Troy Smith helped his Heisman hopes and OSU took a big step toward the Fiesta Bowl.
By ROB TODOR
VINDICATOR SPORTS EDITOR
AUSTIN, Texas -- The Ohio State Buckeyes gained a measure of a revenge -- a great, big, Texas-sized, ten-gallon hat full -- and now will set about trying to repeat history.
Taking their No. 1 national ranking into stuffed Royal-Memorial Stadium -- the 89,442 in attendance was the largest crowd for a football game anywhere, any time in Texas -- the Buckeyes' defense took their "bend but don't break" philosophy to its fullest extreme, and made enough big plays on offense to defeat the defending national champion Longhorns, 24-7, Saturday night.
Just as Texas used a 25-22 victory in Ohio Stadium as the springboard to the national championship, the Buckeyes will try to navigate the always-difficult Big Ten season -- plus a couple more non-conference games -- with the eventual goal of returning to suburban Phoenix for the fourth time in five years and a berth in the BCS championship game.
"We didn't look at this as a revenge game," said quarterback Troy Smith, who was 17-of-26 for 269 yards and a pair of touchdowns. "We took it as one game of 13 we have to win if we want to be national champions."
Texas coach Mack Brown was effusive in his praise of Smith.
"[Smith] made play after play," he said. "We really thought coming into the game he would run the ball more. But he was so impressive was his passing. He has the ability to scramble and get out of a bad situation and then look downfield to make a play.
"And Ted Ginn is a great player and made tremendous plays," added Brown, "and Anthony Gonzalez caught everything. I thought our guys hung with [the OSU receivers] as well as they could."
Gonzalez turned in career-high numbers of eight catches for 142 yards. Ginn had five receptions for 97 yards.
The game turned in the first few minutes of the third quarter.
Ohio State (2-0) led 14-7 but the Longhorns (1-1) received the second-half kickoff. On the third play Buckeyes linebacker James Laurinitis stepped in front of a receiver, intercepted Colt McCoy's pass and returned it 25 yards to the Texas 21.
The Buckeyes couldn't pick up a first down, but Aaron Pettrey kicked a 31-yard field goal -- his first career conversion after three misses -- including a 28-yarder earlier in Saturday's game, to make it 17-7.
That series of plays seemed to energize the Ohio State defense. The Longhorns gained 191 yards in the first half, including 116 rushing, but had only 131 total (56 on the ground) in the second half.
The Buckeyes put the game away with a 10-play, 72-yard drive in the fourth quarter. Antonio Pittman, who ran for 74 yards, scored from the 2 with 6:31 remaining.
"Our special teams were great, our defense was relentless and our offense was outstanding," said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. "As the game went on we improved."
Laurinitis' interception was the first of his Ohio State career and his second forced turnover of the game. The first came at the most opportune of times.
After an exchange of punts midway through the first quarter, the Longhorns moved from their 20 to within the shadow of the Ohio State goal line. A pass interference penalty on the Buckeyes' Malcolm Jenkins gave Texas a first-and-goal at the 7. On second down, McCoy hit Billy Pittman on a quick swing pass inside the 5. At about the 1, Laurinitis knocked the ball loose and Donald Washington picked up and returned the ball to midfield.
From there, Smith drove the Buckeyes to a touchdown in five plays. Three of them were passes to Tony Gonzalez, including a 14-yarder for the score with 1:04 remaining in the first quarter.
Gonzalez made three moves on Texas cornerback Brandon Foster, the last leaving him wide open in the right front corner of the end zone.
Ohio State took the opening kickoff and drove from its 20 to the Texas 11, the key play a 49-yard Smith-to-Ginn hookup. But, after the drive stalled, Pettrey badly missed a 28-yard field goal try.
The Longhorns scored the equalizer with the most impressive drive of the first half and the most questionable penalty call of the game.
Texas drove 78 yards in 13 plays to score with 1:55 remaining in the second quarter. The big play in the drive was a 29-yard pass from McCoy to Selvin Young, giving the Longhorns a first down at the OSU 37.
Later in the drive, the Buckeyes appeared to have stopped Texas on a third down incompletion, but Jay Richardson was called for a personal foul for hitting McCoy helmet to helmet.
That gave Texas a first down at the OSU 4 and two plays later McCoy passes to Billy Pittman for the TD with 1:55 remaining in the half.
Armed with three timeouts and nearly two minutes remaining in the half, the Buckeyes went to work regaining the lead.
Smith completed five passes -- actually six, as one was negated by a holding penalty -- including a 29-yarder to Ginn for the TD with 16 seconds to go. Ginn deked, then streaked past Aaron Ross who was in man coverage and Ginn lobbed a perfect toss to the end zone.