Offensive Notebook: UM's 'D' Will Test OSU

The Ohio State-Michigan game is fast approaching and this offensive notebook is jam-packed with over 6,000 words on the most important game in the history of the great rivalry. Michigan has an excellent defense and the same is true for OSU's offense. We checked in with OSU's Troy Smith, Antonio Pittman, T.J. Downing and Doug Datish for more.

They are considered the strengths of the top two teams in America.

Ohio State's explosive, versatile offense, and Michigan's run-stuffing, sack-happy defense will finally go head-to-head when the No. 1 Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) and No. 2 Wolverines (11-0, 7-0) meet in Columbus on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ABC). What is being billed as "Judgment Day" and "the most important game in the history of the rivalry" will have sparks flying on both sides of the ball throughout the game.

But the most intriguing matchup could be OSU's offense vs. UM's defense.

The Buckeyes are ranked 19th in the country and No. 2 in the Big Ten (behind Purdue) in total offense, averaging 401.2 yards per game. They are also ranked eighth in the country and No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring offense (35.8 points per game), 20th in the nation and fourth in the Big Ten in rushing offense (179.4) and 32nd in the nation and third in the Big Ten in passing offense (221.8). Those are the best overall figures of the six-year Jim Tressel (61-13, 4-1 vs. Michigan) era.

And you have to wonder what those numbers would look like if OSU's starters had played more. Due to several blowouts, players like quarterback Troy Smith, tailback Antonio Pittman and wide receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez were often out of games by the third quarter or early fourth. But that most-assuredly won't be the case against a stout Michigan defense.

The Wolverines come in with the No. 3 total defense in the country (No. 1 Big Ten) averaging 231.4 yards allowed per game. They are also No. 5 in the country in scoring defense (12.1) and second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State which leads the country (7.8).

Michigan leads the country in rushing defense, giving up an incredible 29.9 yards per game, a statistic that is aided by its 40 sacks, which also leads the nation.

However, UM is just 65th in the nation and sixth in the Big Ten in passing defense (201.5).

So, if there is one weakness for the Wolverines, it's their ability to slow down aerial attacks. And facing Smith, Ginn and Gonzalez, that could be a problem.

But Michigan has been preparing for Smith for weeks and will have some new wrinkles planned for the Buckeyes.

"I know they are going to be a strong, physical and fast defense," Smith said. "There will be some kind of pressure from somewhere. Their front is supposedly the best in the nation. But our defense, to me, and I'm biased when I say it, I think is the best in the nation. The proof is in the pudding. Every time they come out, they just play ball."

Smith has passed for 2,191 yards (66.4 completion percentage) with 26 touchdowns and four interceptions this season. He is sixth in the nation and leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency (rating of 168.7) and is closing in on Bobby Hoying's school record for single-season passing touchdowns (29 in 1995).

One player that will be out to contain Smith is Michigan senior defensive end LaMarr Woodley, who is sixth in the nation and leads the Big Ten with 11 sacks.

"He's a great player," Smith said. "He's going to show up and play. He's going to be tough and fast. He's a smart kid. He wants to go out with a bang also."

But it's not just Woodley. Michigan features another sure-fire NFL first-round pick in junior defensive tackle Alan Branch. Sophomore nose guard Terrance Taylor and senior end Rondell Biggs round out one of the nation's best defensive lines.

"Michigan's defense is probably going to be the best defense we've played all year," OSU center Doug Datish said. "We know they're big, strong, tough, physical, fundamentally sound, great players. That's why you go to Michigan, because you're a great player. That's why people are at Ohio State, because we're great players."

Datish has a lot of experience going up against the 6-6, 330-pound Branch.

"I played him last year the whole game," he said. "He's a big strong guy, physical, tough. I think he plays with good fundamentals. When you have that type of size you can throw your weight around and have a lot of power. I think you have to approach a guy that tall a little differently with different leverage points and different levels. If you're playing a guy that's 6-0 as opposed to a guy that's 6-6, it's a whole different leverage battle and you have to kind of change your technique and adapt technique."

Ohio State senior right guard T.J. Downing has also been impressed with Michigan's D-line.

"They are one of the best fronts in college football," he said. "I think we've played against some pretty good fronts so far this year. I think it's safe to say that they're at the top of the pack. We just have to get after ‘em like we've gotten after everybody else and play our game and try to stay focused amongst all the hoopla going on. It's going to be crazy out there. The guys who can stay focused the longest will be the one that wins."

Michigan's defense was anything but a strength the last two years. But the Wolverines have a new defensive coordinator in Ron English, who replaced the much-maligned Jim Herrmann.

"They're just good," Downing said. "Every year you get that experience you become a better player. Alan and LaMarr and those guys, they've gotten better over the years. I remember playing against them in 2004 and they were good players and last year they were great players and now they're at the top of the class in college football. I think just experience is what's helped them out a lot."

Downing was asked which player stands out the most on UM's defense, a unit that also features middle linebacker David Harris and cornerback Leon Hall.

"Obviously, LaMarr," he said. "It's safe to say he's probably the best defensive end in college football. So we're just going to have to get after him. We're going to have to hit him in the mouth every play and just go from there. He's going to make plays on us, we know that. We're going to make plays on him. I guess the winner of those personal battles is going to have a drastic outcome on the game."

Downing will probably go head-to-head with Branch most of the game.

"From most of the films I've seen, it's been Branch," he said. "When they put a 3-technique out there, they put the 3-technique with Branch and then they've got Terrance Taylor down there at the shade over the center. It really all depends on the formations we're in, but I expect going against Alan a lot of the time."

Horseshoe Should Be Worth A Few Points

Very few people dispute that home field advantage is important, especially in a sport like college football where emotion often rules the day. But just how much will the Ohio Stadium crowd help the Buckeyes on Saturday?

"Anytime you can play in the ‘Shoe it's a great thing," Datish said. "I think it helps us a lot. I know going on the road it can be intimidating, it can be rough, it's different, you're on a different routine, but in a game like this, especially playing at home, is going to be big.

For Datish and the rest of OSU's 17 seniors, it will be the final game in Ohio Stadium. Not exactly your average senior day with all the other implications surrounding the game.

"It's going to be wild, it's going to be something I'm going to try not to think about," Datish said. "I've been in a lot of games here, played in a lot of games, and it's going to be weird thinking it's going to be the last time we get chance to do that. I think it's one of the best feelings in the world to go out there and play in front of all these people because of the great games we have. It's going to be a sad day but it's also going to be a happy day too."

Datish expects to hear the Buckeye faithful louder than ever.

"I think it will be crazy out there," he said. "I hope it is. I'm looking forward to it. This is a huge game, the fans are going to be psyched up about it. I think they're going to come there ready to show their support for us and I hope they do it in a respectful, clean manner that won't involve any illegal actions. They can have an impact. If you can't hear what's going on out there … we were at Penn State last year, that was the loudest I've ever heard anything. We don't like to say it, but it did affect us a little. I couldn't hear a thing. It doesn't really mess with your head but it makes communication hard along the offensive line."

Pittman knows that OSU is fortunate to be playing at home. Here we are talking about the biggest game in the history of the best rivalry in the country, and the Buckeyes get to play it in the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium.

"That's huge," Pittman said. "That's the advantage, the crowd and everything. What's even better is it's senior day; we'll try to send our seniors out right."

With the kickoff being pushed back to 3:30, breaking years of tradition where the OSU-UM started at noon or 1 p.m., the atmosphere will be that of a night game in the second half.

"I like the 3:30 kick personally because we've played so many 3:30 games this year," Datish said. "It's just kind of like routine for us, it won't be much different. I think we've only played one or two noon games, so I'm kind of happy about it."

"That was the first I've ever seen the time for this game been changed," Pittman said. "From watching it as a kid, I always knew this game would be played around noon. No difference, get out there ready to play."

Earle Fires Up The Troops

Former OSU head coach Earle Bruce gave his yearly speech to the team on Sunday and as usual the players were buzzing afterwards about his fiery nature and passion.

"Coach Bruce came in and talked to us, which is always exciting," Datish said. "He always gives us a little history lesson. The longer you're here the more you realize what the history means and I've been fortunate enough to be here five years. There were a lot of nuggets. It was more of a team-only thing. Coach Bruce is a really special guy and we're just really lucky to have him come in to talk to us.

"Coach Bruce is awesome. He really raises everybody's spirits. He cares more about the Ohio State-Michigan game than anybody else on the planet, and he lets you know it in a lot of different, inventive, crazy ways. I just love it when he comes in because he always has some great stories and really puts you in a mindset for the game ahead."

Added Downing: "He really gets you fired up," Downing said. "I love Coach Bruce and it's really become a tradition around here of him coming in and addressing the team the Sunday before the Michigan game. He's just a Buckeye all the way and cares so much about the program and beating Michigan."

Datish talked more about the message Bruce was trying to get across.

"The great players play great against Michigan," he said. "They try to play their best game. Marcus Marek had an interception all his years, (Chris) Spielman had like 30 tackles or something like that one time. Those are the type of memories that are cemented in my head and they're cemented in guys like Coach Bruce and Coach Tressel."

"I think it's very safe to say that the legends in this battle coming up right here are the ones that won't be forgotten," Downing added. "They'll be the guys like Spielman and Marek and Eddie (George) and all those guys who'll go down in history as the best players for the Buckeyes. I think every guy knows that when they step on that field that they have a chance to put themselves in the record book and go down in history as the guy who could break it open in the Michigan game."

Smith Shooting for 3-0

Smith had his personal coming-out-party against Michigan in 2004 in the Buckeyes' 37-21 victory in Columbus. He threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns, and tacked on a career-high 145 rushing yards and one TD.

Last year in OSU's 25-21 win, Smith led the Buckeyes on two late touchdown drives and finished with 300 passing yards and a touchdown, and 37 rushing yards and a score.

In other words, Smith owns the two best games by any quarterback in the history of the rivalry.

"He always comes up big in big games," Datish said. "He doesn't disappoint ever. We're just lucky enough to be able to get on the field there with him and try to help him out as much as we can to help him make the plays that he does. There's just some people that have an X-factor. There's no way you can measure it, there's no possible thing to examine it or pinpoint it any way, it's just some people have that X-factor and Troy is one of those guys.

"His competitiveness manifests itself in he wants to make that perfect throw every time, he wants to make that run, he wants to make that play, and he want to be the guy to do it. If he doesn't make that perfect pass and it's still a catch you can tell he's pissed at himself because he didn't make it perfectly. God forbid we mess up, because you can see that competitive streak in there and it's come on guys, just a little more time, I need a little more time."

Datish says there is no mistaking when Smith is upset about something. He isn't one to hide his emotions.

"You can tell," Datish said. "You can see it in his eyes. He has very expressive eyes, I can tell you that."

Datish was asked to describe Smith's demeanor last year at Michigan when the Buckeyes took over deep in their own territory trailing 21-19 late in the fourth quarter.

He was calm to be honest with you," he said. "I never once thought we were going to lose that game. Troy exudes that calmness and that confidence and we were just trying to get out there and make a play for him."

Downing discussed Smith's propensity to shine in big games.

"You see what he's done before," Downing said. "He's single-handedly taken this game over and changed the outcome of it, for the better for us. Hopefully he'll do the same thing this year."

One of Smith's many strengths is his ability to make plays when things initially break down.

"Yeah, we figure it's going to happen every game. We wait for it to happen," Downing said. "We as an offensive line we block as long as we can, we do the best job that we can and you can't hold ‘em off forever. Because you're going against good guys. So eventually at the end if something breaks down the ball's not gone, that's when you expect to see something spectacular out of him. I wouldn't doubt to see it. This is Troy's last game as a Buckeye in the regular season and I think he's going to bring out something special."

Downing believes it's no accident that Smith has enjoyed two of his best games against Michigan.

"I don't think it's a coincidence," he said. "It just shows what type of player Troy is. He's done it in every game he's ever played in. He's come up with amazing plays that everybody says how did you do that. I think it's special for him to do it against Michigan just because that's our rival. I'm sure that's something that he's going to be able to tell his kids when he gets older and tell all his grandkids about what he did in the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry."

Downing explained why he thinks Smith is able to rise to the occasion in big games.

"His determination," he said. "Troy's been determined ever since he came out of high school. When he got booted out of (Lakewood St.) Ed's and he had to go to Glenville and he got recruited as an athlete and they said he couldn't play quarterback. I think his determination inside of him, in his heart, has been so strong and powerful that he was determined to not let any obstacles stop him. Michigan is really just another obstacle for him. He looks at that as a challenge he needs to hurdle and he's been successful doing it so far and I hope on Saturday evening we're saying the same thing."

Smith could lock up the Heisman with a big performance against Michigan – and might win the award regardless – but his teammates say he never brings up individual awards.

"He acts like it's not even happening, like he's not up for Heisman," Pittman said. "He's a regular person, same way since he's been since I've known him. When people talk about the Heisman he doesn't even respond to it back to us.

"He's a leader. I believe him being a great leader makes him so good in the huddle. He produces. He has a great record here and he leads us to victories. He should win the Heisman because he's done a lot for this team. It's because of him where we're at now."

Like he has all season, Smith credits his teammates and coaches for his Heisman candidacy.

"That goes back to having that understanding that everybody else around me is just as important as I am," Smith said.

Tressel Gunning For 5-1

A win by OSU puts Tressel at 5-1 against Michigan. That's halfway to 10-2, which ironically is almost the opposite of former OSU coach John Cooper's 2-10-1 mark against UM.

Datish explained why he thinks Tressel has been so successful against the Wolverines and as a college head coach overall.

"He never deviates from who he is, and that's hard to do," he said. "He's one of the few people in my life that I've been around and been able to study a little bit that doesn't deviate in any situation, doesn't lose his head, he's always the same guy and strong in all of his convictions at all times. We've been able to watch him and learn from him over these last four years. It's something I admire about him, something I try to do myself and I think the other guys on the team try to do the same thing. As you see him exuding that type of confidence and that type of calm about him it's really something to marvel at and really something that helps you out."

Pittman Reaches Milestone

Pittman has amassed 1,032 rushing yards on the season (4.8 per carry, 12 TD) and is just the fifth running back in OSU history to surpass 1,000 yards in two consecutive seasons, joining Archie Griffin, Tim Spencer, Keith Byars and Eddie George. Talk about joining a select club. (That's right up there with Saturday Night Live's "5-Timer Club" with Tom Hanks and "Mr." Steve Martin.)

"That was a special thing for us and we all talked about that before last week's game that no matter how many yards Pit got he would go over the 1,000-yard mark," Downing said. "When we accomplished that, we were all very excited for him. You know, it's been a struggle all year to maintain that top spot and the OL, you have problems here and there, but it gives us that confidence of knowing that we're the best OL in the country and we're able to do that for a guy like Pit."

"That's huge," Pittman said. "That's a lot. That's a big accomplishment for me. The offensive line, those guys work hard for me and the receivers blocking downfield. They gave me the opportunity to do all that and I thank ‘em for that."

Pittman is a popular player among his teammates for his laid-back personality and unselfish attitude. Datish was pleased to see him make history by going over 1,000 yards again.

"Pit's a great kid first of all," Datish said. "He's a tremendous guy. As I have gotten to know him I've gotten more and more respect for him as the years have gone on. He's a tremendous workhorse for us, never complains, never says anything. I think it's a credit to him that his carries are down a little bit this year and he still got 1,000 yards. He is the fifth guy in Ohio State history to get 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. We're just blessed to have so many guys here who make plays that maybe he is the forgotten guy, but he's certainly not the forgotten guy for us on the team."

Datish knows that establishing Pittman, as well as freshman tailback Chris Wells, will be crucial to the Buckeyes' success against Michigan.

We're pretty sure how physical it is going to be from playing in the games years past," Datish said. "It's going to be extremely physical. They're a tremendous defensive line and a tremendous defensive unit. They give great effort every play and we just have to go out there and try to match it.

"They are a tremendous team against the run, a tremendous defense. They've done a great job all year of stopping the run and I think we always talk about that being one of the keys to the game. We'll put together a good scheme and hopefully myself along with the other guys up front can open up some holes for Pit."

Downing was asked why he thinks the Buckeyes will be able to run on the No. 1 rushing defense in the country.

"Just that we have the best tailback in the country and in my mind we're the best offensive line in the country," he said. "I guess when you clash the so-called best defensive line in the country versus the so-called best offensive line in the country, maybe there could be some sparks flying. I think Pit's going to come out running hard and he's at the top of his game. I haven't seen many people that can stop him."

Smith would sure like to see the ground game established early – it would take some pressure off of him.

"I think we have to establish the run," Smith said. "Any time you are playing a team that has had the ability to run the ball, they pretty much can dictate what's going on in the game. We have to get Antonio Pittman, Beanie Wells and Maurice Wells established in the game."

One of the reasons that Pittman is so successful is that he has the ability to block out distractions and focus at the task at hand. He has become desensitized to playing in big games.

"I enjoy it," he said. "It seems like the last two years I've been a starter we've played in nothing but big games. Those are the type of games you want to play in. You don't want to play games when everybody questions how good a team is. It's these big games that get you the respect that's needed. We win this game we'll probably be the first No. 1 team to play three different No. 2 teams in one year. With a record like that and you win ‘em all, you have to say you're probably the best team in college football history."

But with the magnitude of the game so high, Pittman doesn't have any nerves at all?

"I don't feel any pressure about it," he said. "It's a game both teams want to win very bad. It's a game where you have to go out and give it your all. This is the reason why it's the last game of the season, because it's going to be the most physical game we play. We've got to the bowl game to the bowl practice to get healthy. You have a while to recover from it. This is a game you give it all you've got."

Pittman finished with 1,331 rushing yards last year, so he will need to average about 150 yards in the final two games of the season to reach that mark. With the emergence of Wells he's not getting quite as many carries, but he's still the Buckeyes' go-to back.

"I feel good about my season," Pittman said. "I'm not playing as much as I played last year, but I feel a lot better body wise, my yards per carry is still up there. Everything has gone well for me. I'm still getting what I was getting last year, it doesn't seem like the load is that much heavier. In a lot of games I haven't played past halftime. I might come out for one series and I'm done. I feel all right. I feel good. I went over 1,000 yards. That felt real good."

Pittman scored the winning touchdown against Michigan last year. And he scored the game-clinching touchdown against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.

"My biggest touchdowns I've had so far," Pittman said. "Those are the ones I won't stop thinking about and nobody else will. Those are big games. Big touchdowns to finish up a game."

One player who could give a boost to OSU's running game is left tackle Alex Boone who did not play against Illinois and Northwestern, but is reportedly 100 percent healthy. Pittman is happy to see the big guy back.

"It means a lot," he said. "He was missed up front. (Tim) Schafer played his role and stepped up for us last week."

Pittman also discussed his good friend and fellow Akron native Wells, who enters the UM game with 511 rushing yards (5.3 per carry) and six touchdowns. Pittman thinks Wells needs to get some carries against Michigan.

"Without a doubt, he has to," he said. "I can't take every snap. As far as like pushing me, I don't think he really pushed me. It was more me being there guiding him along the way and helping him out. He's had some tough times this year with the fumbling, but that's behind him. He can't let that get to him. Fumble, get it back the next play. That's how he responded at Northwestern. He was benched for the Illinois game and came back this week and ran hard and almost had 100 yards (99)."

Pittman actually grew up rooting for Michigan, although he says he didn't hate Ohio State. In fact, he says he rooted for both teams most of the time. Ah, the ignorance of youth.

"The thing I remember the most was the fight between (David) Boston and (Charles) Woodson," Pittman said. "They didn't let that go. They still show the highlights of that. It gets you fired up. You know you can't go out there and fight, though. It gets you ready to play. It shows you how much is at stake in this game and how much is put out there for it."

Pittman knows there will be a lot of celebrities at this week's game, including a certain basketball player from Pittman's hometown.

"I talked to LeBron (James) and he said he would be up here," Pittman said. "Eddie and all the former players are going to be here, they'll bring some people."

Pittman was asked when he last spoke with James, considered by many to be the best player in the NBA.

"Probably a week ago," he said. "We don't talk on a regular basis. As much as we can hook up convenient to both schedules.

"We're old friends. He was always a year older than me. We played for the same (football) team in pee wee, but he played in a higher age group. I was 8 when I first met him.

"He talks about if he'd ever went to school he would have gone here, how much he misses football. He's all supportive, go out and do what you can do."

James was a first-team All-Ohio wide receiver as a sophomore at St. Vincent-St. Mary. Go look at some old All-Ohio lists. Not many sophomores make the cut. James was good football player before deciding to focus on basketball. And as Terrell Owens' publicist might say, "he has $100 million reasons" why he made the right decision.

"He doesn't say it, but everywhere you go and somebody talks about him and football they always say he would have been the best receiver in the country," Pittman said. "But he doesn't want to do that, he got too much money."

Downing: The Anti-Boren

When Michigan true freshman right guard Justin Boren was going through the recruiting process, he narrowed his choices down to Michigan and Ohio State. Ohio-native Boren was reportedly leaning towards selecting OSU early in the process. However, Boren's father, Mike Boren, played for Michigan and when it was all said and done he couldn't go against his father's former school.

Then you have the case of the 6-5, 305-pound Downing, a three-year starter for OSU at right guard. Downing's father, Walt Downing, was an All-American at Michigan and was a member of the San Francisco 49ers when they defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI.

T.J. Downing was thought to be a Michigan lean early in 2001. But he said the UM coaches acted like they already had him in the bag and he had a much better feeling when talking to the OSU coaches. Therefore, he went against his boyhood favorite team and his father's alma mater and picked the Buckeyes in the summer of '01.

Therefore, for Downing, "The Game" always has a little extra importance.

"It adds a little bit," he said. "The game overall, it's so important to me because it's 11-0 against 11-0 playing each other and everything that's on the line for it. Just playing for a championship is really important for me, because that's been my goal from day one getting in here. The last time we won the Big Ten outright was when I was born (1884). So it's a dream of mine to get it. That's what really makes it important. But having the thing about Pops in there is pretty special also."

Growing up in the Downing household, there was no rooting for the Buckeyes when OSU-UM week rolled around.

"Obviously, we always wanted to see the Buckeyes lose," Downing said. "It was always cool following the Wolverines. They were a huge part of my growing up. I loved the success that they had in the ‘90s, but I'm glad that I've been able to bring an end to that success here in the 2000s, because this is my team. I bleed scarlet and gray and I would die for these guys in this locker room. So, all I've got to do is do it one more time here and it'll be a successful career."

Downing said his father stayed out of the recruiting process and supported him when he decided to come to OSU.

"My family really left it up to me," he said. "And it came down to Ohio State and Michigan. But I just felt more love down here. I think I made the right decision, so far. I've got more rings on my fingers, so hopefully that's going to pay off after Saturday."

Walt Downing has been a Tressel fan from the moment he met him in 2001, soon after Tressel took the OSU job.

"Oh, he loved him. He loved him," T.J. Downing said. "Coach Tressel just brings a whole different aspect to young people. He relates to us well, just because we're in that development stage of growing up. He's a great mediator, a mentor, in that sense."

Downing, Datish and right tackle Kirk Barton all have enjoyed very good seasons for OSU up front. Left guard Steve Rehring and Boone as well. It's hard to decide which lineman has put together the best season, but Datish and Downing will likely get most of the postseason accolades.

Downing was asked by a national writer if he thinks he's surprised anyone with his play this year.

"No," he said. "I know what I'm capable of. I've played to the best of my ability. I'm going to continue to do that. I'm sure I probably didn't have a lot of expectations, I didn't have a lot of hype coming into the season so I don't know what my expectations were, except for in myself. If my name's on the map now, then I guess I have exceeded expectations."

Most offensive linemen that have started for OSU under Jim Bollman have advanced to play in the NFL. Datish and Downing will be no different, but Downing says he doesn't find himself daydreaming of an NFL career.

"Not really, man," he said. "We'll see what happens. I wouldn't jump to any conclusion yet, but if it happens it'd be nice. If I come out and play a great game against Michigan and hopefully in the bowl game too, then, yeah, that'll help it out a lot. You can't even concentrate on that now. Just got to let the chips fall where they are after the season and hopefully something does happen. It'd be a great start for my future.

"It shows a lot for Coach Bolls, man. I've heard a lot of NFL coaches say that anybody that's played for coach Bollman is ready to come into the NFL as a rookie and play. If that's a true statement, hopefully Doug and I'll be able to put some money in our pocket next year."

Datish discussed why Downing has been able to establish himself as one of the best guards in the Big Ten.

"T. J. is a tough guy who plays hard no matter what," he said. "He's really improved over the past four years. He and I were talking about it yesterday. We were like we can't believe where we've come from where we started at. He's done a tremendous job for us the last couple of years and he's really done a great job for us this year. He's stepped up his game. I think he's improved in all aspects of the game, not just one thing you can really pinpoint."

OSU Wideouts Looking To Expose UM DBs

Despite the loss of NFL first-round draft pick Santonio Holmes (the first WR taken in the draft) Ohio State has one of the top WR units in the country. Ginn (51 receptions, 677 yards, eight TD), Gonzalez (45-673-7), Brian Robiskie (22-294-4) and Brian Hartline (13-222-2) are all enjoying productive seasons. The same is true for tight end Rory Nicol (11-143-3).

But the secret weapon this week could be senior WR Roy Hall. He has just 10 catches for 109 yards and one touchdown on the season, but he played well against Iowa and really hasn't been healthy all season. He is reportedly at full-strength now and he could be someone who steps up with a surprise game.

And of course Ginn and Gonzalez are going to be huge parts of the game plan. Gonzalez is as clutch as they come and has played well against Michigan thus far in his career.

"He is going to be a very important part of our offense week in and week out," Smith said. "Anthony Gonzalez will be somebody that I look to, whether it's first-and-10 or second-and-10 or third-and-long. Anthony Gonzalez is a very important part of our offense."

For years, fans will be talking about "The Catch" that Gonzalez made in last year's game, leaping over a UM defender to set up Pittman's winning score in the final minute.

"One of the things I remember is him jumping up and soaring through the air," Smith said. "They say that white guys can't jump. Gonzo is one of the best athletes we have on the team. He is arguably the fastest and arguably has the best hands. He is arguably the smartest guy. Any time you get a player of his caliber, you have to put him in a position where he can make plays."

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