Offense Continues Strong Play Against Illini

Saturday's 40-2 win over Illinois marked another strong performance from Ohio State's offense. The Buckeyes had 526 yards of total offense and made several big plays. We have reaction from head coach Jim Tressel, quarterback Troy Smith, tailback Antonio Pittman, tight end Marcel Frost and guard Rob Sims.

Ohio State's offense had another impressive game, racking up 526 yards of total offense in a 40-2 whitewashing of visiting Illinois on Saturday.

The Buckeyes have now scored 40 or more points in three consecutive games, marking the first time they have accomplished that feat since 1995.

Junior quarterback Troy Smith continued his steady play, completing 13 of 21 passes for a career-high 298 yards, with three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Smith's top target against the Fighting Illini was sophomore Ted Ginn, who hauled in four receptions for 138 yards, including a 73-yard TD bomb in the third quarter.

Junior Santonio Holmes had three catches for 59 yards and two scores. His 41-yard touchdown in the second quarter – in which he made a great move to avoid a defender – gave the Buckeyes a 13-0 lead.

Sophomore tailback Antonio Pittman did not reach 1,000 yards for the season. He had 22 carries for 96 yards (leaving him 22 yards short) and two touchdowns.

Overall, there was a lot to be pleased about regarding the offense. But head coach Jim Tressel said it took a while for the unit to get rolling.

"Disappointed in the first half with our offensive consistency," Tressel said. "Didn't think that we were as sharp as we needed to be at this time of the season. Thought we did a little bit better job in the second half and obviously made a lot of big plays."

One of the criticisms of Tressel is that he does not "go for the kill" often enough. But here were the Buckeyes up 33-2 in the third quarter, still throwing the ball around the field.

"We're not opposed to scoring, contrary to popular opinion," Tressel quipped.

On Ginn's long touchdown, he burned Illinois' coverage on a fly pattern and Smith hit him nearly in stride.

"I think it starts with protection," Smith said. "The guys up front, they did a good job of walling them off. I was able to step up and (Holmes) drew the cornerback down and Ted just used his speed and got on top of the guy and made a play on the ball. But I do think it starts up front. Everything starts up front."

Smith was asked if he's seeing the field better now, as opposed to earlier in the season.

"I just think it's being more comfortable within the offense," he said. "And another thing is that the guys are starting to be a little more comfortable with me, and also the coaching staff. So, with all of that in hand, you're going to be able to see more guys and not the tunnel vision like I had early on in the season. But with more film study and things like that, you're going to see more things."

On Pittman's first touchdown run, which covered 16 yards, he ran over Illinois safety Morris Virgil at the 10 and waltzed in the end zone from there. The play gave OSU a 26-2 lead at the 7:22 mark of the third quarter.

Smith likes what he's seeing out of Pittman.

"I think he's getting back to his form when he was at (Akron) Buchtel when they gave him the nickname of ‘The Beast,'" Smith said. "Number 20 (Virgil) is supposed to be Illinois' hard hitter and they were out there doing a lot of jawing and within that, I think he got what he deserves because I don't know understand why guys talk stuff on the field anyway.

"Pittman is just a tough, hard runner. The more carries he gets, the more he's going to grind the defense out."

Pittman is known as a slasher, but he's proven he can play a power game when he needs to.

"Feels good," Pittman said of running over Virgil. "Shows all the hard work that I've put in the weight room has paid off. I saw him coming the whole time. I was trying to set him up because I guess he was coming down and he thought I was going to either keep pushing to the outside so he could push me out of bounds. But I turned it up a little on him and lowered the shoulder."

Pittman wanted to crack the 1,000-yard barrier against Illinois, but it will have to wait for at least another week.

"That's something that's on your mind – that's a big accomplishment," he said. "Not a lot of backs have done that. It's going to be on my mind until I get it."

Coming into the season, there were some questions as to whether Pittman could hold up as the Buckeyes' workhorse back. But he's silenced the critics.

"Feels good," he said. "I always knew I could play ball and I just got an opportunity to showcase myself and I'm doing it."

So, is Pittman "The Beast" again?

"It was just getting in the groove and running the ball - not a Beast," he said.

Illinois' defense came out with the intention to stop the run. It was going to make OSU beat it with the pass.

"I feel as if they stacked a lot of players in the box," Pittman said. "But to be a good team and run the ball well, you've got to be able to run against outnumbered in the box."

Pittman was asked if the offense can play better than it has over the last three weeks.

"I don't know," he said. "I guess we're all on the same page. Hopefully we can keep it rolling."

And a Pittman interview would not be complete without the young back giving some credit to OSU's offensive line.

"They played great," Pittman said. "They don't get a lot of credit for what they do, but I give them all the 40 points. They made those points possible."

And don't look now, but the Buckeyes finally have a tight end that is playing well. Sophomore Marcel Frost spent the first half of the season shacked up in the Tressel "doghouse" but he's come on recently. Against Illinois, Frost had two receptions for 34 yards.

"You never know what's going to happen," Frost said. "Just stay prepared and I got my chance and it feels great. Unfortunately it had to come with an injury to Ryan (Hamby) and Rory (Nicol) and I've just been trying to stay ready and try and get it done."

Frost was asked if any of his teammates tried to keep his spirits up when he was not receiving any playing time.

"There's a couple guys on the team – like Erik Haw, Roy Hall – they've been through it," he said. "And it just feels good to have someone there for you and know that you are going to get back. It's just about keep working, keep trying and see what happens."

Frost showed very good hands on one of his receptions on Saturday. Smith gunned the ball to him on the run and he made a fingertip catch for 17 yards.

"Troy throws the ball pretty hard," Frost said. "And wherever he puts it, I just tell him, ‘Just throw it; I'll go get it. It doesn't matter where it's at.' Today, he threw it and went and got it and got up field."

Frost was a two-way standout in high school (tight end/defensive end) but he's always preferred the offensive side of the ball.

"Coming out of high school, I knew I wanted to play tight end, wherever I went," he said. "But I came here and at the time I was a defensive end and due to some unfortunate things they asked me to move to tight end and I was happy. It felt great to get back to what I love to do."

OK, so we know Frost can catch the ball. But how is he as a blocker?

"I'm getting more and more happy with the blocking," he said. "I love catching balls, but it's all in the position. Blocking and catching balls. So, I'm starting to like blocking a little more.

"I need to work on some things, I know that, but it's pretty good. There's a couple things I need to work on and that is going to come with time. So, just keep going."

One player who blocks quite well is senior left guard Rob Sims. And nothing made him happier than to see Pittman truck his way into the end zone on the 16-yard jaunt in the third quarter.

"I saw it first hand," Sims said. "Running over there, I was like, ‘Man!' It was a huge hit. I'm so happy for Pitt. I think of him like a little brother and I'm just so happy for him. He's been so unselfish this year, you know, not getting as many touches as he wanted to and not getting as many touchdowns. But he just kept playing right through it and I think he's really emerged as one of the best running backs in the country.

"He let that guy know. He let him know he was coming."

Smith continues to prove he is one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten. In fact, he will likely pass Michigan State's Drew Stanton's as the conference's leader in passing efficiency after his big game against Illinois.

Sims is not surprised in the least about Smith's play.

"I always knew we had a good guy," Sims said. "Always knew that. Like I've said before, it could be tons better. If the offensive line, if we give him time back there, he's so dangerous. He can just pick people apart. His arm is so strong. Our receivers were beating guys on their routes all game and I'm glad we got it together in the second half."

But No. 1 in the conference in passing efficiency? That's pretty impressive.

"Hats off to the coaches and hats off to him for playing good," Sims said. "Coach (Joe) Daniels is probably one of the best quarterback coaches. I haven't been around any other quarterback coaches, but he seems like a pretty good one. He's coached some great quarterbacks in his lifetime. Craig Krenzel. Troy got to learn from Craig. It's a blessing to be in a situation that every year there's people you can learn from."

And the offensive line continues to play well. Sims and center Nick Mangold will likely be playing in the NFL next year and the other three players are also carrying their weight.

"I think me switching around to guard has really helped us out," Sims said. "I think we really shored up the middle. Doug (Datish) and Kirk (Barton), or Alex (Boone), has been playing pretty solid out on the tackles. We kind of made a commitment to each other really to just do better. We're in better shape than we were last year, we're a lot smarter than we were last year, picking up stuff. Run blocking is tons better and we're really running the ball. It helps when you've got a great running back in Antonio Pittman, and you've got a great quarterback and great receivers."

Sims and Mangold played as true freshmen on the 2002 national championship team. Sims says this year's true freshman – Boone – is more than holding his own.

"I think he's doing well," Sims said. "I think he really is doing well, considering he is a freshman and considering he came in repping a whole bunch at left tackle. He stuck with it. Me and Nick (Mangold) laugh all the time when Coach Bolls (offensive line coach Jim Bollman) gets on him because we remember when we were freshmen and Coach Bolls was all over us. It's funny to relive it. It's kind of like it's being recycled again. But I think he's doing well. He goes out there and he plays hard and he's very thick-skinned and he goes out there and gets the job done."

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