The Wildcats entered play ranked last in the country in total defense and they lived up to their reputation.
Ohio State sophomore tailback Antonio Pittman carried 18 times for 132 yards and one touchdown. He surpassed the 1,000-yard mark and is now sitting on 1,110 yards for the season.
But Pittman wasn't the only OSU back getting in on the act for a change. The Buckeyes racked up a season-high 317 rushing yards. True freshman Maurice Wells had a career-high 70 yards on 13 carries and added his first collegiate touchdown. Redshirt freshman Erik Haw had eight carries for 39 yards and his first touchdown.
Quarterback Troy Smith had a less than stellar day, but didn't have to do much with the running game clicking. Smith was 7 of 12 passing for 77 yards and one interception. The junior added 75 rushing yards on 11 totes.
It was the fourth straight game that OSU scored 40 or more points, the first time it has accomplished that since the 1995 season.
However, head coach Jim Tressel believes his offense can play better.
"I don't know that we threw it very well," Tressel said. "Going to have to go back and study that a little bit, but I don't think we were razor sharp with that. We ran it better as the game went and I think Pitt got over 100 and Mo (Wells) got 70 or something. That's the kind of numbers we want. I assume Troy was up there somewhere – I don't know the numbers. We felt good about the run game and we've got to get a little more balanced."
Tressel and many Buckeye fans held their collective breaths when Pittman went down with a first quarter injury. It appeared serious at first as Pittman was carted off the field. But it turned out to be nothing more than a minor hip/back strain.
"I think he got dinged up a little bit and the trainers worked on him," Tressel said. "He came back and he was headed north-south and broke some tackles. As he's been doing all year, I think every game he's getting better, getting more confidence. His vision continues to get better and better, and his pad level has been where we want it. If he'll keep doing that – as we say each week – it gives us a much better chance to be a complete offense."
Pittman set a goal in the preseason to go over 1,000 yards and he was pleased to get there in just the 10th game of the season.
"It felt great to get the 1,000 yards just to show we can run the ball and just to show everybody that our offensive line can do their jobs," Pittman said. "They come out here and they go to work and it all pays off.
"It means a lot to me, but especially to the offensive line. That goes to show that all their hard work has paid off. All the credit has to go to them. They go out there every play and they open up holes and they beat their bodies up just for me to run the ball and I respect them a lot for that."
Pittman was asked what running play seemed to work especially well against the Wildcats.
"I like it a lot when Rob (Sims) pulls," he said. "I love running behind him. That's a big body that can move. Just got two more times to run behind him and it's going to be all right."
The running game seems to be clicking better than at any other time in the Tressel era, save the early part of the 2002 season.
But Pittman says the running game has not arrived yet.
"I feel as if we've got a lot more to prove," he said. "We've still got two more games and two more opportunities to go out there and get it done. So, at the end of the season, that's when we can say if it's proven or not."
Pittman nearly lost a first quarter fumble against Northwestern on an option pitch, but Smith was able to jump on the loose ball.
Smith usually keeps the ball on option plays and Pittman was asked if he was surprised to get the pitch.
"Yeah, he surprised me a lot, but it was my fault," he said. "I took my eyes off the ball – I was too anxious to get up the field. We (fortunately) got the ball back and got seven (points) off of it."
Pittman has made a lot of big plays this season and one side of his helmet is now completely filled with Buckeye leaves.
"I care about it a lot," he said of receiving the leaves. "That goes to show you're out there handling business. Last year I didn't have many, and just to come out here and fill it up this year, that's good for me."
Pittman was asked if OSU's players compare helmets with each other before the game to see who owns the most Buckeye leaves.
"No, you don't compare," he said. "The first thing you do is you come in and grab your helmet and see how many you got. I came in today and one side was filled up and now I'm working on the other side."
Pittman was never concerned that he was seriously injured on Saturday. His back and hip tightened up on him and it didn't take long to resolve the situation.
"Oh no, I knew I was going to come back," Pittman said. "I knew I was going to come back without a doubt. They came in there and gave me a massage and massaged it out and I was ready to go."
When Pittman left the game, the score was deadlocked at 7-7. When he returned to the field, the Buckeyes were cruising with a 14-point lead.
"All I heard was the crowd yelling," Pittman said of being in the locker room. "I didn't know nothing. I came back out and it was 21-7 and I was like, ‘Yes!'"
Pittman and Northwestern tailback Tyrell Sutton each hail from Akron. Pittman was asked about upstaging his boyhood friend.
"He came out there and he had a good game," Pittman said. "I think he had 94 yards (93 yards on 14 carries). He had that fumble and they didn't put him back in, because you can't turn the ball over. But, it was a great game for both of us. We came out there and took care of business. We came out on top though."
Pittman was happy to see teammates Wells and Haw get a lot of playing time and a taste of success.
"It was good, because all three running backs got a touchdown," Pittman said. "That hasn't happened all year. Usually it would just be me, or none of us. But, we all got a chance to get in the end zone and we all got a chance to go out there and run the ball and that's good.
"It felt good to see Mo and Erik get out there and run the ball. Especially when you worked so hard this season and you give them a chance and show that we've got more than one back. I think we racked up a lot of yards on the ground and it felt good."
Pittman was asked what is different about OSU's offense, compared to the early stages of the season. And you know he's never going to pass up an opportunity to praise the big guys up front.
"The way the offensive line has just took control," he said. "They've been opening up big holes. Ever since I broke the long one up at Minnesota they've just been anxious to get me in the end zone and I respect them a lot for that."
Pittman knows establishing a running game is the key for OSU's offense.
"Oh, I think it is without a doubt," he said. "Once you can run the ball, it puts more players in the box and then you can throw the ball. We've got great receivers, Santonio (Holmes), Ted (Ginn), Gonzo (Anthony Gonzalez), you get one-on-one coverage with those guys, they can make a five-yard out go 60, 70 yards."
One play that has worked fairly well for the Buckeyes this season has been the option. It's still a work-in-progress, but OSU usually picks up decent yards on the play.
"The option, it's kind of like you have to pick your poison," Pittman said. "You come jump on me, Troy's going to get at least five. Or, if he pitches it, I can get at least five. So, it's good. It works out good."
Pittman became just the fourth sophomore running back in Ohio State history to go over 1,000 yards in a season, joining Archie Griffin (1973), Keith Byars (1983) and Vince Workman (1986).
Robert Smith (1990) and Maurice Clarett (2002) each accomplished the feat as freshmen, but Pittman is just the fourth sophomore.
"See, I didn't even know that until today," Pittman said. "But that's big. That's a big thing for me. That's great."
And Pittman's teammates were obviously pleased to see him go over 1,000 yards.
"It was great," Smith said. "Antonio deserves every carry he gets and every yard he scratches and fights for. He is 195 pounds and he's out there running like he's 230, taking on linebackers."
Added Wells: "It's a great thing for him. Last year I think he was second on the team in rushing and this year he came in as the starter and has really proved himself. They had a lot of doubts coming into this year about, ‘Who is going to run the rock for Ohio State?' And Pitt definitely answered those questions."
Last home tilt for Holmes?
Holmes led OSU with three receptions for 49 yards in what was probably his final game in Ohio Stadium.
As he left the field, he heard the OSU faithful chanting, "One more year."
"I couldn't really say much about it," Holmes said. "Just enjoyed the time that I've had here and just sit down and evaluate it after we play Michigan and see what will happen next."
Holmes could be seen waving to the crowd late in the game, almost as if to say, "Good-bye."
"The first couple times I was waving at my fam – I had a lot of family here today," he said. "And the second time I was really being a jerk, just going out there and teasing everybody. Guys were asking me on the sidelines if this was my last home game and I was like, ‘Man, I can't make that decision right now, we've still got another game to play.'"
But it did make him feel good to hear the fans urging him to return for his fifth year, even if it is highly unlikely.
"Oh yeah, because I know they want to see a lot of excitement from me and Ted and the other guys that are returning," Holmes said. "And for the seniors to go out this way, you know, it's outstanding because we could have another great bunch of seniors after this that's going to be great."
As for the performance against Northwestern, Holmes couldn't ask for a better way to go out than scoring 48 points – even if it did come against one of the worst defenses in the land.
"Oh man, our offense was clicking today," Holmes said. "Unfortunately we didn't get it done in the passing game as you can see, but with the way our guys ran the ball, the way our offensive line blocked today and the way our running backs did their jobs just made the difference. It's great that our offensive line did their jobs today. They really pounded those guys and gave it to them."
Wells happy to contribute
It's been somewhat of a rough year for Wells, who entered the Northwestern game averaging just 2.8 yards per carry. But rushing for 70 yards and reaching paydirt for the first time was gratifying for the young back.
"It felt real good," Wells said. "I never doubted myself. Coming into any game I expect I can come in and help the team win and I feel that I did that today, so I'm proud of myself."
Wells described his touchdown, a 13-yard run which gave the Buckeyes a 28-7 lead just before halftime.
"The line was blocking great all game today and it was a toss to the right," Wells said. "Our running backs coach (Dick Tressel) did a good job of telling us to stay patient and it's going to probably hit on the inside and that's exactly what it did and the hole opened up for me and I ran right in there for the easy touchdown."
Wells will always be compared to Northwestern's Sutton. Both are small backs and the Buckeyes picked the kid from Jacksonville, Fla., over the in-state star.
"Not too much," Wells said when asked if he thinks about being compared to Sutton. "I'm my own person and Tyrell is his own person. He's a great running back and I think he led the Big Ten and led freshmen in the nation in rushing yards. He's doing a great job over there, no question. And I'm doing my thing here at Ohio State. So, for me, no, I really don't look at that stuff."
No, Wells hasn't lit up the world this year with his rushing, but he's coming along. Even Pittman didn't see many carries last year as a true freshman. So, this year is working out according to plan for Wells. He's the No. 2 tailback on a top 10 team and he's feeling good about it.
"This is a great experience, definitely," Wells said. "That's kind of why I picked Ohio State. I knew they were going to be a good team and I would have an opportunity to play as a true freshman. And so far everything that I planned has been working out for me. It's a great experience and I'm having a lot of fun this year.
"I tried not to expect too much as far as playing time. I just wanted to go in and play my hardest and do my best and that's what I'm doing right now."
Wells' parents were in attendance Saturday and they've had a chance to see most of his games this year.
"Actually, my parents both moved up to Maryland this summer from Jacksonville," Wells said. "My mom and dad both got jobs up there. So, they drive up for a lot of the games, or they fly up for a lot of the games – my mom, dad and little brother."