Pittman Keeps Plugging Away

Ohio State tailback Antonio Pittman continues to be one of the most underrated players in the country and is on his way to his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. There has been a lot of talk recently about Pittman turning pro after this season, but he says he will probably be back.

Tailback Antonio Pittman says he will most likely return to Ohio State for his senior season in 2007.

But Orlando Pace said the same thing in 1996. Chris Gamble said the same thing in 2003. Each of them left early for the NFL.

However, Pittman won't be the first overall pick of the draft like Pace, and he might not even be a late first-round pick like Gamble.

So, if he's projected somewhere in the second or third round as expected, he might come back. But with the shelf life of an NFL running back being so short, Pittman could simply be walking the company line right now, knowing in the back of his mind that he is strongly considering leaving following this season.

Pittman set goals coming into the 2006 season of 1,700 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. Barring an incredible finish to the season, he will fall well below those numbers. But he's still been very solid for the Buckeyes this year with 778 rushing yards (5.5 per carry) and eight touchdowns.

Last year, Pittman had his breakout season with 1,331 rushing yards and he's on pace to finish just below that this season.

"I feel like I've played all right. Not my best," Pittman said. "I feel like there's always more. I feel like I'm harder on myself than anyone else and I feel as if I can do a lot better in every game I play. I haven't played my best yet."

There is not one particular aspect of Pittman's game that he would like to improve, he just wants to elevate his entire performance.

"Just everything," he said. "I just feel as if a play breaks down and I get negative yards, I don't fault no one else but myself because I feel as if I should have went forward."

Pittman is not the biggest back at 5-11, 203 pounds (listed at 5-11, 195) but he's got very strong legs and appears to be holding up well physically this season. But looks can be deceiving.

"My body is sore," Pittman said. "I'm still taking a beating and it wears on you after a while. I'm on my way to the cold tub after this. I'm trying to protect my body the best I can."

But Pittman's body is taking less of a beating than it did last year when he was the only reliable tailback on the roster. This year, the Buckeyes can also turn to freshman bruiser Chris "Beanie" Wells to churn out some tough yards. And Wells has been productive with 301 rushing yards (4.5 per carry) and three touchdowns. Head coach Jim Tressel especially likes to use him in short-yardage situations.

"We get into a situation like that, third-and-one, Beanie comes in and there's nothing wrong with that at all," Pittman said. "As long as the running backs are getting it, that's all (that matters)."

But Pittman is an honest young man and admits that he would like to see more carries. At the same time, he understands that with the best quarterback in the country at their disposal in Troy Smith, the Buckeyes are going to rely on the passing game this year as well.

But Pittman was asked point-blank if he was calling the plays how many times he would carry the ball on average.

"If I was calling the plays? That would never happen," he said with a smile. "I would never call a play here."

The top-ranked Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) will host Minnesota (3-5, 0-4) on Saturday at 3:40 p.m. (ABC). Pittman has fond memories of OSU's 45-31 win over the Golden Gophers last year when he finally scored his first touchdowns of the season, including a 67-yard burst in the third quarter to give OSU the lead for good.

"Hopefully I will break another big one," Pittman said. "That was my longest run of my career here and hopefully I can get another one like that."

Pittman was razzed by his teammates pretty good last year during the seven-game non-touchdown streak. Guard Rob Sims even nicknamed him "Quincy" after a running back from a movie that had trouble finding paydirt.

"It was terrible. But it was all fun and games," Pittman said of the jokes from his teammates. "I was never disappointed. I mean, I always want to score, but as long as we were winning, I was having a positive attitude. And I was helping out a lot and it was always fine with me as long as we got a win. But after the game, I'd say, ‘Dang, still no touchdowns.' I took a beating from those guys last year about that until I got one."

Pittman noticed that Michigan moved up to No. 2 in the BCS standings this week, but he's doing his best to not think about the possible 1 vs. 2 showdown on Nov. 18.

"Yeah, I saw it, but we're really not focused on them right now," Pittman said. "We've got Minnesota this week and then we've got a couple more games before we get to that one and we've got to win all of them. We know it's going to be a big game, but we still can't look ahead that far."

Pittman explained what he thinks it will take for the Buckeyes to capture the national title.

"I think we have to get better at everything because to win the national championship you have to be the best team around in everything," he said. "Our defense is only giving up 8.3 points, so they're showing that they're going out there and taking care of business. Our first possessions (against Indiana) we didn't move the ball at all. So, I think we need to put it all together and have good drive and just put it all together."

Ohio State has been nothing short of dominant this season and has defeated each of its opponents by 17 points or more.

"I never even knew it was like that – at least 17 points a game," Pittman said. "We got to keep it going. That's more better for us."

Pittman knows OSU's offense has been productive throughout the season. But he points to another reason why the Buckeyes have been so dominant this year.

"I think it's because of our defense," he said. "Going into the season, everyone was overlooking them. But they have gone out there and played really well and proved everyone wrong."

The Buckeyes have played with the No. 1 target on their backs all season, but Pittman doesn't mind the added pressure.

"For me, I don't know about anybody else, but for me, I don't really feel pressure," he said. "I just take it one game at a time and just try and play my hardest and go out and play like it's the last game of the season, or it's the last game in general. Just go like that, like every game is the last and that's how I look at it.

"This season is blowing by. Four games to go plus the bowl and I'm going to be a senior. It's going real quick. You just want to get through the season and be perfect and go to the national championship and get a ring and send the seniors out right."

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