Pittman's Running Helps OSU Churn Out PSU

Antonio Pittman

Junior tailback Antonio Pittman had 110 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in Saturday's 28-6 win over Penn State in the Big Ten opener. We have comments from Pittman on his third 100-yard game of the year. Plus, we take a look at the magical touchdown play from Troy Smith to Brian Robiskie.

It was raining and the Ohio State offense was sputtering.

So what did the Buckeyes do?

They downshifted to emphasize hard running junior tailback Antonio Pittman. Pittman gave the offense some energy in the second half after the Buckeyes trailed visiting Penn State 3-0 at the half.

Pittman had 68 of his 110 yards and scored OSU's first touchdown as the Buckeyes went on to down Penn State 28-6 in their Big Ten opener Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

"It was a big day for us," said Pittman, who notched his third 100-yard game on the young season and the 11th of his OSU career. "The offensive line came out here and they worked hard. We knew going into this game it was going to be a wet field. The line did their job up front, the fullbacks were blocking well and I was able to get 100 yards again."

The 5-11, 195-pound Pittman said he enjoys games like Saturday's, where the offensive line and the running game have to come to the forefront.

"Whenever we can put it on my back, I enjoy that. I like being a guy who can carry this team and help out as much as I can," he said. "This is the kind of game that will get you respect as a running back. You want to be able to grind it out and get the tough yards. Today was a day we needed it.

"That's what football is all about – who can grind it out the most."

Pittman's backers hope another 100-yard game will cause some to see that he is, in fact, one of the top running backs in the country. Through four games, he now has 450 yards on 71 carries (6.3 average) and four touchdowns.

"It doesn't matter to me," Pittman said. "I just try to come out here and play hard. My time will come. I just have to keep going out there and playing ball. I feel I'll get recognized if I do that. We got a victory and that's all that matters."

OSU trailed Penn State early in the second half when he was able to get around the corner on a 19-yard run. That helped set the tone for a nine-play scoring drive that finally got the Buckeyes on the board.

"I didn't feel as if they rallied around me," Pittman said. "I feel as if we rallied around each other. It's a team effort. They blocked for me up front and I had to run the ball. That's my job. They did their job to open the holes.

"They put a lot of pressure on (the PSU defense) and I feel like by the second half, those guys were worn out. That makes my job a lot easier."

Pittman capped that drive with a 12-yard touchdown run. He ran behind guard T.J. Downing and tackle Kirk Barton and then bowled over PSU's Anthony Scirrotto at the 2-yard line to get the score.

"(Fullback) Stan White and the offensive line opened up the hole right away," Pittman said. "The safety blitzed and Stan picked it up. I was forced to cut it up. They did a great job there."

Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman enjoyed seeing the Buckeyes get the ground game working for the second week in a row.

"Everything we did running was a lot of the stuff we planned and worked on during the week," Bollman said. "You'd like to have it be a little bit cleaner so you can have some longer runs or you beat the extra guy. Still, I don't feel like that was a big problem. I feel more anxious to get the passing game going right now."

Pittman followed up a 155-yard effort last week against Cincinnati with his workmanlike effort against Penn State.

"Pittman's best attribute as a running back is he is a complete player," Bollman said. "He is a really good pass blocker. He's a good receiver and he's a very good runner. He's a running back that we're confident of having in there in any situation and we're confident he'll get the job done."

Quarterback Troy Smith was also happy to see Pittman pick up some of the slack for the offense.

"I think the guys up front beared down and made some blocks," Smith said. "Plus, Pittman made some plays. Chris Wells got in there and loosened them up a few times with his physical play. You can't get enough of the way Antonio runs."

OSU coach Jim Tressel preaches balance and, on a wet day when it was tough to complete pass, he was also happy to see the running game step up.

"I think that getting a little bit of an offensive drive cranking with the run, our guys did a good job of adapting to the fact that on typical pass-downs they were laying their ears back and rushing the passer and we had to mix up a little bit of what we were doing just to have a chance to be balanced, and that was a huge drive there," Tressel said of Pittman's go-ahead touchdown. "Antonio Pittman, really for the second week in a row, gave us a little burst at the time we needed it."

Center Doug Datish added, "On that particular drive we needed to score and we went down there and I think the best thing we did on that is we started to see a blitz happening, and on that particular play they scored on, we picked up the blitz and got in, which was nice, and Pitt gave us that spark that we needed."

Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. was happy to also heap praise on Pittman.

"He's a monster," said Ginn, who was held in check with two catches for 15 yards. "He plays hard every down. Every time he touches the rock, it's 5 or 6 yards. That's what we want out of him. He works hard every down. He keeps coming at you. You look at him and say he's not a big guy. But when he hits you it's like a Mack truck."

The Magic Man

After OSU's 3-0 start, many anointed Smith as a Heisman Trophy candidate. He came back down to Earth just a bit, though, as the Buckeyes hosted Penn State on a windy, rainy day.

He was just 12 of 22 passing for 115 yards and threw two interceptions – his first two in over five games played, dating back to last year's win at Northwestern.

But, even with the off day, Smith delivered a highlight reel play that everybody will be watching for a long time. OSU was nursing a 7-3 lead midway through the fourth quarter. He took a shotgun snap from the PSU 37 and was almost immediately flushed to his right by PSU defensive end Jim Shaw.

Smith got outside and could not find anybody. But he believed he could outrun Shaw back to the middle of the field by turning back toward his own goal line. He circled around the beleaguered PSU defender and found himself near midfield. He unleashed a throw that sophomore Brian Robiskie caught in stride in the end zone for the 37-yard touchdown that staked OSU to a 14-3 lead with 12:56 left in the game.

It went into the books as a 37-yard touchdown. But the truth is Smith threw the ball from OSU's 47-yard line – 16 yards behind the line of scrimmage and 55 yards from where Robiskie eventually hauled it in.

Smith said his intended receiver on the play was Ginn, who wasn't open.

"From the start, the first route, the first read wasn't there," Smith said. "I tried to come back and look to the other side of the field, but it was kind of clogged up and crowded. I just tried to improvise and keep things going. The Penn State defender was making ground on me and I did one of the things that Coach always says don't do and that's reverse field, and I know I can't live by that.

"But Brian Robiskie stayed alive. He stayed with me. We practice scrambling drills like that all the time. The line gave me enough time to reverse field and put the ball in the air and Robo just went up and made a great catch. You need moments like that when you're down and out when things aren't going the way you want them to go, you've just got to keep going."

Smith said Robiskie also violated one of the team's unwritten rules by not coming back to the play, but all worked out in the end.

"Usually the guys that are deep are supposed to come back and the guys that are close are supposed to go deep, but we all mixed and matched a little bit that play," Smith said with a smile.

Tressel talked about why reversing field is dangerous.

"No, I don't like Troy to reverse field that deep because if it's a fast guy like one of our defensive guys, we're going to have a problem," the coach said. "But like on checking off plays, if he wants to change the play, that's fine, if it works. If he wants to reverse field, it better be a touchdown, but like he said, sometimes there's moments where you just feel like you need to do something and to take someone's instincts from them. We're very meticulous, we ask a lot of him, three inches is different than six inches on a stride and a million different things we ask of them. Sometimes when you're out there in the fray, you have to play."

Robiskie added his take on the touchdown.

"It was just a simple hitch route and when I looked back and saw Troy (Smith) on the run, I just wanted to work to get open because I know he can always make a play," he said. "We practice that. When the quarterback comes out of the pocket, the guys who are deep try and come up and the guys who are short try to go long. He was able to throw it and I just had to come down with it."

Robiskie said he had to give it his all on that play – for Smith.

"Troy brings a ton," Robiskie said. "Outside of football, he's a leader. On the field, he's a player. On that particular play, I couldn't quit on him. I was just working for him."

Smith, who was victimized by at least three drops on a rainy day, summed up the day's efforts.

"It wasn't that they were giving us fits," he said. "A lot of times in routes when we were ready to throw or when I was ready to throw, some of the receivers were getting bumped off routes, and just through the course of everything. We had to just go into our short and our quick game and that opened some things up. The guys in the front, again, they battled through and through, through the whole game, and without them, the play still wouldn't happen."

Bollman said he is eager to get a look at the game film and go over the breakdowns.

"I never really felt bad about the way we were running the ball," he said. "I don't know if we ever got in sync throwing the ball. I am anxious to see what happened there."

Smith said when the Buckeyes had to move the ball and win the game, they got the job done.

"The key was, at one point in time, we all looked at ourselves in the huddle and challenged ourselves," he said. "At that point, everybody was doing a lot of talking. If we're going to do all of the talking, we have to back it up."

Pittman added, "We have multiple formations and we can execute out of all them. Today, the run opened up the pass and Troy was able to drop one off to Robo for a touchdown."

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