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Smith, Ohio State cruise past Wildcats for fifth straight win

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.

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