The Buckeyes shrugged off three fumbles and cruised to a 44-0 win over visiting Minnesota before 105,443 on a raw and windy Saturday afternoon at Ohio Stadium. OSU notched its first shutout win since a 20-0 win over Northwestern in 2003.
"Anytime you shut somebody out – especially people like that who know how to move the ball – you have to like that," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "We were able to get pressure on (UM quarterback Bryan) Cupito and we were able to come up with some takeaways. Our defense did a heck of a job.
"It was a little bit tough conditions from a wind standpoint and so forth and I'm sure it was even more difficult for Minnesota who plays indoors and that type of thing. But Minnesota played hard and they played tough like they always do and I'm awfully proud of our guys for coming up with a decisive win."
Ohio State (9-0, 5-0) extended its nation's best winning streak to 16 games and remained on course for a Nov. 18 season-ending showdown with No. 2 Michigan (9-0, 6-0), which defeated Northwestern 17-3 under similar conditions in Ann Arbor.
Quarterback Troy Smith overcame a fumble to enjoy another fine day. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 183 yards with one touchdown. He also rushed six times for 43 yards with his first rushing touchdown of the season.
"Offensively, we've still got work to do," Smith said after OSU rolled up 484 yards total offense and matched their season high in points. "Putting points on the board is cool, but I guess the way you do it and how you do it is the most important thing. We've just got to keep rolling.
"The wind didn't affect me. Sometimes your reads are there, sometimes they aren't. Minnesota did a good job of sometimes taking away number one, did a good job of clouding up number two, so we had to do other things. The wind wasn't a problem, though."
It was a big day for the tailbacks as OSU had 266 yards rushing. Antonio Pittman had 116 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Freshman Chris Wells came back from an early fumble to add a career-high 90 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries.
"This was probably the most complete game for the running backs this season," Pittman said.
Brian Hartline had a team-high four catches for 69 yards for OSU. Anthony Gonzalez had three first-half catches for 30 yards before sitting out the second half due to an apparent concussion. Ted Ginn Jr. had three catches for 22 yards, while Brian Robiskie added an 18-yard touchdown grab.
The OSU defense held the Gophers (3-6, 0-5) to just 182 yards total offense – a far cry from the 576 yards Minnesota had in last year's 45-31 loss to the Buckeyes at the Metrodome.
The Buckeyes harassed Cupito into three interceptions. Cupito finished 13 of 25 passing for 120 yards. The picks were registered by cornerbacks Malcolm Jenkins and Antonio Smith and safety Jamario O'Neal.
"We really wanted the shutout," said OSU defensive tackle David Patterson, who returned after missing the last two games with a knee injury. "Toward the end of the game, we kind of saw it coming. We put the younger guys in there, they did a really good job of keeping the same pace and the tempo when those guys were making plays, so it's a really good feeling for the defense to get a shutout because that's what we always strive for."
UM tailback Amir Pinnix was held to 46 yards on 14 carries.
"Today, we faced an incredible football team," said UM coach Glen Mason, a former OSU player and assistant. "We have had many problems and we continue to have problems. It is hard to get past those problems and get better when you play a team like Ohio State. They are very skilled and they know what they are doing."
Ohio State opened the scoring on its first possession, moving 57 yards in eight plays. The drive was set up by Ginn's 35-yard kick return. Pittman carried five times for 37 yards on the possession. He capped it with his 10-yard touchdown run, keyed by blocks from left tackle Alex Boone and left guard Steve Rehring. The touchdown put OSU up 7-0 with 10:59 left in the first quarter.
"I took my read step and they got great push," Pittman said. "They gave me a big enough hole to slide straight through. I went up the sideline and scored."
OSU pushed the lead to 10-0 on its second possession. The key play here was a 30-yard screen pass from Smith to Pittman. Smith's third-down pass from the 25 was behind Roy Hall incomplete, but Aaron Pettrey drilled a 42-yard field goal to make it 10-0 with 5:49 left in the first quarter.
The Buckeyes were driving early in the second quarter and Wells powered ahead for first-down yardage at the Minnesota 15. But UM's Otis Hudson forced a fumble, which teammate Dom Barber recovered.
"I was disappointed for a while, but the coaches told me to get my head up because I was going back in," Wells said.
OSU lost a fumble on its next possession as well. The second-team offensive line came in and UM's Steve Davis hit Smith and forced a fumble that Neel Allen recovered at the OSU 38. But the OSU defense stood tall, with end Jay Richardson and O'Neal stopping Pinnix for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the 29.
"That's just a prime example of handling adversity," Patterson said. "On that fourth-and-1, we had a good defensive call from up in the booth and we just got a little penetration and we caused them to bounce a little bit and our linebackers came and filled the holes up."
The offense got back in gear late in the half, putting together a 10-play, 71-yard march. Smith scrambled for 11 yards before he hit Gonzalez for 11 more. He then rolled right and found Ginn for a 15-yard gain and a first down at the UM 20. Two plays later, Smith had all day to throw. He stood in and lofted an 18-yard touchdown pass to Robiskie, who got free behind UM's Jamal Harris and Duran Cooley. The play put the Buckeyes up 17-0 with 3:49 left in the half.
"That was just a quick pass on what the defense did," said Robiskie, who hauled in his fourth touchdown of the year. "He looked at Ted and that wasn't there. I had a short route called and the corner just camped like he had been doing. I just rolled outside and Troy made a great play."
OSU's Jenkins intercepted a Cupito pass and returned it 29 yards to the UM 35 with 2:17 left in the half.
"The D-line got great pressure," Jenkins said. "The receiver he was trying to throw to was covered by our DB. He tried to throw it high and squeeze it in there. He threw it right to me."
But a personal foul penalty on Rehring knocked OSU out of field goal range and Smith's final-play deep pass fell incomplete.
The Buckeyes put the heat on the Gophers quickly in the second half. On UM's first series, defensive end Jay Richardson batted down a Cupito pass. Then on the next play, he hit Cupito as he threw. The wounded duck went right to Antonio Smith, who brought it back 8 yards to the UM 23.
"We went into halftime as a defense saying, ‘Don't be satisfied,' " Richardson said. "We knew we were going to be up first on defense. We wanted to come out and make a statement early that we weren't going to give them a chance to get back into it.
"On the pass, they tried a quick screen to the field and I was able to knock it down. On the next play, I was able to get a hit on the quarterback that I thought was a sack. I got up and saw Antonio had the ball. I was just happy to help him out. That was a big turning point. Our defense has a knack for causing turnovers."
Smith added, "The defense played as a unit today. The defensive line got some pressure on the quarterback and made him make some throws he might not normally make. We practice catching balls so when you see the ball in the air you have to go and get it."
OSU needed three plays to cash that mistake in. On third-and-8 from the 21, Smith couldn't find anybody open. He took off to his left and seemed ready to settle for the first down. But he juked UM linebacker Deon Hightower and cut back to the wide open middle of the field to score standing up on his 21-yard touchdown run that made it 24-0 with 12:41 left in the third quarter.
O'Neal's interception gave the Buckeyes possession at the Minnesota 41. The Buckeyes needed four plays to find the end zone here. The key play was Smith's 32-yard pass to Brian Hartline to convert a third-and-13 predicament. Pittman then barreled over the right side on a 13-yard touchdown run. Pettrey's PAT kick was blocked, but OSU led 30-0 with 6:53 left in the third quarter.
Ohio State later mounted a 10-play, 73-yard scoring march. This one was keyed by a 15-yard run by Wells, a 17-yard pass to Hartline and an 11-yard run by Pittman. That set the stage for Wells' 3-yard TD run and a 37-0 lead with 13:33 remaining.
"That felt real good to get back into the end zone again," said Wells, who notched his fourth touchdown of the season.
Backup quarterback Justin Zwick capped the scoring with a 1-yard plunge on a sneak with 2:56 left.
"I thought his whole drive was good," Tressel said of Zwick, who was 3 of 4 passing for 35 yards. "I thought he threw the ball. Troy jumped up in the air higher when Justin scored than anyone. It was good to see. Anytime someone gets a chance to have good things happen, it's exciting."
Smith added, "I think Justin's touchdown, you know, it really touched me because, I think that was one of the things that he probably needed. Any person, where you're in a situation where things are not going the way that you want them to go, initially you get a chance to get a breath of fresh air when something happens like that, and I really felt as soon as he crossed the goal line I really felt it for him. And if anybody wasn't going to be there for him, I was, to congratulate him and tell him how happy I was for him."
* Besides Gonzalez, the Buckeyes played without senior defensive tackle and co-captain Quinn Pitcock, who was reportedly recovering from a concussion. Also, freshman wide receiver Ray Small left the game due to a concussion after a heavy hit by Minnesota's Dominick Jones.
Afterwards, Tressel provided an update on Pitcock, Gonzalez and Small.
"Quinn we knew, pretty much the back half of the week that he wasn't going to play," Tressel said. "We knew for sure, I suppose, on Thursday. Gonzalez got banged a little bit. Ray Small, you saw, got banged. I would expect Quinn and Anthony for sure to be ready. I probably couldn't speak to Ray's because I don't know for sure the significance of it, but I think Quinn and Gonzo will be fine."
* Tressel on his team's three fumbles: "Well, it is distressing, there's no question about it, and we're not going to be as good a football team as we'd like to be if we continue to fumble."
* Sophomore Curtis Terry made his first career start at linebacker Saturday.
* Linebacker James Laurinaitis led the defense with 11 tackles and a sack.
* In the interception department, O'Neal's pick was the first of his career and Smith's was his second. Jenkins grabbed his fourth of the year.
* OSU's 16-game winning streak is its third longest in school history. The Buckeyes won 22 straight games between the 1967-69 seasons and 19 straight between 2002-03.
* The Buckeyes tied a school record with their ninth win to open a season by 17 points or more. That was also accomplished in the 1973 season. The 10th game that year was a 10-10 tie against Michigan.
* Pittman reached the 100-yard plateau for the sixth time this season and the 14th time in his career. He now has nine rushing touchdowns this year and, with 894 yards on the year is on the verge of his second straight 1,000-yard season.
* On the year, Smith now has 22 touchdown passes against just two interceptions. He is the third OSU quarterback to have 20 TD passes in a season, following Bobby Hoying (29 in 1995) and Joe Germaine (25 in 1998). He now has 46 career TD passes.
Smith's touchdown run was his first rushing score since the Michigan game last year. He now has 14 career rushing touchdowns.
* OSU has now outscored its seven opponents 103-23 in the fourth quarter this year.
* Ohio State now leads the all-time series 39-7, including 20-3 in Columbus. The Buckeyes have won 20 of the last 21 games in the series with the lone UM win in that stretch coming in 2000.
* The 2006 Buckeyes are the 10th team in school history to open a season 9-0 and first since the 2002 national championship year.
* OSU's record as the nation's No. 1 team is now 60-8-1.
* In the records department under Tressel, Ohio State is now 60-13 overall, 37-4 at home and 35-10 in Big Ten games. The Buckeyes are also 44-3 under Tressel with a halftime lead and 47-3 when they lead after three quarters.
* The Buckeyes have now won 10 straight home games and 32 of their last 34 home outings.
* Ohio State visits Illinois next Saturday. That game, set for a 3:30 p.m. start, will be televised by ESPN2. Illinois fell to 2-7 overall and 1-4 in conference play after a heartbreaking 30-24 loss at No. 17 Wisconsin on Saturday.