Gonzalez Reflects On 'The Catch'

Anthony Gonzalez's 26-yard leaping reception in the final moments of this year's Michigan game will be replayed by Buckeye fans for years to come. Possibly the only person who was not impressed with "The Catch" was Gonzalez himself. We caught up with the sophomore receiver, who reflected on his big play and the season as a whole. Plus, former Buckeye Scott Terna shares a series of photos on that huge pass reception by Gonzalez.

Ohio State sophomore wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez had a solid year and made several key plays for the Buckeyes throughout the season.

However, his 2005 campaign will forever be known for "The Catch."

No, not Dwight Clark from Joe Montana in the 1981 NFC Championship game. We're talking about Gonzalez's 26-yard leaping reception which all but sealed the deal in Ohio State's 25-21 comeback victory at Michigan on Nov. 19.

The play gave OSU a first-and-goal at UM's 4-yard-line with 37 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Two plays later, Antonio Pittman scored on a 3-yard touchdown run. The Buckeye defense held on and OSU claimed just its third win in Ann Arbor since 1987.

On Gonzalez's clutch play, he saw quarterback Troy Smith roll out of the pocket, so he decided to break off his route and run towards the end zone. Smith lofted the ball up and Gonzalez went high over Michigan defensive back Grant Mason to haul in the pass.

"It was a big play. I'm not going to say it wasn't," Gonzalez said. "It was on first down and I have no doubts in my mind that if that ball hits the ground that we would still march down because of the way Troy was playing. He was unbelievable on those last two drives. That was impressive."

Gonzalez actually ran out of bounds on the play, but it was ruled he was forced out by Mason. (A receiver cannot be the first one to touch the ball if he runs out of bounds on his own.)

"It was a little deceptive what coverage they may have been running," Gonzalez said. "It looked like they were about to back off. I had an out route. If he backs off, that's where the ball should go. But he stayed there and blocked me out of bounds, so I turned it up."

Gonzalez does his best to downplay the catch, but he admits it was a boost for his self-assurance.

"It does help your confidence," he said. "For me, that's always been a big part of my game. Whenever I have struggled at anything in my entire life, it's been because of a lack of confidence. Anything that happens that increases my confidence is good for me.

"Not that I was unconfident – I feel that I've played confident the whole year – but something like that certainly boosts the confidence a little bit."

Smith, who is making a habit out of producing huge games against Michigan, knows it was a clutch play from Gonzalez.

"I think it's tremendous progress on Tony's part," Smith said. "Not a lot of people know him as a high point guy, one with the ability to go up and get the ball like he did. I wouldn't take the play back and throw the ball anywhere else. I believe in Tony the whole way around. If anything, I would have thrown it a little harder so he could have had a chance to get into the end zone instead of jumping over the guy."

Smith also gets a lot of credit for the play. It looked like he was going to run, but instead he juked a Michigan defender, rolled right and let it fly.

"I was just trying to keep the play alive as long as I could," Smith said. "Gonzalez made a great play. The line held everybody off as long as they could."

But where did Gonzalez get the hops? How was he able to get up so high?

"I don't know," he said. "I can't go up that high. It wasn't that I got up that high, it was that I got turned in an awkward way and made it look like I was up real high. I don't jump very high."

Gonzalez says he has made better catches in his lifetime. Not necessarily bigger, just more-difficult.

"It's one of those things where the more focus there is on the game, the bigger it seems to outsiders and the better it seems, I guess," he said.

When Gonzalez says he has made better catches, he means in high school, or in the backyard. The play at Michigan was his best catch in an OSU uniform. But he has seen better catches from other OSU receivers.

"I've seen Santonio (Holmes) make better catches, and Mike Jenkins as well. He caught a pass at Penn State his senior year (in 2003) and he kind of grabbed it over the top of the DB and got hit in the mouth pretty hard too. It was a fade-stop for a touchdown (and sealed a win for OSU). So, I've seen lots better catches than mine since I've been here."

Gonzalez was asked how he would feel if "The Catch" is still being talked about 20 years from now.

"I don't think it will be," he said. "But how would I feel? I don't know. Ask me in 20 years, I guess."

Gonzalez's humble approach is not an act. He's intelligent, laid-back and doesn't spend time reading his press clippings.

But surely he's watched several replays of "The Catch," right?

"Honestly, people are making such a big deal out of it, but I've seen it maybe three or four times," he said. "Like I said, I've seen much better catches. It happened to be at a big time in the game. But I maintain if that ball hits the ground, we still drive down and score. No doubt in my mind."

The 6-0, 200-pound Gonzalez finished the regular season with 27 receptions, 358 yards (13.3 per reception) and three touchdowns. He was more than content with his No. 3 receiver role this year. With defenses keying on Holmes and Ted Ginn Jr., Gonzalez was usually in the slot facing single coverage.

But with each passing game, he's becoming more of a household name. When Ohio State faces Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2 (5:12 p.m., ABC) you can bet that the Fighting Irish are going to pay close attention to Gonzalez.

"Well that's the big thing," Gonzalez said. "I would still say, if I'm a defensive coordinator looking at our offense, I'll take my chances with me before I would Ted and Santonio. I can't imagine they'll be burning the midnight oil trying to figure out how to stop me. I don't expect that at all. It would be foolish to do that because the rest of the guys on the offense will kill them if they do that.

"It's hard to say because it's been so long since we've played really. (Notre Dame is) looking at the whole season, and I think I did OK, not outstanding by any means. I anticipate they'll put much more focus on Santonio and Ted, as they should."

Ginn closed the regular season with 43 receptions, 636 yards (14.8) and three touchdowns. Don't you dare tell Gonzalez that Ginn had a "down" year.

"I think he did a very good job," Gonzalez said. "People set these ridiculous expectations for everyone. If Ted doesn't have six catches for 180 yards and three touchdowns and a punt return for a touchdown, somehow everyone thinks he had a bad game. But I think he's done a really good job. He's been solid. His route running – which for some reason people harped on that – but his route running is great. He's developed as a blocker, I think. He's young and we're all doing what we can. I think he had a great season."

Ginn – who arguably had the biggest play in the 2004 Michigan game with a touchdown on a punt return – was happy to see Gonzalez make a career-defining catch in this year's UM game.

"I mean, yeah," Ginn said. "That's something that you will never forget in your life. Me, him, everybody at that stadium, it's something that you'll never forget. It's always going to be there. Everybody wishes that they could make a catch, but I'm glad Gonzo made it."

Ginn was asked what stands out about Gonzalez as a receiver.

"That he's a white boy and he's fast," he replied, eliciting laughter from reporters. "And that comes out a lot because you really look at him and you say he's a guy in the Big Ten, really doesn't touch the ball that much. But I think every time he touches it he does something with it. The big catch against Michigan, the two (touchdown) catches against Iowa. Whatever we need or whatever we ask Gonzo to do, he comes through with it. And that's what stands out in my mind about him a lot."

Ginn was asked if he thinks Gonzalez might be overlooked because of his skin color.

"Yeah, and he's got two black guys outside of him," Ginn said. "I believe that's why people overlook him. And then we do little things and make schemes and he just dominates."

In what is likely his final season at OSU, Holmes is going out with a bang. During the regular season, he led the Buckeyes in every major receiving category – 48 catches, 853 yards (17.8) and 10 touchdowns – but also did the dirty work, such as blocking.

"Oh, he's a really tough player," Gonzalez said of Holmes. "It's one of those things where you can't really appreciate his toughness until you throw on the film and watch him blocking. He gets three or four pancake blocks almost every game where he just obliterates people. It's kind of fun to watch. He won the Jack Tatum Hit of the Week one week."

Gonzalez says he is not sure if Holmes will be back next year. (But what else is he going to say?)

"I don't know. That's one of those things that he has to figure out," Gonzalez said. "That's a situation that everybody would love to be in. Because if he went out, he'd probably be one of the first receivers taken, and if he comes back, we'd obviously love to have him. That's a family decision that he has to make for his family."

If Holmes does make the jump to the NFL, Gonzalez will likely step up as the Buckeyes' No. 1 receiver next year. The coaching staff might be content to leave Ginn in the No. 2 role.

"Honestly, I haven't even thought about that," Gonzalez said. "I have yet to get that far in my thinking. Ever since they announced Notre Dame, that's pretty much been the only thing on my mind.

"But if he were to leave, that would put more pressure on the guys coming back. And that's just a part of collegiate athletics. Guys move on, other guys have to step up."

A few young receivers will also need to produce in 2006. Gonzalez was asked if any of the backup receivers have caught his eye.

"It's tough, because I think everybody on our team is good," he said. "Somebody will step up, but I don't know who it will be. I can't pick out one in particular. Everybody has done a solid job. All the young guys are coming on. (Brian) Hartline, he just broke his collarbone, so he's out for a little bit, but you'll see Hartline make some good catches. You'll see (Brian) Robiske make some good catches. You'll see (Albert) Dukes make some good catches. Roy Hall, of course he's a little older. But all the young guys have came on and they have a great guy to learn from in Santonio. I even learn from Santonio as much as I can."

Even without Holmes, Gonzalez thinks that OSU will be in good shape next year at the receiver position.

"I would hope so. I really do," he said. "I refuse to believe that we won't have the talent. Now whether or not we're going to step up and make the plays that we need to, obviously that has yet to be determined, but I feel that we will have a good group of receivers next year. It will be even better if Santonio stays, but if he does go I think we'll be OK."

Ohio State finished the regular season ranked 37th in the country in total offense, averaging 405 yards per game. It was the highest ranking for an OSU offense thus far in the Jim Tressel era.

But the offense didn't come on until mid-way through the season. Early in the year, the Buckeyes sputtered at times. The second-half turnaround was nothing short of impressive.

"It seems like in the beginning of the season, we were real close to making big plays, but for some reason we just weren't making them," Gonzalez said. "Whereas the last month and a half of the season, it does seem like we started to turn the corner a little bit."

For some Ohio State players, this will mark their third trip to the Fiesta Bowl in four years. The Buckeyes defeated Miami, 31-24 in double-overtime, to claim the 2002 national championship.

They defeated Kansas State, 35-28, the following year.

So, will being familiar with the surroundings in Tempe, Ariz., give the Buckeyes an advantage?

"It could," Gonzalez said. "I personally didn't play in the Fiesta Bowl against Kansas State, but I know the surroundings, I know the hotel, I know what's going on in Phoenix and Tempe. So, there's a little bit of a comfort factor, I guess. It was a great experience when we went out there last time and we're very happy to be going back."

With injuries to Hartline, as well as freshman defensive ends Ryan Williams and Doug Worthington, bowl practice in Columbus was obviously not a time to relax for OSU's players. They went at it hard, especially the young players in the full-contact "showtime" sessions.

"We're not getting after it like camp. It's probably a step down," Gonzalez said. "If camp was a 10, this is probably an 8.5 or 9. They are intense, but they're fun, because this is what we love to do. We love to play football. Any time you get to be in pads and run around and make plays is always a positive, because for most of the year you're not even allowed to have helmets and footballs. So, it's always good to throw the ball around."

Ohio State's offense has begun game-planning for Notre Dame, the No. 64-ranked total defense in the country (377 yards allowed per game).

"It's still unfolding, because our coaches have been out recruiting a lot," Gonzalez said. "This is the big in-season recruiting time. So, our game plan is still unfolding. They've put in some things and I'm sure there will be more.

"As far as me personally and my study of Notre Dame, I'm pretty close to being done, from a perspective of knowing what they like to do. I'm big into film. I watch a lot of film."

Gonzalez's Catch In Pictures

Below is a unique look in photos at the Gonzalez catch, taken right on the field near where the catch happened. 

Photos by Scott Terna

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