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Published: 11/13/2005

Beating the spread: Ohio State defense looks like a sure thing

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk is mobbed by teammates after returning a blocked punt for a touchdown in a win over Northwestern. Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk is mobbed by teammates after returning a blocked punt for a touchdown in a win over Northwestern.
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Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton is dragged down by Ohio State senior cornerback Tyler Everett (6) and senior safety Nate Salley. Yesterday's home game was the last home game for 16 Buckeye seniors. Sutton, a freshman from Akron who was Ohio's Mr. Football last year, had 93 yards on 14 carries. Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton is dragged down by Ohio State senior cornerback Tyler Everett (6) and senior safety Nate Salley. Yesterday's home game was the last home game for 16 Buckeye seniors. Sutton, a freshman from Akron who was Ohio's Mr. Football last year, had 93 yards on 14 carries.
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COLUMBUS - It was supposed to be the scariest thing on the menu - the dreaded spread offense.

Well, Northwestern might have extended its formations from sideline to sideline, and put things in a constant state of motion, but the Wildcats just kept running into an immovable object - Ohio State - and falling down.

The Buckeyes muscled Northwestern around, finessed the Wildcats when they wanted to, and threw the Big Ten's top defense over them like a heavy, woolen blanket in a 48-7 rout. After making a fuss on the opening possession of the game, the spread was

essentially dead.

"Our defense just keeps playing, it keeps coming after you. It is relentless," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said.

Relentless, indeed. Northwestern scored less than two and a half minutes into the game, and that was it.

"The Ohio State defense is one of the best we've seen," Northwestern quarterback Brett Basanez said. "We didn't capitalize and make plays. We didn't, and they made us pay for it."

Ohio State forced Northwestern to punt on seven of its next nine possessions, and the other two ended in turnovers. The Wildcats had 58 total yards in the final 27 minutes of the first half.

"I think what you saw out there was a very determined, very focused bunch of guys," Ohio State defensive end Mike Kudla said. "There was a real sense of purpose on every single play. Everybody went full bore, and never backed off."

In their final tune-up before the season-ending showdown with Michigan, the Buckeyes held Northwestern to a season-low 251 yards of offense - the first time this season the Wildcats have had less than 400 yards in a game.

Led by senior All-American linebacker A.J. Hawk, who had eight tackles, a forced fumble, a sack, and a blocked punt (by Quinn Pitcock) returned for a touchdown, the Buckeyes' defenders ruled the day.

"They were fast," Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton said. "It seemed like everywhere I turned there was Hawk or one of the other Ohio State defenders. They definitely are physical. They swarm the ball. They stunted, slanted, twisted - they did everything they could to take us out of our offense."

Meanwhile, Northwestern's last-in-the-nation defense did little to hinder the Buckeyes. Ohio State, which scored on all seven trips to the red zone yesterday, led 14-7 before the first quarter ended after a pair of drives ended in short touchdown runs by quarterback Troy Smith.

After Pitcock surged through to block a Northwestern punt, Hawk scooped the ball up and ran eight yards for a score and a 21-7 advantage. Freshman Maurice Wells motored 13 yards before halftime to stretch it to 28-7.

"The guys up front controlled the game for us, and it showed in the score, and the kind of numbers we were able to put up," Ohio State tailback Antonio Pittman said. "This offense has been on a bit of a roll lately, and we just kept it going today."

Pittman had 132 yards on 18 carries, and went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. The Buckeyes had a season-high 317 rushing yards, with Smith adding 75, and freshman Maurice Wells 70. Ohio State scored 40 or more points for the fourth straight game.

"We ran it better as the game went on," Tressel said, "and got the kind of numbers we want. We felt good about the run game, but we've got to get a little more balance."

Smith threw just 12 times, completing seven for 77 yards with one interception. Northwestern quarterback Basanez was 15-of-31 for 121 yards with an interception.

Josh Huston, one of 16 Ohio State seniors playing for the final time in Ohio Stadium, hit a pair of second-half field goals, and Pittman and Erik Haw closed out long drives with short touchdown runs.

Contact Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6510.



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