By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
COLUMBUS -- On his first four passes against Indiana on Saturday at Ohio Stadium, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith resembled anything but this year's Heisman Trophy favorite.
The first three were off-target sideline attempts that contributed to two three-and-out series and a 3-0 deficit.
Then Smith caught fire, torching the Hoosiers for two touchdown passes by the 16-minute mark. By halftime, Smith had two more touchdown tosses, matching his career high of four set Sept. 30 against Iowa.
By game's end, Smith had passed for 220 yards as the top-ranked Buckeyes rolled to their eighth straight victory of the season and 15th consecutive overall by walloping the Hoosiers, 44-3.
"We didn't start out great the first two or three minutes, but I thought after that we did everything we had to do to have a decisive victory," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said.
Smith's top performance was connecting with eight different receivers in completing 15 of his 23 tosses.
"Anytime you can get into a situation where you can spread the ball out and try to keep everyone happy, you have to do just that," said Smith whose touchdowns were to wide-outs Ted Ginn (31 yards) and Anthony Gonzalez (5 yards), and tight ends Rory Nicol (23 yards) and freshman Jake Ballard (1 yard).
The tricks bag
After the Buckeyes built up a 28-3 halftime lead, offensive coordinator Jim Bollman opened up the tricks bag and gave Ginn the chance to throw on a reverse.
With linebacker Adam McClurg guarding Nicol, Ginn took the handoff and threw a strike, hitting Nicol near the 15. Nicol rambled into the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown.
"We had been practicing and practicing and practicing, watching duck after duck after duck," said Smith of Ginn. "Today, I turned around and saw a perfect spiral.
"He always says that if he gets a chance he's going to throw a touchdown because we have an ongoing feud [going] way back to high school [Cleveland Glenville]."
After a shaky start, Smith connected with tailback Antonio Pittman on a screen toss that gained 22 yards and the Buckeyes (8-0) were rolling to their fourth Big 10 victory. Two plays later, Smith started right, then swiftly reversed field for a 29-yard gain to the Indiana 32.
"My left tackle [Alex Boone] did a good job of securing the left edge and he just gave me a chance to get around the other way," said Smith who finished with 38 yards on four carries. "I had been teased the whole week about not being able to pull away from a defender, so that was one of my reasons for really, really bearing down."
On third-and-1, Smith faked a handoff to Pittman then found unguarded Nicol in the middle of the field for a 23-yard touchdown and 7-3 lead.
"I don't want to say I was out of synch," Smith said. "Some games start the way you want them to and some don't."
Things unraveled quickly for the Hoosiers (4-4, 2-2) who had stunned the home crowd when Austin Starr kicked a 34-yard field goal seven minutes into the game.
Starr's field goal was set up by Tracy Porter's 34-yard punt return to the Ohio State 15.
That was the last time the Hoosiers threatened.
On Ohio State's fourth possession, Smith found Ginn in the corner of the end zone for a 31-yard score and double-digit advantage.
Gonzalez redefined the description "standing alone" on Smith's next touchdown pass for a 21-3 lead. As Gonzalez stood in the end zone, the nearest Hoosier defender was at least 10 yards away.
A face mask penalty on Indiana cornerback Leslie Majors set up the Buckeyes' final score of the first half. Majors was penalized after split end Brian Robiskie's 21-yard reception.
Smith's next pass to Robiskie gained 13 yards to the Indiana 1, setting up Ballard's diving touchdown reception 20 seconds before halftime.
"The one linebacker was on my right hip. And I guess I had a defender right in front of me. And he threw the ball where only I could get it," Ballard said.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes defense shut down the Hoosiers ground game, limiting Indiana to 7 yards rushing.
"The game is won up front and we did not do well on either side of the ball up front," Indiana coach Terry Hoeppner said. "Today, we were out-coached and out-played.