COLUMBUS — So much for slow starts.
After lethargic beginnings in their first three games, the eighth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes came out like gangbusters Saturday and chewed up Northwestern, 58-7.
It made for a nice celebration of the 500th OSU game played at the venerable Horseshoe along the banks of the Olentangy River.
The stadium opened in 1922 with a 5-0 victory over Ohio Wesleyan. The Buckeyes exceeded that total less than two minutes into Saturday’s game — the 37th consecutive played in front of a crowd of more than 100,000. The Buckeyes are now 276-104-20 at their own friendly confines.
Saturday’s offensive explosion was quite a contrast from OSU’s first three games.
They led only 7-0 after one quarter in their opener against I-AA Youngstown State, then held a precarious 3-2 halftime advantage against Akron a week later. Last week at Washington, Ohio State trailed 7-3 at halftime before getting untracked and winning impressively.
In fact, Ohio State had outscored its three opponents just 27-12 in first-half play until it exploded for 28 points in the first quarter and 45 in the first half in whacking Northwestern to open defense of its Big 10 title.
The Buckeyes have a habit of destroying Northwestern. They now lead the series 58-14 with one tie. In Columbus, Ohio State owns a 32-8 advantage with 15 straight victories.
Brian Robiskie grabbed a pair of first-quarter TD passes from Todd Boeckman and added a third in the opening moments of the second quarter. Maurice Wells added two scores and Chris “Beanie” Wells one.
Boeckman threw his fourth TD pass of the day to Ray Small to answer Northwestern, which opened the second half by returning the kickoff 99 yards for a TD.
Ryan Pretorius had seven extra points and a field goal — the only miss coming on a bad snap. It was Ohio State’s best first half since scoring 52 points against Pittsburgh in 1996.
Still, as exciting as all that offense was, the one thing that remains a constant for this year’s Buckeyes is the defense, which has yet to yield a touchdown at home all season.
“Really, the defense took over and created unbelievable field position,” OSU coach Jim Tressel said, “and our punt returns were very solid. Our kickoff coverage was very good, except for one.”
The only downer was Stephen Simmons’ TD return to open the second half, but even then the defense never wavered.
In fact, it might be a good idea for some of Northwestern’s players to visit their dentists to check for loose fillings. That’s how hard the Buckeyes were hitting in holding the Wildcats to 120 yards in total offense and 0 net yards on the ground.
“I think we realized it was going to be physical,” OSU linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “We were going to attack (defensively). Obviously, Northwestern, with their spread offense, can put up a lot of yards on you.”
But Northwestern never got untracked Saturday and the Buckeyes offense was extremely efficient.
“That’s something we’ve been stressing this week,” said tackle Kirk Barton. “From an offensive standpoint, our biggest goal was to score on the first drive to take the air out of the balloon. We figured if we won the toss, give them the ball and let our defense stop them.”
That part of the equation didn’t work. Northwestern won the toss and deferred to the second half.
Despite all the points, Ohio State’s offense didn’t spend much time on the field in the first quarter. Its first score took just 1:10 off the clock. It’s second just 52 seconds and its third 1:33.
Vernon Gholston’s 25-yard fumble return made it 28-0 with 5:26 left to play – in the first quarter.
“First ever,” Gholston answered when asked how many TDs he’s scored in his football career. “I just picked up the ball and never looked back. I did look up at the crowd and saw them getting excited. I just wanted to celebrate with my teammates. I really like going out and hitting guys. To score was a good feeling.”
“We were flying around making plays,” defensive back Anderson Russell said. “We want to hit people. One of our goals was to keep attacking the quarterback and forcing him to make plays he doesn’t feel comfortable making.”
Gholston was in on two big sacks of Northwestern’s C.J. Bacher for minus-23 yards. The Buckeyes intercepted two passes and, along with the special teams, gave Ohio State’s offense great field position all day long. Nick Patterson and Chimdi Chekwa had the interceptions. Ray Small had a punt return of 21 yards and a kick return of 22 to go along with his TD reception.
Contact Tim Gebhardt at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.