Holmes Continues To Produce

Ohio State junior Santonio Holmes is arguably the best wide receiver in the country. He set a goal coming into the season of being a first-team All-American selection. There are receivers out there with better statistics, but few have the impact that Holmes does for the Buckeyes. We caught up with him following OSU's win over Illinois on Saturday.

Junior wide receiver Santonio Holmes is making the most of what is likely his final season in an Ohio State uniform.

In Saturday's 40-2 rout of visiting Illinois, Holmes caught three passes for 59 yards and two touchdowns.

On the season, he now has 39 receptions for 732 yards (18.8 per reception) and nine touchdowns.

Every time he makes a big play, you can almost hear the cash register: "Cha-ching."

Holmes hasn't said for sure that he will leave for the NFL after this season. In fact, earlier in the week he said, "There's a possibility for both."

But with two sons back home in Florida (Santonio III and Nicori) and being projected as a late first round pick, Buckeye fans should enjoy Holmes' final three games at OSU.

Last season, Holmes had a solid season with 55 receptions for 769 yards (13.9) and seven touchdowns. He was named second-team All-Big Ten, but he was not happy with it. He had set a goal of being first-team all-conference.

This year, Holmes raised his expectations even more.

"I came out in the beginning of the season ready to be a first-team All-American," he said. "Ready to prove to those guys that I deserved to be there. But, more right now, my focus is getting our seniors another victory, trying to tie the Big Ten, or win it outright. That's my main focus right now."

Holmes was asked if he's having the statistical season he was hoping for.

"I feel that right now my numbers are outstanding," he said. "I'm doing exactly what the team needs, you know, to go in and score two touchdowns and just making things happen right now is what's big for this team. Just being able to make big plays and not really worrying about the numbers, because I'm pretty sure that everybody has seen what I'm capable of doing. So, just getting out there and playing for the team is what it's all about."

Holmes is pleased with the way the offense is coming around. For the first time since 1995, the Buckeyes have scored 40 or more points in three consecutive games.

"It's great man," Holmes said. "When your offense is clicking on all cylinders, you have no choice but to keep scoring."

Against Illinois, Holmes said that some of OSU's veteran offensive players were suggesting plays to head coach Jim Tressel.

"There were some things that we had seen within their defense. Some of the breakdowns in their defense," Holmes said. "Coach asked us on the sideline what are some things that we thought we could run. We gave him some calls and he had faith in us knowing that we could make the play."

One of the reasons that Tressel has "opened up" the offense recently is that he is confident that the players can get the job done.

"There's more faith within Troy (Smith), within the offensive line, within the receivers and running backs," Holmes said. "So, it's more on the guys – just willing to make plays."

Like most everyone else, Holmes has noticed Smith grow as a quarterback this year.

"We talked about the same thing last week," Holmes said. "He gets out there, he's calm, cool, relaxed in the huddle. He gets the job done exactly how it should be."

On Holmes' first touchdown against Illinois, he ran a deep out route and made an excellent move on a Fighting Illini defender on his way to paydirt. It was a true "ankle-breaker" move.

Holmes was asked if that was his best move of the season thus far.

"That probably was," he said. "I just thought it was a great move. I got the guy off-track a little bit and I got a great block by Ted (Ginn) who ended up springing me into the end zone."

Speaking of good blocks, on Antonio Pittman's 16-yard touchdown run in the third quarter – in which he ran over an Illinois defensive back – Holmes helped spring him.

"I talked to him in the huddle, ‘Run to my side and I'm going to get a good block for you and you're going to get in the end zone,'" Holmes said. "I think that's exactly what happened. And I didn't really see what went on behind, but I heard it on the sideline that he gave the guy a great shot with his shoulder and walked into the end zone."

Holmes is one of the best route runners in the country. But this year, he's also proven to be a good blocker. So, what does he take more pride in: route running, or blocking?

"Little bit of both. Little bit of both," Holmes said. "I think my route running has been recognized by a lot of people and right now I'm trying to take more pride in blocking. I feel like it's part of the deal in being a complete wide receiver and being a complete playmaker.

"When I got that holding penalty on me (against Illinois), I didn't want to accept it. But sometimes you've got to live with it and just keep fighting every play."

Believe it or not, Holmes was not a good route runner when he arrived at OSU in the late summer of 2002.

"I had to work on it a lot," he said. "A lot of the guys knew that I was capable of running good routes, but just the different schemes that colleges run, it was tougher to get adjusted to. I had a lot to learn."

Holmes has also bulked up since his freshman season. He's not a big receiver, but he plays a physical game for a player his size.

"I came in at about 168 pounds, and now I'm weighing 190," the 5-11 Holmes said. "So, I feel like that is a great deal for me."

Holmes played with a heavy heart on Saturday. He was concerned about wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell who was hospitalized Saturday morning with an illness.

"The reason why I felt like playing physical today was because of Coach Hazell," Holmes said. "He's always talking to us about having a complete game; being the guy that had a complete game. My focus today, I was very off in the first quarter. That was the only thing that was on my mind. You know, thinking about, ‘How's he doing? What's going to happen with him? Am I going to be able to talk to him again and see him?' And I was just real, real frustrated the whole game. Not because of the guys talking and jawing or whatnot, but it was more on how he's feeling. And I just felt like going out there and hitting somebody in the mouth, knowing when he gets in Sunday, or if it's possible, for him to watch film, that he would see that we played physical today."

As for the production from OSU's offense, one might think that better play-calling from Tressel is a big factor. But Holmes disputes that point of view.

"Play calling has pretty much been the same all season," he said. "We're just right now making all the plays happen."

This season hasn't exactly worked out according to plan for the Buckeyes. They had their sights set on winning a national championship. However, there is still plenty to play for. Namely a win over Michigan, a Big Ten championship and a BCS bowl bid.

"That's right," Holmes said. "We fell a little short of our ultimate goal, but we still feel that we are the best team in the country, or at least one of the best. The way to prove that is to win out this season and see what happens.

"It starts next week against Northwestern and those guys beat us last year. We have to come out ready to show that is not going to happen again."

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