Pittman Pushing For 1,000

Antonio Pittman began the season with lofty goals and is on his way to reaching some of them. Ohio State's sophomore tailback is fresh off his 186-yard performance against Minnesota last week and is now focused on having another big game against Illinois this week. Pittman's running style and attitude has impressed his teammates -- namely linemen Nick Mangold and Rob Sims.

Sophomore tailback Antonio Pittman is closing in on 1,000 rushing yards – something an Ohio State running back has been unable to accomplish since Maurice Clarett in 2002.

The 5-11, 200-pound Pittman has 882 yards on the season and is averaging a robust 5.5 yards per carry. With a decent game against visiting Illinois on Saturday, he will reach the 1,000-yard mark. But no one needed to tell Pittman that. He's been thinking about it all week.

"Oh yeah, without a doubt," he said with a big smile. "I've thought about it a lot. That would be good. But I'm just trying to take it one game at a time. Whether it comes this week, or it comes next week, it will be a plus."

Pittman carried 23 times for a career-high 186 yards in OSU's 45-31 win over Minnesota last Saturday. He also scored his first two touchdowns of the season.

Pittman heard all the talk that the game would likely boil down to the Buckeyes' ability to stop Minnesota's rushing attack. But he wanted everyone to remember that Ohio State had a good running game as well.

"Coming into the game, we knew it was going to be a big challenge for our defense," Pittman said. "Number one run offense, versus the number one run defense. We knew that would be a big thing.

"And I just felt as if it would be great to go out there and have a great game too. Offensive line just opened up some great holes and they just came together. It felt good, but it was more the offensive line. They blocked so well for me; I can't ask for more."

Pittman upstaged Minnesota junior Laurence Maroney, widely considered the best running back in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country. But more importantly, Pittman had his best game in an OSU uniform.

"It was just more having a game. I wasn't out there to try and out-show anybody," Pittman said. "I was just out there playing ball and the offensive line did their thing for me. I got the yardage and it might have looked like I tried to out-show him or something like that, but it was nothing like that for me."

If it sounds like Pittman is always talking up OSU's offensive line and giving it credit for his success, that's because he is. And the big guys up front appreciate the kind words.

"God bless his soul. We really do like that," senior center/captain Nick Mangold said. "I've also noticed that Troy (Smith) does that every once in a while that he lets people know that he appreciates us. It's nothing new inside the football team. (Pittman) lets us know when we're in the huddle that, you know, ‘Keep blocking them. I'm going to make that run. I'm going to get it done.' And Troy is the same way. They always give us credit and Lord knows we appreciate it."

Senior left guard/captain Rob Sims echoed Mangold's comments.

"Pitt has been very appreciative of what the offensive line has done," Sims said. "We haven't even said anything like he's going to take us out to dinner or anything, that hasn't been the case. But, me and Nick and the rest of the offensive line, we're just so proud of him that he's gone out there and had a huge year. I love him like a brother. He went out there and kept his mouth shut about not scoring touchdowns, or doing whatever."

Sims has been impressed with Pittman's running style throughout the season. He wasn't surprised to see him explode against Minnesota.

"I think Antonio has been doing a good job all year," Sims said. "I think everybody is kind of coming into their own. I think to have a great running back you have to have a good line, good quarterback, good plays called. I think everybody is getting real comfortable with each other and doing a good job.

"He just kept fighting all year and he had a big payday up at Minnesota. We're excited because if he rushes for 120 (against Illinois) he will get a ‘G' this year. We're excited for him because I'll feel like I got one too."

Sims and some of his teammates jokingly gave Pittman the nickname of "Quincy" earlier this season.

"I think it came from Varsity Blues," Sims said. "The one kid was complaining about not getting any touchdowns in that movie and we kind of tease him about that. But now we've got a new nickname for him. We call him Touchdown Tony."

If Pittman and Sims are like brothers, then maybe Mangold is a distant cousin. He can't say enough nice things about the young tailback.

"Tony's been doing a good job … and I love him back there," Mangold said. "I love being able to see him in practice because he always just has that little sly smile to him and he's happy to be out there and wants to run hard. As an offensive lineman, you want to see that out of your back. That he wants to be out there, he wants to run, he wants to run people over, break tackles and get that extra yardage. It's kind of a boost for us as well to see his spirit out there."

Some might be surprised with the season Pittman is having, but Pittman is not surprised in the least. He expected to reach at least 1,000 yards this year. (Early in the preseason he said his goal was 1,500 yards. He later cut that back to 1,300.)

"There were no questions (in my mind)," Pittman said. "I was sure I could get to this point. It was just about an opportunity. Last couple weeks I've been getting an opportunity and I've been producing off it. So, hopefully we can just keep it rolling."

Pittman's 67-yard touchdown run against Minnesota was shown time and time again on ESPN Saturday night and Sunday morning. For a kid like Pittman who grew up watching ESPN as much as possible, it was a big thrill.

"That was the first time (I've seen myself on Sportscenter). I was happy," Pittman said. "It was a big thing. Everybody watches Sportscenter growing up and to finally see yourself on there, it was like, ‘OK.' But now I've got to move on and get ready for Illinois."

Only four running backs in the history of Ohio State football have reached 1,000 rushing yards twice in their career. They include: Archie Griffin (the only to do it three times), Tim Spencer, Keith Byars and Eddie George.

"That surprises me," Pittman said. "I thought there was more."

It is impressive company and Pittman could join them in 2006, or 2007.

"Yeah it is," Pittman said. "Next year I'd like to do it."

But another back from Akron – OSU verbal commitment Chris Wells – could steal carries from Pittman next year.

"That would be all right," Pittman said.

Pittman – who prepped at Akron Buchtel – played against Wells (Akron Garfield) in high school.

"Yeah, I played against him two times," he said. "He's a good running back. Good kid. Runs hard."

Looking at Pittman's numbers this year, the one statistic that jumps off the page is 5.5 yards per carry. Any time a back is averaging five or more yards per carry, he's doing a lot of things right.

"I would say, yeah, it would have to be yards per carry," Pittman said, when asked to name the most important stat for a running back. "The coaches stress the four yards on first down, which gives you second and six. That's all you need. Three plays of four yards, you've got the first. So, that's what you go for."

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