Saturday's 24-7 win over Texas was a team effort, but five players did stand out.
By ROB TODOR
VINDICATOR SPORTS EDITOR
AUSTIN, Texas -- The Ohio State football team returns to the practice field today solidly entrenched as the top-ranked football team in the country.
The Buckeyes have been No. 1 all season, of course, but there seemed to be an asterisk involved, pending the outcome of Saturday's showdown in the Lone Star State.
Ohio State's 24-7 victory over the Texas Longhorns was a dominating performance, considering the opponent and the venue.
"Ohio State is a great football team," Longhorns coach Mack Brown said. "They deserve to be No. 1."
Five who made a difference
The Buckeyes' victory was a total team effort, to be sure, but five players stood out, starting with quarterback Troy Smith. The fifth-year senior from Cleveland completed 17-of-26 passes -- and his receivers had a pair of drops in the second half -- for 269 yards and a pair of TDs.
He directed the Buckeyes on a nearly-perfect two-minute drive for the go-ahead touchdown at the end of the first half and a game-clinching TD drive that ate nearly six minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter.
"Troy Smith made play after play," Brown said.
"He is a legitimate quarterback," added Texas co-defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. "What he gets from here on out, he deserves it.
"I don't know that he could have had a better game," Chizik said.
The Longhorns expected Smith to run more, but he showed great patience in the pocket, allowing receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez to get open in the secondary.
"He's improved methodically and incrementally throughout his career," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said of Smith. "He's had a gain of knowledge and a gain of confidence. He knows this game real well."
Maturation of a quarterback
That was evident in the two-minute drive, when Smith completed all four passes he tried -- a fifth completion was negated because of a holding penalty -- as the Buckeyes moved 66 yards in just 1 minute, 39 seconds.
The touchdown pass was proof of Smith's ability and game smarts. He saw Ginn lined up in man coverage against Texas' Brandon Foster. Smith signaled Ginn to go for the end zone and lofted a perfect pass for the score.
"We saw [the coverage] in the press box," said Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, "and we were hoping Troy saw it too."
Ginn and Gonzalez combined for 13 receptions, 239 yards and the two TDs.
"We concentrated on Troy's rush," said Brown, "and Ted Ginn and Antonio Pittman and Anthony Gonzalez were able to get a lot of yards.
Pittman led the Buckeyes with 71 rushing yards on 16 carries.
"There were two differences in the game," added Brown. "One was their ability to make plays at the end of drives and our inability to make plays at the end of drives."
Probably the key play of the first half (maybe the game) came in the shadow of Ohio State's goal line. The Longhorns drove from their 20 to the OSU 7, but on second down linebacker James Laurinaitis stripped the ball from Texas receiver Billy Pittman at the 2.
Safety Donald Washington scooped up the ball and returned it to midfield. Five plays later the Buckeyes were in the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
"That was a 14-point swing," Brown said.
Laurinaitis also had a role in the first momentum swing -- maybe the only one -- of the second half, intercepting a pass and returning it to the Longhorns' 21-yard line. Ohio State got a field goal from that turnover for a 17-7 lead and Texas didn't seriously threaten to score the remainder of the game.
"There's some pressure, but in the middle of it, you just forget about it," Laurinaitis said of playing on the national stage. "When it comes down to it, it's bend your knees, stay low, whoever's the lowest and the most nasty is going to win."
Then there was punter A.J. Trapasso, whose 50.8-yard average was the third-best single-game mark in Ohio State history. He kept the Longhorns pinned deep all night and allowed returner Aaron Ross only two returns.
"We had our special teams up and our defense was relentless," Tressel said. "All in all we did not make many mistakes."