Offensive Notebook: Buckeyes Struggle Early

Troy Smith

Ohio State's offense was not sharp in the first half of Saturday's 37-7 win over Cincinnati. But the Buckeyes turned things around and ended up racking up 444 yards of total offense. Tailback Antonio Pittman had 16 carries for 155 yards and a touchdown. We checked in with Pittman, Troy Smith and others following the game.

Ohio State's offense sputtered through much of the first half against Cincinnati. But the Buckeyes turned it around in the second half and posted 444 yards of total offense (278 passing, 166 rushing) in the 37-7 win over the visiting Bearcats.

Ohio State received a big performance from junior tailback Antonio Pittman, who had 16 carries for 155 yards and a touchdown.

Pittman's 48-yard TD in the third quarter put the Buckeyes up 27-7 and was the proverbial nail in the coffin for UC.

"I feel as if they called my number and I needed to step up and make some plays," Pittman said. "I thought our line did a great job and I was able to find some room and just run hard."

Senior quarterback Troy Smith wasn't exactly sharp, but it must be nice to go 21 of 30 for 203 yards and two touchdowns and have everyone wonder what was wrong.

"It was kind of frustrating from the jump," Smith said. "There were just things that we weren't doing. And as a football game goes, you are going to face adversity."

And a lot of the credit has to go to Cincinnati's defense, a group that kept the Buckeyes guessing all afternoon with various schemes.

"One thing Cincinnati was doing was they were coming after us," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. "If you can get outside when they are attacking, you have a chance. We ran outside a few times in the first half, but we thought it was something we could do even more of with the coverages they were playing. When you get a good back out in the open, you're going to have a chance. That was something that (offensive coordinator Jim) Bollman talked about at halftime was attacking the outside a little more."

Smith has not thrown an interception in his last 152 passes, a streak that dates back to the Northwestern game last season.

Junior wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez had five catches for 85 yards against Cincinnati. The Buckeyes were able to figure out UC's defense eventually, but Gonzalez was impressed with the Bearcats' creativity and intensity.

"We were trying to focus on the different things that they were trying to do," he said. "They did do a lot of stuff. I remember one play they had one down linemen, and the rest of the people were in coverage. I have never seen that in my life. But, I anticipated that, I really did. Going into the game our coached told us that we had seen a lot on film, but forget all that because you're going to see even more. And that's true. They had different things for us that we had never seen before."

Gonzalez was asked if OSU ever settled down and got into a flow offensively.

"Honestly, not really," he said. "Even on the drives when we scored it seemed like there would be penalties, or we would have negative yards on a particular play. It was just really frustrating, it really was. The whole day, it just seemed like we were out of sync a little bit."

Smith believes that OSU's struggles in the first half boiled down to not executing.

"I don't think there was anything they were taking away from us," he said. "Just minor things as far as protection goes, and that's where it all starts. It starts up front. As the game went on our protection got better and things started to open up."

Junior wideout Ted Ginn Jr. had five receptions for 33 yards and two touchdowns. It wasn't the typical big day from the explosive Ginn, but he made the most out of his opportunities.

"I think he's the most exciting player in college football and I told him that on the sidelines," Smith said. "For the people that say he doesn't run good routes, watch the film. I don't see any way you could always be open and not run good routes."

Gonzalez also continues to be impressed with the skills that Ginn brings to the field each Saturday.

"Anybody who has watched him for the last few years knows if he puts his foot in the ground and gets upfield, he's going to go pretty fast," Gonzalez said. "So, you better try and tackle him early, or he could house one on you."

The Buckeyes did a good job of distributing the ball against UC. Freshman Ray Small had three catches for 41 yards and sophomore tight end Rory Nicol added three receptions for 36 yards.

Ohio State doesn't usually throw to the tight end very much, so Nicol was pleased to get a few opportunities.

"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "It was fun today, man. Lucky to be here, lucky to play in the stadium and on top of that to get a few catches, it was fun.

"We got off to a little bit of a slow start, I guess. We got it going there late and we just have to keep getting better."

As for Pittman, if last season's 1,331-yard season didn't prove he was one of the elite backs in the country, he is leaving no doubt with his strong play through the first three games this year.

A reporter asked Pittman if his big day against UC was due to willpower, but Pittman just shook his head and politely answered the question.

"That wasn't willpower, that was doing what I'm supposed to do, which is run hard," he said. "I'm out there for one reason and that is to run hard and that's what I tried to do today."

There was a lot of talk entering the season that Pittman would share carries in some capacity with freshman Chris Wells (who had five carries for 18 yards against UC). Pittman was asked if that sort of talk ever got to him in a negative way.

"I wasn't frustrated at all by that stuff," he said. "That gave me more motivation to get out here and get on my grind. Whenever there is competition, it's better for the team. You can't get comfortable at your position and it makes you want to get out there and do even more."

Pittman might not reach his seasonal goals of 1,700 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, but he's going to make a run at it.



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