Oct. 28, 2006
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -Ohio State's defense is proving that experience is overrated.
While quarterback Troy Smith buffed up his Heisman Trophy numbers by running for one touchdown and throwing for another, top-ranked Ohio State's defense dominated in a 44-0 victory over Minnesota on Saturday.
"Everybody anticipated a drop-off with the caliber of players they lost last year," Minnesota coach Glen Mason said of the Buckeyes, who had to replace nine starters. "I don't see any drop-off, nor have the other people who have played them. They're a fine defensive team."
Antonio Pittman rushed for two scores for the Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten), who have won every game this season by at least 17 points. They play lowly Illinois and Northwestern, both 2-7, the next two weeks while tuning up for the regular-season finale against No. 2 Michigan on Nov. 18 at Ohio Stadium.
"Putting points on the board is cool but I guess the way you do it, how you do it, is the most important thing," Smith said. "We've just got to keep rolling."
Jack Nicklaus, a former Ohio State golfer who grew up in the Columbus area, received a thunderous standing ovation at halftime when he "dotted the "i" in the band's signature maneuver, Script Ohio.
The Buckeyes, for the most part, were substantially under par on this day. It was another impressive performance by a defense that came in tied for the national lead in fewest points allowed (8.2 per game). Only two teams have scored more than seven against Ohio State this season.
Ohio State intercepted Minnesota's Bryan Cupito three times - Malcolm Jenkins, Antonio Smith and Jamario O'Neal each had one - and never faced a serious threat from the Golden Gophers (3-6, 0-5), despite playing without stellar defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock, who was out with a concussion.
The offense piled up 484 yards, though three lost fumbles kept the score from being more one-sided before a homecoming crowd of 105,443.
Smith's Heisman moment came with Ohio State in command early in the third quarter.
He kept the ball on a run off left tackle and then cut back against the grain and outran the defense to score on a 21-yard touchdown run to make it 24-0.
"He's gone next year, right?" Minnesota cornerback Dominic Jones said hopefully. "You get good coverage - and then there he goes. That's what a running quarterback can do for you and a Heisman candidate can do."
Smith also tossed an 18-yard scoring pass to Brian Robiskie, completing 14-of-21 passes for 183 yards with no interceptions while rushing for 43 yards on six attempts. Smith has 22 TD pass and only two interceptions this season.
Pittman gained 116 yards on 21 carries and scored on runs of 10 and 13 yards. Chris Wells and Justin Zwick added short touchdown runs.
It was a stunning turnaround for Ohio State's defense. A year ago, Cupito passed for 396 yards and helped the Golden Gophers (3-6, 0-5) pile up 578 yards - the second-most against Ohio State in 117 years of football. The Buckeyes still won, 45-31.
This time the Gophers never got going and finished with 182 yards - they had four more yards in punting than in offense.
"Our defense did a great job of handling the tempo of the game," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said.
The Buckeyes' defense lost three first-round NFL picks and three others who went in the top four rounds of last year's draft. The fill-ins and unknowns have been terrific.
"Even though we won last year it was like a loss because they ran and threw so well on us," lineman Jay Richardson said. "We took it as a challenge."
The Gophers punted the ball away the first three times they had it before getting stopped on a fourth-and-1 run at the Ohio State 29 and then turned the ball over on an interception.
The Buckeyes scored on their first two possessions and then toyed with the Golden Gophers the rest of the day.
"We started the second half with a turnover and a lack of field position," Mason said. "And then the bottom fell out."