State of the Buckeyes is strong: OSU is rolling at 4-0

By Rusty Miller

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Remember all those great players Ohio State lost from last season’s team? They’re not missed as much as everyone thought.

The Buckeyes routed Northwestern 58-7 Saturday to go to 4-0, successfully opening their defense of the Big Ten title they’ve won the last two years.

“It’s a good start from a defensive standpoint, but there are always things you can get better at,” linebacker James Laurinaitis said after Ohio State limited the Wildcats to zero yards rushing, 120 total yards and no offensive points. “We’ll go and check the film and see what we can do better to look forward to going up to Minnesota.”

Averaging 37 points and 414 yards a game on offense and giving up just 7 points and 178 yards a game, the Buckeyes hit the road for the next two games. First, they face a Golden Gophers defense that ranks among the worst in the nation before encountering a Purdue team that appears on a roll.

“We are hitting on all cylinders and our offense is really clicking,” said Maurice Wells, who matched his career total with two touchdowns against Northwestern. “Wins like this feel good.”

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It’s clearly not just the offense, either.

“After four games, we’re starting to find out what we are capable of,” said defensive tackle Vernon Gholston, who scored the first touchdown of his life when he returned a fumble 25 yards Saturday.

Ohio State rocketed to a fast start and didn’t let up, leading 28-0 after the first 91/2 minutes and 45-0 at the half. This from a team that had not played well in an opening half all season.

The Buckeyes looked sluggish in taking a 21-3 lead against Youngstown State in the opener, then trailed 3-2 after two quarters against Akron. In their first road game of the year, they trailed 7-3 at halftime at Washington.

“The last few weeks we did not come out as strong as we wanted to,” said quarterback Todd Boeckman, who completed 11 of 14 passes for 179 yards with one interception and four TD passes against Northwestern. “Today we had a good game plan and we came out and executed.”

Northwestern wanted to set the pace early. So much for that plan.

“Not the way we wanted to start Big Ten football play,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We talked earlier in the week about wanting to come out and start fast. We changed up practice (to do that). Obviously, it didn’t have the impact we had hoped.”

The Buckeyes’ 45-0 lead at the half marked their most points in the opening two quarters since scoring 52 in a 70-0 win over Pittsburgh in 1996. The record is 56 against Iowa in 1995.

“You can’t simulate game speed. Ohio State did a lot of things to confuse our offense and they disguised a lot of things,” Northwestern wide receiver Eric Peterman said. “They were fast and good.”

Few expected the Buckeyes to be all that fast and certainly not this good. From last year’s 12-1 team they lost their four top offensive threats, including Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith, most of their defensive linemen and half of the secondary.

“It was a decisive win that hopefully we can go back and learn a great deal from,” coach Jim Tressel said.

Maybe others will learn from it, too.