OSU Tailback Pittman Exceeds Expectations

The majority of people who follow Ohio State football likely expected tailback Antonio Pittman to have a solid year. But with 1,195 rushing yards through 11 games, it's safe to say Pittman has exceeded expectations. Well, everyone's but his own. We recently caught up with the sophomore who reflected on this season, looked ahead to the Fiesta Bowl, and more.

Entering the 2005 season, there were questions about Ohio State sophomore tailback Antonio Pittman. Most were optimistic he would play well, but the jury was still out. The Buckeyes had not had a 1,000-yard rusher for two straight years and there were concerns it could be three in a row.

However, two people who were not concerned about Pittman were head coach Jim Tressel, and Pittman himself.

Tressel spoke of Pittman glowingly throughout preseason camp. It was like he knew something you didn't. If he was concerned about his starting tailback, he was sure keeping his poker face on.

Pittman took it one step further. He brazenly stated in early August that his goal was 1,500 rushing yards and compared his style to Clinton Portis and LaDainian Tomlinson of the NFL. He later scaled back his rushing goal to 1,300 yards.

And while it seemed like a long-shot at the time, Pittman is close to reaching his target. After his breakout regular season, he is sitting on 1,195 yards. He is averaging a robust 5.4 yards per carry and has established himself as one of the top backs in the Big Ten.

And while you would think life is much different for Pittman now, compared to a few months ago, he says that's not the case. He's the same, fun-loving kid from Akron.

"Hasn't changed at all," Pittman said. "I'm just being humble and coming out here and doing everything I'm supposed to do. I don't look at anything being any different for me. People react differently when they see me, but as far as me changing, I don't think I've changed at all. I still feel as if I still have something to prove. The offensive line gets all the credit from me. Everything they do for me, I appreciate."

Archie Griffin said earlier this year that Pittman was a more mature running back this season. The 5-11, 200-pound Pittman agrees with the two-time Heisman Trophy winner.

"It's just that I understand the game more," Pittman said. "Last year going out there and I didn't know what it was all about. I was just trying to break the big one. And then this year I came in and I was the starter. I had time to just work at it and be comfortable. And if you're comfortable back there, a lot of things will change for you. The game slows down and you can be more relaxed. If you mess up, you know you can come back and get ‘em on the next play."

Pittman has always been a tough player, but he displayed his toughness and grit even more this year. His strengths are his quickness and vision, but he proved he could lower his shoulder and run over defenders this year.

"It's opportunity," Pittman said. "Last year, I'd come in and take a big hit, and all of a sudden, I'm out. And everybody was wondering, ‘Are you hurt?' And I was like, ‘There's nothing wrong with me. They took me out.' And this year, I'd take a big hit, get back up, next play deliver a big hit. It's all about opportunity. They gave me a chance and I took advantage of it."

Pittman says it's no secret that practicing against one of the nation's best defenses every day has made him a better player. If you can learn to dodge the Silver Bullets, you can handle almost anything.

"I ran against our D in camp. That's something that a lot of teams fear," Pittman said. "That's not an easy job. (Anthony) Schlegel, A.J. (Hawk), Bobby (Carpenter) and Donte (Whitner) coming after you every day trying to take your head off. Everybody in camp, ain't nobody getting along. Everybody is here, nobody wants to be here really. Were all going to play football and it's offense versus defense. We play for the jerseys and it was just a heated battle throughout camp."

As well as he was playing, Pittman failed to reach the end zone through the first seven games of the season. But in OSU's 45-31 shootout at Minnesota Oct. 29, he got his first touchdown in style with a 67-yard jaunt.

It become somewhat of a snowball effect. Pittman added another TD in the Minnesota game and finished the regular season with a respectable six trips to paydirt.

"I was talking to (former OSU running back) Mike Wiley, and he said, ‘Don't worry about getting one. Because once you get the first one, they're all going to come in packs,'" Pittman said. "Once I got the first one, I had two that week, two the next week and the next thing I know, I'm on a roll and I'm like, ‘Yeah, I'm loving this.'"

The touchdown Pittman will always remember was his go-ahead 3-yard run in OSU's 25-21 win over Michigan in which he ran over a UM defender at the goal line.

"That was a big one. It always replays in my mind," Pittman said. "It kind of makes up for my first five or six games going without a touchdown. Everybody kind of forgets that, ‘He didn't score a touchdown the first half of the season.' It's all about scoring the winning touchdown against Michigan."

Pittman expects a typical Big Ten-style game in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame on Monday (5 p.m., ABC). A smash-mouth running game would be right up his alley.

"I think Notre Dame is a lot like some of the teams in our conference," Pittman said. "Hopefully we can get our running game going and everything going on offense. They're a good team and I'm just ready to play in that game. I played in the bowl game last year (a 33-7 win over Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl) but not very much. So this is really my first taste of a bowl game and it's going to be a big one."

Following the Fiesta Bowl, Pittman will go right back to work. There's no winter break for this young prodigy. He is determined to be one of the best running backs in the nation and you can see it in his eyes. He plans on spending long hours working out and watching film.

"Everything. I just want to get better at everything this offseason," Pittman said. "Bigger, faster, stronger, watch a lot more film and hopefully we'll have two 1,000-yard backs next year. Just work with the other backs and hope everyone gets better. This is ‘Running Back U.' We got away from that for two years, but we're back. Hopefully we can just keep it going. Ohio State is not Ohio State without a 1,000-yard back and we've just got to keep it going."

With eight starters likely returning to the offense next year, including quarterback Troy Smith and Pittman, Ohio State could have the makings of a powerhouse offense.

"Yeah, that's always in the back of my head," Pittman said. "It was in my head this year, but we fell short and lost two games. Next year, we've got to start all over. We've got to play straight through next year. No bye week, just going at it. It's going to be a long season, but that's what the offseason is for.

"This year, I prepared myself for it, but I could have done a lot more. When I'm watching film, I'll say, ‘If I only would have done this much more in the offseason, I would have broke that tackle.' Or, ‘I would have made that block.' We've got a long season ahead of us. There's no bye. There's no weekend in the season to rest your body, so you've got to make yourself durable. You've got to push yourself even over the limit in the offseason just to prepare for it."

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