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November 11, 2006

OSU takes care of business, tops Northwestern

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EVANSTON, Ill. - The warmups are complete, and Ohio State looks ready.

James Laurinaitis set the tone when he forced a fumble on the opening possession, Troy Smith threw four touchdown passes and the top-ranked Buckeyes tuned up for their showdown against Michigan with a 54-10 victory over Northwestern on Saturday.

Now, finally, the Buckeyes can turn their attention to the second-ranked Wolverines and a game that'll determine who plays for the Bowl Championship Series title.

The 54 points were the most for Ohio State since a 72-0 victory over Pittsburgh on Sept. 21, 1996, and the defense played a major role in that.

The Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) turned four turnovers and a blocked punt into touchdowns en route to a 33-10 halftime lead and their 18th consecutive victory - the nation's longest winning streak.

Smith matched a season-high with his TD passes and threw for 185 yards while completing 12-of-19 with one interception. Antonio Pittman ran for 80 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, and freshman Chris Wells ran for a season-high 99 and a touchdown. Brian Hartline caught two touchdown passes.

Laurinaitis jarred the ball from Shaun Herbert after a catch near midfield on the fourth play from scrimmage, setting up Hartline's 14-yard touchdown reception, and the Buckeyes forced a season-high five turnovers.

C.J. Bacher was 17-of-28 for 212 yards for the Wildcats but threw two interceptions before being replaced by Mike Kafka midway through the third quarter. Tyrell Sutton carried 12 times for 57 yards and caught seven passes for 75, but Northwestern (3-8, 1-6) couldn't hang onto the ball.

Two years after a 33-27 overtime loss at Ryan Field - its first to the Wildcats in 33 years - Ohio State led 21-0 after the first quarter. Unlike last week, when the Buckeyes allowed 10 points in the fourth and hung on to win 17-10 at Illinois, there was no drama.

Their only difficulties were getting to Evanston.

Scheduled to leave Columbus at 3:30 p.m. Friday, they had to wait for another plane to arrive from Miami after a truck backed into the nose of their charter. Bad weather then kept them on the ground until 8 p.m. and forced them to land in Milwaukee instead of O'Hare International Airport. They finally arrived at their hotel at 10:30 p.m.

With the stands colored in Buckeyes red, Ohio State made itself at home and recovered fumbles on Northwestern's first two possessions.

After Laurinaitis jarred the ball from Herbert, Smith started the ensuing drive with a 28-yard pass to Anthony Gonzalez that put the ball on the Northwestern 27. Four plays later, Hartline had his first touchdown, and Ohio State had a 7-0 lead.

Northwestern, which upset Iowa a week earlier, immediately gave the ball back.

This time, Bacher fumbled away the snap on the second play, and Antonio Smith recovered, giving Ohio State possession at the Northwestern 27. After Pittman ran 14 yards to the 1, he bounced off the line and turned right for the second touchdown. And Brandon Mitchell made it 21-0 with 3:38 left in the first quarter when he picked off Bacher in front of the Northwestern sideline and returned it 46 yards.

For more coverage of the Ohio State Buckeyes, check out BuckeyeGrove.com; for more coverage of the Northwestern Wildcats, check out WildcatReport.com.

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