and dares you to run? The answer is both, according to what you do. And they have a certain design and it's a little bit of a chess game as to which way they're going to come out and do it. They don't have a huge blitz team but when they blitz, they're very effective doing it.

"They have two big guys in the middle who are very good. They are two seniors and 300-pound guys. They're a group that plays every day against a tough offense in practice, so they're tough to start with. Their corners are guys that love to compete and you know that they'll enjoy going nose-to-nose with Gonzo (Anthony Gonzalez) and Teddy and Santonio (Holmes) and those guys. I think what we're in store for is a highly competitive tough football game in the Big Ten which is what it should be with two teams fighting like crazy to contend for the Big Ten championship."

Nick Mangold

* On matching the UM offense -- "If they stop them, we still have to score points. We have our role in that as well. We'll have to run with the opportunities they give us.

"We don't want to put our defensive guys in a position where it is completely on them. We want to hold the ball as long as we can and get touchdowns instead of field goals. When we get the ball, we want to hold it from them."

* On UM's defensive front -- "They seem to be real physical. They line their guys up inside real tight on you. They have big guys inside and speed rushers outside. They set the linemen up so you can't get to the linebackers. They present a great challenge. They come after you to keep you off their ‘backers."

* On penalties holding OSU back -- "We have stupid penalties with two clippings on long runs. Those hold our drives back. We have a touchdown that goes for an interception. We can't really have that, either. We can see that and say, ‘We're close. If we cut out these stupid things, we'll be all right.'

"We got the list of new rules that they wanted to emphasize. You can't jump on the back of somebody's legs in the box. We knew that was illegal. Guys were out of position and trying to make a cut. All of a sudden, a guy gets an extra step on you and you end up on the back of his legs. You get the penalty. It was our guys not being where they needed to be.

"You don't call everybody in and say, ‘Let's see who made stupid penalties?' You talk about how those things are hurting us a little bit."

Antonio Pittman

* On so many Ohio guys playing for Minnesota -- "It's like revenge. They've been pumped up for this game for a while. Jared Ellerson, their receiver, is from Copley. When I go back home, there are words between me and him about ‘When I get up here, it's time to play.' The defensive guys were talking to Dionte (Johnson) and Erik (Haw). We need to be ready. It's going to be a big game."

* On mistakes holding OSU back -- "Penalties are a big thing. We have to work on that. They called back a couple big plays and that hurt us. We can't have that this week. We have to stop the penalties and keep the clock moving."

Rob Sims

* On playing Minnesota after a two-year hiatus -- "It's very exciting. We haven't played Minnesota the last two years. We're excited to play them. I'm looking forward to it. We just have to stay calm and take it one game at a time. We can't be the Big Ten champs without taking care of Minnesota. We're going to go out there and get this one."

* On having a big day running the ball against the Gophers -- "I think we have an experienced offensive line and a back who has been running all over people all year. I would love to go up there and put 300 on them."

* On things holding the Buckeyes back -- "We won't be where need to be until we get rid of these penalties and turnovers. That's what has killed us all year. We all know that. If we can hold on to the ball … I know Troy wishes he could have a couple of his interceptions back. We just have to keep working. Every week, we look at our offensive goals. We realize that the penalties and turnovers have stopped us from being an explosive offense. We only have four more games to get it right."

* On the clipping penalties against IU -- "I'm not sure. On the ends, I think those guys were better than we thought. They came out and played hard. I'm sure Doug (Datish) and Alex didn't go out and play as well as they should have. We went out there and got it done. Alex, being young, he knows now not to take anybody lightly. He knows now that everybody can play in this league and everybody plays hard."

Ted Ginn Jr.

* On cutting out mistakes and improving each week -- "We just have to stay upbeat, keep two hands on the ball and play smarter. We just have to do everything right.

"We are working at our positions and working on what we have to do. We're working week in and week out. We just have to go out and play as hard as we can and do our assignments."

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