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Headline: Memorable Moments
By Steve Helwagen
(From Feb. 2006 issue)
The 2005 Ohio State football season will be remembered by most as a year where the Buckeyes came thisclose to doing something really big.
The Buckeyes ended the regular season at 9-2 overall and 7-1 in Big Ten play, snagging a share of the conference crown – the school's 30th Big Ten title – after a stirring 25-21 come-from-behind win at Michigan.
The deadline for this issue of Bucknuts The Magazine was prior to OSU's appearance against Notre Dame in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes went into that showdown with the Fighting Irish as the nation's No. 4-ranked team, so they had a chance to cement another top-five finish with a win in Tempe.
Early season losses to Texas (which finished the regular season No. 2 and played USC for the national championship in the Rose Bowl) and at Penn State (which ended the regular season No. 3) were the only blemishes on the year for the Buckeyes. Those two games will each be remembered, though, for the way the Buckeyes fought down to the wire against the nation's best competition.
We will recap the bowl game in the next edition of Bucknuts The Magazine. However, in this issue we will take a look back at 10 of the most memorable moments from the 2005 regular season. We will look at each of these moments in chronological order.
Bucks Smother The RedHawks
Miami (Ohio) was breaking in a new head coach in Shane Montgomery, but the Buckeyes hardly gave the RedHawks an opening in the season opener. OSU burst out to a 34-0 lead after three quarters and cruised to a 34-14 win on a brilliantly sunny Sept. 3 at Ohio Stadium.
Justin Zwick was the starting quarterback with Troy Smith serving the second game of his two-game suspension. Zwick responded by hitting on 17 of 23 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown with an interception. One of the highlights was seeing redshirt freshman quarterback Todd Boeckman, in his OSU debut, toss a perfect 42-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr.
The Buckeyes had been tempted to look past Miami and on to the showdown with Texas in Week 2. But they did not do it.
"A lot of people tried to get these guys to think a little ahead and think out forward, and what I've been impressed about them throughout the course of time is they focused on every practice and focused on every scrimmage," said OSU coach Jim Tressel, who was opening his fifth year as the OSU coach. "I thought their focus was excellent in this football game."
Nation Watches OSU, Texas Do Battle
ABC Sports selected the OSU-Texas showdown – the first-ever meeting between two of the nation's largest football playing universities – as an 8 p.m. prime time start. Who knew that the game would be as compelling as "Desperate Housewives"?
A national TV audience of over 10 million viewers as well as an Ohio Stadium record crowd of 105,565 – some of whom paid $300 and up for $61 face value seats – saw some high grade college football action as Texas pulled out a thrilling 25-22 win. The anticipation for this game – and the electric atmosphere in and around the venerable Horseshoe – was similar to the scene for the 1995 Notre Dame game and some of the larger OSU-Michigan match-ups.
Smith returned to action for the Buckeyes, relieving Zwick on the third series. The duo split time after that, each making costly late-game miscues that damaged OSU's comeback bid.
The story of the game was Texas quarterback (and ultimate Heisman Trophy runner-up) Vince Young. He accounted for 346 yards total offense, including 270 yards through the air. Young's 24-yard touchdown pass to Limas Sweed with 2:37 left was ultimately the difference.
Texas became the first visiting team in seven tries to win a night game at Ohio Stadium. The Longhorns also snapped OSU's string of 36 straight home nonconference wins, a streak that dated all the way back to 1990.
"I think you have to start with the fact that our kids played their hearts out and played hard and fought hard and played against a very tough football team in Texas," Tressel said. "Tip the cap, their kids played extremely hard. It was a well-fought football game. It was disappointing that we had many opportunities and didn't cash in on enough to win.
"We've got great seniors and excellent leaders like the ones sitting here and we're going to have a good football team, but obviously we have to be much more consistent than we were this evening."
OSU will get a chance to avenge this painful defeat when it visits Texas on Sept. 9, 2006.
Motivation Ploy Works Vs. Iowa
Speaking of avenging defeats, after Ohio State took a lackluster 27-6 win over San Diego State, the Buckeyes set their sights on Iowa for the Sept. 24 Big Ten opener.
The Hawkeyes had buried OSU 33-7 a year earlier in Iowa City. The coaching staff went so far as to put the score of that game on signs all over the Woody Hayes Athletic Center during the days leading up to this game.
The psychological ploys worked as Ohio State grabbed a 17-0 halftime lead and poured it on for a 31-6 win over the 21st-ranked Hawkeyes. Safety Donte Whitner outlined the depths the staff went to.
"We played San Diego State on Saturday and when we walked in on Sunday they had it up already," said Whitner, who had an interception in the win over Iowa. "They must have had it ready. There's no way they could have done it all on Saturday night. It was everywhere around the building.
"We were seeing 33-7 in the shower, in the bathroom," Whitner said. "Yes, in the shower, in the shower – where the water is. They'd laminate it and tape it up in the shower. It was on our lockers. Every time you went through a door, it was on the door. Outside in practice, we saw 33-7 on the field hockey scoreboard. We had no choice to think about last year and that score. It helped us focus on this game and what we had to do. We had to come out and play a good game because they embarrassed us last year."
OSU racked up 530 yards in the win with Smith on top of his game. He was 13 of 19 passing for 191 yards and two touchdowns and also carried the ball 18 times for 127 yards and two scores. Tailback Antonio Pittman enjoyed his first big breakout game with career highs in carries (28) and yards (171). Anthony Gonzalez caught both of the TD passes.
The Buckeye defense tallied five sacks on Iowa quarterback Drew Tate, who had confounded them in 2004. Iowa ended up with just 137 yards total offense and was a pitiful 1 for 12 on third-down conversions.
OSU Sees White-Out At Penn State
Penn State had been mired in a stretch with four losing seasons in five years. But the Nittany Lions were unbeaten as they hosted Ohio State in an Oct. 8 night game at Beaver Stadium. Riding a wave of enthusiasm, the Nittany Lions held off OSU 17-10 to grab control of the early lead in the Big Ten.
The stadium rocked as the sellout crowd of 109,839 jumped up and down and chanted to the techno tune "Voodoo Nation." It was in the middle of one of those crowd frenzies that Smith threw a costly interception, which Calvin Lowry returned to the OSU 2-yard line. That set up one of PSU's touchdowns as the Lions roared out to a 14-3 lead.
The Buckeyes tried to rally late, but PSU's Tamba Hali blasted Smith from the backside and forced a game-clinching fumble near midfield with 1:21 left.
"The thing I have always wanted with Penn State football was I wanted people to feel good not only about the winning but about the way we win," said longtime Penn State coach Joe Paterno. "The students were absolutely unbelievable. In all the years I have been here, I have never seen more spontaneous enthusiasm and wanting to help."
After being considered a national championship contender in the preseason, Ohio State was sitting at 3-2 overall on the year. Tressel was asked after the game where the team stood.
"The only place we always stand – we stand together," Tressel said. "I think that's what life is all about. We just have to work to get better tomorrow and the next day. We have to work to be the best Ohio State team we can be."
Blocked FG Turns MSU Game
Ohio State did not initially respond well to the PSU loss. The Buckeyes fell behind visiting Michigan State 17-7 the following week and the Spartans lined up to kick a field goal on the final play of the first half. But OSU's Nate Salley blocked that kick and teammate Ashton Youboty scooped it and, fighting a hamstring cramp, rolled 72 yards for the touchdown that basically turned OSU's season around.
The Buckeyes rallied in the second half for a 35-24 win, sacking MSU quarterback Drew Stanton 12 times. Smith threw for 249 yards and three touchdowns as the Buckeyes overcame four lost fumbles to get the win.
Big Plays Squash The Hoosiers
Ohio State next went on the road to Indiana and deluged the Hoosiers with a spate of big plays in a 41-10 win. Smith hit Santonio Holmes for a 23-yard touchdown before running for a nifty 23-yard TD run of his own.
Safety Brandon Mitchell made a 57-yard interception return for a score. But the capper was Ted Ginn Jr. He had a 62-yard punt return for a score and returned a kick 100 yards for an apparent touchdown, but it was downgraded to an 80-yard return due to a silly penalty well behind the play.
High Octane Offense At Minnesota
OSU needed all of the offensive firepower it could muster at Minnesota, where the Buckeyes would take a wild 45-31 win. Smith threw for 233 yards and three touchdowns, Ginn returned a kick 100 yards for a score and Pittman had a career high 186 yards and his first two touchdowns of the year.
The Buckeyes needed all of that weaponry as their usually staunch defense was torched for 578 yards – the second highest total in school history – by the Gophers. But the Buckeyes came up with red zone stops when they needed them most, including defensive end Mike Kudla's clutch tackle on Gophers star Laurence Maroney on a key fourth-down play in the third quarter.
Hapless Illini No Match
There was a time when Illinois could come into Ohio Stadium and expect to win. In fact, coming into the schools Nov. 4 meeting at the Horseshoe, the Illini had won six of their last eight trips to Columbus.
But those days may be over. Ohio State crushed Illinois 40-2 as Smith threw for 298 yards and three touchdowns (two of them to Holmes, including a 73-yarder) and Pittman carried for 96 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
The Illini mustered just 160 yards total offense, getting their only two points on a return of a fumbled snap on an OSU PAT kick. Even that play was dubious, though, as OSU kicker Josh Huston was clearly shoved in the back trying to track down the returner but no call was made.
Revenge Sweet Against Northwestern
OSU also had a score to settle with Northwestern, which had taken a 33-27 overtime win over the Buckeyes in 2004 in Evanston.
There would be no such suspense this time as OSU sloughed off an early NU touchdown and rolled to an easy 48-7 win on senior day at the Horseshoe. Linebacker A.J. Hawk scored off a punt block by teammate Quinn Pitcock, while Smith ran for two touchdowns and Pittman had 132 yards on the ground.
Rare Win In Ann Arbor
Ohio State needed a win at Michigan Nov. 19 to secure a piece of the Big Ten title and keep its Big Ten title hopes alive. And it would be far from easy as the ninth-ranked Buckeyes had to rally from down nine in the final 7:49 to take a 25-21 win over the 17th-rated Wolverines before 111,591 in the 102nd installment of The Game.
That comeback included an 88-yard touchdown march capped by Antonio Pittman's 3-yard touchdown run with 24 seconds left. It was believed to be OSU's first win at Michigan ever with a game-deciding score in the final minute.
The Buckeyes clinched a share of their 30th Big Ten championship and also took their sixth straight win this season and fourth victory over Michigan in five years.
"We're partying on Michigan's field right now," said Holmes, whose 26-yard TD grab with 6:40 left started the comeback. "That's all I can say. Our guys came in and fought to the end. We knew it would be a tough battle."
Smith completed 27 of 37 passes for a career-high 300 yards and one score. One year after riddling Michigan for 386 yards total offense in a 37-21 upset of the Wolverines in Columbus, Smith added 37 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
"It was another great game in the Big Ten," Tressel said after claiming his fourth win over Michigan and second Big Ten title. "It was another great Ohio State-Michigan game. We want to tip our hats to them for how hard they played. I told our guys in the locker room that they broke one of my truisms. We can't win this game if we turn it over. But our kids wanted this one so badly and they did everything they could to overcome that.
"Troy Smith, I thought, took over those last couple of drives to give us a chance. He gives you that will to win and that command of his teammates. We're awful proud of him and his teammates for protecting and catching."