12:10 PM ET, November 12, 2005
Ohio Stadium, COLUMBUS, OH
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A.J. Hawk got his career at Ohio Stadium going with a touchdown, then said goodbye to a home crowd of 105,00 the same way.
Troy Smith ran for two touchdowns and Hawk returned a blocked punt for another score to lead 10th-ranked Ohio State to a 48-7 victory over No. 25 Northwestern on Saturday, the Buckeyes' fifth consecutive win.
"I've been coaching football for 30 years," Northwestern coach Randy Walker said. "I've seen a lot of good football players -- but I haven't seen any better than A.J. Hawk."
It was the second career touchdown for Hawk, the All-American linebacker and Butkus Award finalist who was playing his final game at Ohio Stadium. His only other touchdown came in his second game as a freshman during the Buckeyes' national championship year in 2002, on an interception return against Kent State.
"It's special," Hawk said of his going-away score. "As a defensive guy, you don't get to score touchdowns very often. It's a great way to go out. It gives us great momentum going into next week."
Ohio State (8-2, 6-1) needs to win Saturday's annual showdown with rival Michigan to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten title.
"As soon as the clock struck zero and the game was over, your mind goes straight to Michigan," center Nick Mangold said. "It's always in the back of your mind through the season. Now it's at the front of your mind."
The Buckeyes scored at least 35 points for the fifth game in a row -- a streak in which they've won by an average score of 42-15 -- but it was their defense which paved the way. It's the first time an Ohio State team has scored at least 35 points in five consecutive games since Woody Hayes prowled the sidelines in 1974.
Brett Basanez came in averaging 316 yards passing a game -- fifth-best in the nation -- for Northwestern (6-4, 4-3), but was limited to just 121 yards passing while completing 15 of 31 passes with one interception.
Meanwhile, Ohio State used a multifaceted offense to move the ball almost at will. Smith was 7-of-12 for 77 yards with one interception and ran 11 times for 75 yards before he and most of the rest of the Buckeyes starters took the fourth quarter off. Antonio Pittman carried 18 times for 132 yards and a 4-yard touchdown after missing part of the first half with a bruised hip and sore back.
Hawk had eight tackles and a sack and forced a fumble as the Buckeyes limited Northwestern to just 251 yards -- almost exactly half its average. After scoring on their first possession, the Wildcats were forced to punt six of the next eight times they had the ball -- turning it over on a fumble by Tyrell Sutton and a Basanez interception the other two times -- to fall behind 38-7.
"Everywhere I turned, there was A.J.," said Sutton, last year's Mr. Football in Ohio who finished with 14 carries for 93 yards -- 27 under his average. "He truly does run a 4.4 40."
Basanez completed four of five passes (one was dropped) for 50 yards and Sutton rushed for 41 yards on three carries in a quick 80-yard march for an early 7-0 lead. Sutton sliced inside a block for 34 yards to set up his 5-yard TD reception from Basanez.
But the rest of the game was all Buckeyes.
"That's what happens when you don't play well against a good team," Basanez said. "They make you pay for it."
The Buckeyes stayed on the ground for all 11 plays on their first possession -- never losing yardage nor gaining more than nine yards -- with Smith spinning away from linebacker Tim McGarigle for a 4-yard score.
The game then got out of hand when Northwestern's special teams failed on consecutive punts.
A short, low punt by Slade Larscheid was returned 24 yards by Ted Ginn Jr., with another 15 yards tacked on for a late hit. That gave the Buckeyes the ball at the Wildcats 29 and it took just seven plays -- capped by Smith's 2-yard sprint to the corner of the end zone -- to make it 14-7.
The Wildcats had to punt again on the second play of the second quarter and Ohio State's Quinn Pitcock broke through the middle to block Larscheid's kick, with Hawk returning it from the 8 for the touchdown.
"Both sides of the ball did some good things," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "Now we've got to get better before next week."
The Buckeyes made it 28-7 at the half when Maurice Wells went untouched off right tackle on a 13-yard run.
"The last three weeks, we watched film and they're hitting on all cylinders," Walker said.
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... Ohio State blocked a punt in the second quarter, and A.J. Hawk ran it in for a TD from the 8, giving OSU a 21-7 lead.
Gameball goes to... A.J. Hawk, who had eight tackles and a sack and was part of a defense that limited Northwestern to 251 yards.
Stat of the game... 35: The Buckeyes scored at least 35 points for the fifth straight game.
The Fan Pick
93.7% of College Pick'em players picked Ohio State to win the game.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||6-16||7-11|
|4th Down Conversions||0-1||0-0|
|TD||12:34||TYRELL SUTTON 5 YD PASS FROM BRETT BASANEZ (JOEL HOWELLS KICK)|
Drive info: 9 plays, 80 yards.
|TD||6:53||TROY SMITH 4 YD RUN (JOSH HUSTON KICK)|
Drive info: 11 plays, 45 yards.
|TD||1:02||TROY SMITH 2 YD RUN (JOSH HUSTON KICK)|
Drive info: 7 plays, 29 yards.
|TD||14:46||A.J. HAWK 8 YD BLOCKED PUNT RETURN (JOSH HUSTON KICK)||7||21|
|TD||1:37||MAURICE WELLS 13 YD RUN (JOSH HUSTON KICK)|
Drive info: 7 plays, 63 yards.
|FG||11:21||JOSH HUSTON 33 YD FG|
Drive info: 4 plays, 3 yards.
|TD||5:52||ANTONIO PITTMAN 4 YD RUN (JOSH HUSTON KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 80 yards.
|FG||13:20||JOSH HUSTON 37 YD FG|
Drive info: 10 plays, 29 yards.
|TD||4:53||ERIK HAW 3 YD RUN (JOSH HUSTON KICK)|
Drive info: 10 plays, 67 yards.