After the 44-0 win, Ohio State players spoke the language of "Tressel."
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
COLUMBUS -- It was an interesting phenomenon. One by one, the Ohio State team captains took their turn at the microphone at Saturday's postgame press conference, praising Minnesota for its toughness, its terrific offense, its effort, its tradition.
"It was a hard-fought game," OSU quarterback Troy Smith said. "Minnesota came in and was very, very, very physical from the beginning to the end. They did a great job defensively."
As Smith said this, you couldn't help thinking, "Wait a second. Are you talking about the team that you just beat 44-0? The one that needed a last-second blocked field goal to beat a I-AA team the week before?"
But, of course, he was. One of the biggest strengths of this Buckeyes team is its ability to stay focused in the big games and the lesser ones, something the previous coach, John Cooper, didn't always get across.
That discipline extends to the postgame interview session, where you get a straight-faced David Patterson, a senior defensive lineman, saying, "First of all, I'd like to take my hat off to the whole Minnesota football team. Today they fought us hard. They never gave up. These guys were bringing it from the beginning of the game to the end."
In political terms, it's called "staying on message." In football terms, it's become known as being "Tresselized," an homage Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who always seems to know the right thing to say.
"Minnesota played awfully hard and they played tough like they always do," Tressel said. "It was a little bit tough conditions from a wind standpoint and so forth and I'm sure it was even more difficult for Minnesota who plays indoors."
The interesting thing is, maybe Ohio State really is this good. Maybe Minnesota played OK and maybe (and this is a huge maybe) the outdoor conditions had something to do with the outcome.
In short, maybe the reason that nobody's gotten within 17 points of the top-ranked Buckeyes this season is that they're so much better than everyone else in the country -- and maybe the gap is widening.
"I sense every week that we're getting better," said freshman running back Chris "Beanie" Wells, who overcame a costly fumble to rush for 90 yards and a touchdown.
Not much offense
It's hard to argue. Ohio State got its first shutout since beating Northwestern 20-0 on Sept. 27, 2003. Minnesota, which rolled up 578 yards of offense in last year's 45-31 loss to Ohio State (the second-highest total by opponent ever against OSU), was held to 182 on Saturday, including just 47 on the ground.
"They put so many yards up against us last year and we remembered that," said cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, who had one of three interceptions by Buckeye defenders. "To hold them to as many as we did was just a pride thing."
Smith had a solid day, completing 14 of 21 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown. He also added his Heisman Trophy highlight reel early in the third quarter, scrambling through the middle of the Minnesota defense and juking a DB en route to a 21-yard rushing touchdown -- his first of the season.
Starting running back Antonio Pittman scored two touchdowns and added 117 yards on 21 carries for his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season. Eight different receivers caught passes, led by backup Brian Hartline, who had four receptions for 69 yards.
Hartline, who has been a standout on special teams this season, was one of the few to admit that Ohio State is actually paying attention to the polls.
"The way college football is now, you can't just win out and expect to be in the national title game," he said. "You have to go for those style points. You have to try to blow out teams. You try to keep that 40-point barrier."
The Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) didn't play perfectly, of course. They fumbled four times (losing three) and they had an extra point blocked.
But they played awfully well. And it seems extremely unlikely that Illinois and Northwestern will be able to do much in the next two weeks to keep Ohio State from entering the Michigan game unbeaten.
"We always compete against ourselves to get better," Tressel said. "I think the name of the game is to be the best you [that] you can be."