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Published: Friday, 9/1/2006

Lots of O in OSU

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Antonio Pittman, a junior who rushed for 1,331 yards last season, leads a trio of talentedrunning backs for No. 1 Ohio State. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season.
Antonio Pittman, a junior who rushed for 1,331 yards last season, leads a trio of talentedrunning backs for No. 1 Ohio State. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season.
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COLUMBUS Although the specter of an Ohio State football team throwing deep and scoring points in bunches might seem a little out of context historically, it has happened before, and it should again.

This year s version of the Buckeyes has a question mark or two on the defensive side, but Ohio State also appears to have all the answers when it comes to the potential to simply overwhelm people on offense.

These Buckeyes could threaten the record 42.6 points per game scored by the 1969 Buckeyes of quarterback Rex Kern and fullback Jim Otis. They could eclipse the 497.6 yards per game banked by the 1998 Buckeyes, led by quarterback Joe Germaine, and wide receiver David Boston.

We don t set specific goals like scoring this many points orgetting this many first downs and yards, senior quarterback Troy Smith said. But if we play to our potential as a team, then we should see a lot of scoring from this offense. We have a lot of weapons, there s no denying that. But it is all on paper now, just potential, and we still have to go out and make the plays.

That will start with Smith, who rebounded from a shaky start in 2005 to put together one of the finest seasons an Ohio State quarterback has logged. He completed 63 percent of his passes for 2,282 yards and 16 touchdowns with just four interceptions.

A scary option for defenses on every down with his running ability, Smith also rushed for 611 yards and 11 touchdowns.

I think we saw Troy really grow as a player, as a quarterback, and as a leader of this offense, and this team, Ohio State senior center Doug Datish said. And he took the team with him. As he got better and better and more confident, so did everyone else.

When Smith ended the 2005 edition of Buckeyes history with 300 passing yards in a thrilling 25-21 win at Michigan, and then threw for a personal best 342 yards in Ohio State s 34-20 win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, he left college football s closest observers with that image, and the Buckeyes open 2006 as the top-ranked team in the country.

The offense looks imposing, at a minimum. Smith has Antonio Pittman, a 1,331 yard rusher last season, leading a trio of gifted running backs. Also expected to see playing time are sophomore Maurice Wells and freshman Chris Wells.

Wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. is a Heisman Trophy candidate, like Smith, and might be the fastest guy in the country. Anthony Gonzalez and Roy Hall just increase the down-field opportunities.

The offensive front has a trio of fifth-year seniors in guards Tim Schafer and T.J. Downing, and Datish. Tackles Kirk Barton and Alex Boone are huge and skilled. Tight end Rory Nicol and fullback Stan White Jr. will make Smith and Pittman even tougher to track down.

We need to start this season at the same pace we were playing at when last season ended, Ginn said. I think we showed that we have a lot of dimensions on this team we can hit you in a lot of different ways. If we keep up the momentum, we should score some points.

On defense the Buckeyes sent too many guys to the NFL to not have an adjustment period in front of them. Nine starters left and ended up in pro camps, but if the talent pool is as deep as some think, this side of the ball should be steady and solid.

We feel good about our defense, especially since we have experienced guys up front, OSU coach Jim Tressel said. But we ve known for some time that there was the potential for a big turnover on that side, and I hope we ve done a good job preparing these current players to assume those roles.

Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson at the tackles anchor that front as the only starters back. Jay Richardson and Vernon Gholston at the ends bring athleticism and pursuit. Linebackers Marcus Freeman, James Laurinaitis and John Kerr won t make people forget the dynamic trio of A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel, but Tressel likes the work he has seen from this new group.

The secondary is essentially new, with Malcolm Jenkins and Antonio Smith at cornerback, and Nick Patterson and Brandon Mitchell at the safeties. Jenkins played a lot as a true freshman last season, while Smith and Mitchell are fifth-year seniors who have been in the program a while.

That s the place we are brand new, in the secondary. So they ll need to gain their experience quickly, Tressel said. You know they have the ability, or otherwise they wouldn t be here in the first place. My concern is that they are so young in terms of actual playing time game plays and you want them to get a good start and build some confidence.

Ohio State s punter is again A.J. Trapasso, who averagedbetter than 40 yards per attempt last year as a freshman. Ginn gives the Buckeyes the scariest return man in the country.

Tressel has kept the competition for the place-kicking job open, but selected red shirt freshman Aaron Pettrey to get first crack tomorrow in the Buckeyes opener at Ohio Stadium against Northern Illinois. Sophomore Ryan Pretorius will get a look, as well.

Sure there s questions out there, but you always have a few of those, Tressel said. But we ve worked hard every day at getting better, and striving for perfection. Now it s exciting for us to get into a game week because it seems like we ve been talking for days and days and days about how we re progressing and so forth. And you really don t know the answer to that until you get to go out and play against someone else.

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



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