Running Game Thrives On Windy Day

With winds gusting as high as 40 mph, Ohio State turned to its running game. That facet of the offense delivered a command performance with 266 yards in a 44-0 win over Minnesota. Antonio Pittman had 116 yards and two touchdowns, while Chris Wells chipped in 90 yards and a score.

One look at the weather forecast was all Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman needed to see that the Buckeyes would have to run the ball to be effective against visiting Minnesota on Saturday.

And run it they did.

With temperatures in the 40s and wind gusts from 20 to 40 mph at various times, Ohio State turned to its run game. The results were devastating as the top-ranked Buckeyes churned out 266 of their 484 yards on the ground in a resounding 44-0 win over the visiting Golden Gophers.

"Before the game, Coach Bolls (Bollman) was saying, we need to get control of the game with the offensive line and the way to do that was to run and keep Troy off his back, and I thought we did a pretty good job of that today," said center Doug Datish. "Hopefully in the coming weeks we'll get some good weather so we can throw the ball around a little bit. If we don't, we'll have to do it again."

With the calendar moving to November, the potential is high that OSU will face similar conditions in its final three games – at Illinois and Northwestern and back home for the predicted showdown with No. 2 Michigan on Nov. 18.

"We were expecting conditions to be like they were today," Tressel said. "We're heading over to Illinois this weekend, which is one of the windiest places in the Big Ten, and then we go to the Windy City (to face Northwestern). Then, we come back into here, and so we're expecting it to be tough and nasty and cold.

"In November, that's what it's about. And I think it is good to get balance and to have a couple guys up near 100 and the quarterback having plus rushing yards, which tells you that the offensive line is protecting well because the quarterback can't get plus rushing yards if he's being sacked a whole bunch of times. So, yeah, I think it is really important to move in that direction."

Junior Antonio Pittman led the way on the ground with 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.

Even quarterback Troy Smith, who threw for 183 yards and one touchdown inside the virtual wind tunnel, got into the act. He also rushed six times for 43 yards with his first rushing touchdown of the season.

Bollman confirmed that he put his offensive line on notice that this game would be won up front.

"We talked about that," he said. "Most of the time this year, we've been pretty efficient running the ball. We try and evaluate ourselves statistically. We try to be 54 percent efficient on all of our runs. In some games, we have not run the ball as much, but we have still been efficient.

"I felt like we ran it OK today. The way the wind was we knew we were going to be in a position where we might have to run it."

The 266-yard rushing output was 4 yards shy of the season-high of 270 set a week earlier in a 44-3 rout of Indiana.

Ohio State has now averaged a Big Ten-high 214.0 yards per game rushing in its five conference games. But a showdown is in the offing as Michigan – after stopping Northwestern to minus-13 yards rushing on Saturday – leads the Big Ten with just 32.3 yards per game allowed in rushing in its six conference games.

"We know it's going to be cold in (Illinois)," Pittman said. "We go there two weeks in a row. We come home for Michigan and the weather could be terrible. Hopefully, we'll get our number called a lot from here on out."

Pittman Keeps Rolling

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.

He also had two key catches for 47 yards as well.

"I feel as if this may have been my best game of the year," Pittman said. "I had two big catches. The offensive line did a great job blocking for me and the receivers were blocking downfield. I can't leave out the fullbacks. We ran a bunch of isos and they were straight laying the Mike linebacker out and giving us some nice lanes.

"Those guys work hard all year for us. This was probably the most complete game for the running backs this season. Some might say it was the best game for the offensive line as well.

"Every player has his day. Today was the running backs' day. I had over 20 carries and Beanie had 15. Troy came out and showed he could run still. We can't forget about him being a running back, too."

Pittman said he had a feeling it would be a running game kind of day.

"From yesterday's rain, we knew the field was going to be torn up," Pittman said. "The first question we asked was if the tarp was going to be down. We knew the tarp could only hold so much. It came out today and there was no rain, but it was real windy. (Running backs coach) Doc (Tressel) told us, ‘Get ready to run.' And we came through."

With over 500 yards rushing the past two weeks, Pittman is glad to see the run game come to the forefront.

"We put up some big numbers last week and we came back out this week and did it again," he said. "It's proven we can run the ball.

"The offensive line works hard for me. Those seniors have one game left in the ‘Shoe and we're trying to send them out big. The offensive line played big for us and me and Beanie ran hard."

Pittman has shared the load this year with Wells, a fellow Akron native and his protégé.

"I am down on carries from last year because I was basically the only back we had," he said. "It was me and Troy back there. This year, we have Beanie and we have Mo (Wells) stepping it up. I don't have to carry the ball as much. I'll be fresher when the team needs me to go four quarters.

"If I get 10 or 15 carries, I take it in stride. I just try to make the most out of every time I touch the ball."

Going To The Wells

Wells was an early goat against Minnesota, fumbling at the Gophers' 15-yard line. But he stayed with it and was rewarded with a number of late carries and a touchdown.

"Coach (Jim) Tressel installed confidence in putting me back in the game," Wells said. "He just said to keep my head up and be ready to play football. It meant a whole lot then to be back in the end zone."

Wells said the coaching staff did not bench him after the mistake.

"That's what I thought might happen, but Coach Tressel instills confidence in you by putting you right back in the game," Wells said. "I came off and Pitt was the first guy to encourage me. Shaun Lane was there and Coach Tressel. He just told me to keep my head up and be ready to play football."

Wells, who also fumbled against Northern Illinois and Michigan State, got back in the game and carried several UM tacklers with him on a 15-yard gain on his next attempt.

"The offensive line did great today," he said. "On that particular play, I was just glad to be back in the game."

Wells plowed his way into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter as the Buckeyes were routing the Gophers.

"It meant a whole lot to get back into the end zone and score a touchdown," Wells said.

Wells got nine of his carries on OSU's final possession, which quarterback Justin Zwick capped with a 1-yard touchdown plunge.

"It is so valuable for me to get this kind of experience," Wells said. "It was great for me to be out there on the field and help the team."

Earlier this week, Pittman told reporters he plans to return for his senior year in 2007. For now, Wells is enjoying being the pupil.

"He is just a strong, durable running back," Wells said of Pittman. "He can do it all – catching, running and blocking."

More Viewpoints

Pittman's first touchdown was a simple 10-yard run to the left, through a crease created by left tackle Alex Boone and left guard Steve Rehring.

"It's just a zone left and he just runs wherever he sees a free lane," Boone said. "I was happy when they called that. They called a ‘35' and I was like, ‘This is a touchdown for sure,' and it was. That's a great feeling. I thought when I came to the sideline, ‘What will people say about that? It was a big hole and a great run by him.' "

Rehring added, "It's great. It's always fun when they call a play to your side and you get the touchdown. But that is set up on the back side by T.J. (Downing), Kirk (Barton) and Doug (Datish). They cut the backside off so nobody can get him from behind."

After back-to-back 44-point games, Boone sized up the play of the offensive line.

"We had a great performance today," Boone said. "The offensive line was just moving them. In weather like this, I think we're better. It's more like offensive line weather. I thought we did a great job today with everything."

Rehring has settled into the left guard spot, starting his sixth straight game there.

"We had a good day and there were probably some mistakes," he said. "If we can fix those mistakes, we can be a good offensive line. Those guys who run the ball are a great group of runners."

Boone provided his scouting report on OSU's two-headed tailback monster.

"I think they're both great," he said. "When you get adjusted to one, the other one comes in and hurts you. Pittman is a speed guy. Beanie comes in and runs you over. They're both great and they both did a great job today."

And Smith drew rave reviews for the way he scrambled on his 21-yard touchdown run, juking Minnesota linebacker Deon Hightower along the way.

"That was great to see," Bollman said. "Those guys did a great job protecting him. He didn't like what he saw throwing the ball. He took off and made a great move down the field to get himself into the end zone. I thought that was a big spark to us to start the second half."


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