COLUMBUS - Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel found himself in a peculiar and somewhat awkward position here yesterday afternoon.
The dilemma he faced was that, after a full week of purposeful practice, and an intense pregame ritual all aimed at getting the maximum out of his Buckeyes for four full quarters, Tressel had to figure out how to re-cage the beast almost as soon as he had let it out.
Ohio State was so dominant over hapless Northwestern that after six offensive plays the Buckeyes led 14-0, and after just three Ohio State possessions it was 28-0, thanks to a touchdown by the defense.
The final score was 58-7, but it remained that modest only after Tressel cleared the bench early, quickly edited the playbook down to its more conservative chapters, and even had his team punt once.
"It was a decisive win, and in that situation you try to continue to improve and get a lot of guys out there to experience things," Tressel said. "So I thought on both sides of the ball we adjusted as the game changed. I thought the kids continued to play hard. The thing that you didn't want to do is get sloppy and get lazy in your technique, but I thought we hung in there and kept a handle on things."
The victory to open the Big Ten season was Ohio State's most decisive win against a conference opponent since a 59-0 rout of Wisconsin in 1979.
"This seemed to be as good a job as we've done on them," Tressel said after moving his personal record against Northwestern to 6-1.
Quarterback Todd Boeckman hit receiver Brian Robiskie in stride streaking down the Ohio State sideline for a 42-yard touchdown just over a minute into the game, and the same two hooked up for a 28-yard score after a fruitless Northwestern series and a dreadful punt set up the Buckeyes at the 36. Boeckman finished with four touchdown passes, with Robiskie catching three.
"We wanted to come out strong and put some points on the board early, because we hadn't done that," Boeckman said. "I think it was really important for us to get off to a good start, get into a good rhythm, and then try and maintain that."
Ohio State stayed more on the ground the next time it had the ball, and Maurice Wells punched in from three yards for the score and a 21-0 lead. When Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher took a blind side hit from Ohio State safety Anderson Russell and fumbled the ball, defensive end Vernon Gholston picked up the loose ball and ran 25 yards for a touchdown and a 28-0 advantage with more than five minutes left in the opening quarter.
"That was something we had preached about - getting a defensive touchdown," Ohio State linebacker James Laur-
inaitis said. "When those kinds of things happen, you get big shifts in momentum. It's hard for a team to recover from something like that. As a defense, we take a lot of pride in being able to force a turnover, and then put the ball in the end zone."
The Ohio State lead ballooned to 35-0 in the first minute of the second quarter when Boeckman hit Robiskie in the back of the end zone from 19 yards. Thanks to a defense that allowed Northwestern just 20 yards of offense in 35 first-half plays, and kept the Wildcats working with the end zone just over their shoulders, Ohio State scored on seven of nine first-half possessions.
"We were out there in the free-wheeling zone," Tressel said about his team working the short field. "And we had a chance to go after them with a couple of things. Our defense just took over and created unbelievable field position."
The Ohio State lead grew to 42-0 about four minutes before halftime when Chris Wells went straight through the left side of the Ohio State line and found no one between himself and the goal line some 36 yards away.
"I give all the credit to our
offensive line. I'm so proud of the way they played and dominated things up front today," Chris Wells said. "We had the protection when we threw the ball, and the holes were there when we called a running play. Those guys were great today."
A 40-yard field goal by Ryan Pretorius with 1:19 left in the half made it a 45-0 lead, Ohio State's largest halftime lead since the 1996 team went up 52-0 on Pitt in the first half of a Sept. 21 meeting that year.
Northwestern's Stephen Simmons took the opening kickoff of the second half 99 yards for a touchdown, missed by a bunch of Buckeyes, including kicker Pretorius. Tressel was frowning and shaking his head in disgust over that apparent lapse.
"I hit it pretty deep and was surprised when he slipped through our coverage," Pretorius said. "He got on top of me really quick and I wasn't able to make the play."
Boeckman hooked up with Ray Small on a 48-yard scoring pass to make it 52-7, and a short touchdown run from Maurice Wells made it 58-7 later in the third quarter, with the extra point run by Pretorius coming up short after a botched snap for a kick.
Northwestern finished with 120 yards passing, but had zero rushing yards in the game.
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