Nov. 12, 2005
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Troy Smith ran for two touchdowns and linebacker A.J. Hawk returned a blocked punt for another score to lead 10th-ranked Ohio State to a 48-7 victory over No. 25 Northwestern on Saturday, the Buckeyes' fifth consecutive win.
Ohio State (8-2, 6-1) needs to win next week's annual showdown with rival Michigan to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten title.
The Buckeyes scored at least 35 points for the fifth game in a row - a streak in which they've won by an average score of 42-15 - but it was their defense which paved the way.
Brett Basanez came in averaging 316 yards passing a game - fifth-best in the nation - for Northwestern (6-4, 4-3), but was limited to just 121 yards passing while completing 15 of 31 passes with one interception.
Meanwhile, Ohio State used a multifaceted offense to move the ball almost at will. Smith was 7-of-12 for 77 yards with one interception and ran 11 times for 75 yards before he and most of the rest of the Buckeyes starters took the fourth quarter off. Antonio Pittman carried 18 times for 132 yards and a 4-yard touchdown after missing part of the first half with a bruised hip and sore back.
Hawk, an All-American and Butkus Award finalist, had eight tackles and a sack as the Buckeyes limited Northwestern to just 251 yards - almost exactly half its average. After scoring on their first possession, the Wildcats were forced to punt six of the next eight times they had the ball - turning it over on a fumble by Tyrell Sutton and a Basanez interception the other two times - to fall behind 38-7.
Basanez completed four of five passes (one was dropped) for 50 yards and Sutton rushed for 41 yards on three carries in a quick 80-yard march for an early 7-0 lead. Sutton sliced inside a block for 34 yards to set up his 5-yard TD reception from Basanez.
But the rest of the game was all Buckeyes.
They stayed on the ground for all 11 plays on their first possession - never losing yardage nor gaining more than nine yards - with Smith spinning away from linebacker Tim McGarigle for a 4-yard score.
The game then got out of hand when Northwestern's special teams failed on consecutive punts.
A short, low punt by Slade Larscheid was returned 24 yards by Ted Ginn Jr., with another 15 yards tacked on for a late hit. That gave the Buckeyes the ball at the Wildcats 29 and it took just seven plays - capped by Smith's 2-yard sprint to the corner of the end zone - to make it 14-7.
The Wildcats had to punt again on the second play of the second quarter and Ohio State's Quinn Pitcock broke through the middle to block Larscheid's kick, with Hawk returning it from the 8 for the touchdown.
It was the second career touchdown for Hawk, who was playing his final game at Ohio Stadium. His only other touchdown came in his second game as a freshman on an interception return against Kent State.
After the teams traded interceptions - Smith was picked off by Marquice Cole and Basanez by Ashton Youboty - the Buckeyes made it 28-7 at the half when Maurice Wells went untouched off right tackle on a 13-yard run.
Sutton, last year's Mr. Football in Ohio, was injured when he lost a fumble at his own 18 on Northwestern's first series of the third quarter. He did not return, finishing with 14 carries for 93 yards - 27 under his average.
Pittman, who was a pee-wee ball teammate of Sutton's in their hometown of Akron, carried five times for 51 yards in the third quarter alone, capped by his short scoring burst.
Josh Huston added field goals of 33 and 37 yards and Erik Haw ran for a 3-yard TD for the Buckeyes.