Ted Ginn was only about a (right) foot away from breaking another long punt return.
COLUMBUS - Ohio State speedster Ted Ginn Jr. proved to be the best freshman on the field yesterday, upstaging Michigan's Chad Henne and Mike Hart.
Ginn returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter to break open a tight game, and the Buckeyes went on to trounce rival Michigan 37-21 at the Horseshoe.
It was Ginn's fourth punt return for a score this season, setting an Ohio State and Big Ten record while tying the NCAA mark.
"He's special," coach Jim Tressel said.
Ginn's return was the fourth-longest in Ohio State history, and was his sixth play of 50 yards or more. He finished with 123 return yards and caught five passes for 87 more, both team highs.
His punt return was the longest play allowed by Michigan this year. Ginn also was the first OSU player to return a punt for a score against the Wolverines since Tom Campana ran one back 85 yards in 1971.
"Me, being a freshman, I'm overwhelmed," Ginn said. "But coming in and seeing everybody pick me up and just treat me like God, it was just great. I just tried to make it better for the seniors, because they wanted to go out with the gold pants and they wanted to beat Michigan."
Ohio State players are awarded gold pants - a jewelry charm - when they beat Michigan.
Ginn rewrote the record books with his scintillating return yesterday.
He became the third player in NCAA history to return four punts for touchdowns in a season, tying Kansas State's David Allen (1998) and Brigham Young's Golden Richards (1971).
Ginn also broke the Big Ten single-season record held by Iowa's Tim Dwight (1997), Michigan's Gene Derricotte (1947) and Wisconsin's Ira Matthews (1976).
And Ginn's fourth return of the season passed the OSU career marks of Jeff Graham (1989-91) and Garcia Lane (1981-83), who each had three.
"When we sent in our ballot on the coaches' All-American team, they asked us, 'Who do you really think is deserving to make the All-American team?'●" Tressel said. "I sent in Nooge [kicker Mike Nugent], of course, and I sent in as a return specialist Ted Ginn.
"I get to watch Ted in practice every day. And then one day, I was shocked. He just came out of nowhere."
With Ohio State leading 20-14 in the third quarter, Ginn fielded Adam Finley's punt at his own 18, broke a few tackles and avoided Finley's weak tackle
attempt along the sideline on his way to the end zone.
"If you study the film, you'll see with the two returners, we have a call guy, and I don't know that Santonio [Holmes] ever called for the ball," Tressel said. "Ted just kind of kept looking back and forth like that, at the ball, at Santonio, and asking, 'Am I getting it?'
"And all of a sudden he flipped his hands out - I was just happy he caught it - and 82 yards later we've got a touchdown."
With Ginn, it's full speed ahead, all the time.
He has 4.22 speed in the 40-yard dash, won the national championship in the 110-meter high hurdles as a junior and was a two-time state champion at Glenville High School in Cleveland, where his father is the football coach. He barely missed qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer.
The Buckeyes recruited Ginn as a cornerback, and that's where he was at the start of preseason drills. He didn't find out he was going to be strictly an offensive player until two weeks before the season.
Ginn could be a two-way star for the Buckeyes next year - a la Chris Gamble.
"I'm sure he'll have a chance to do lots of things in the future," Tressel said.