Smith, Ohio State prepare for Michigan by routing NorthwesternNov 12, 2006 - 2:42 AM EVANSTON, Illinois (Ticker) -- Troy Smith and Ohio State certainly look to be in good shape heading into their showdown with Michigan.
Smith threw four touchdowns as the top-ranked Buckeyes crushed mistake-prone Big Ten Conference foe Northwestern, 54-10, for their 26th win in the series' last 27 matchups.
The Heisman Trophy favorite, Smith completed 12-of-19 passes for 185 yards with an interception before sitting out the fourth quarter for Ohio State (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten), which hosts second-ranked Michigan next week for a berth in the Bowl Championship Series national title game. The loser likely will wind up in the Rose Bowl.
"The Ohio State-Michigan game is always the biggest game," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. "It doesn't matter what the records are or what is on the table depending on the outcome. The fact that it is No. 1 vs. No. 2, we think that is the way it should be. We are excited."
The Buckeyes, who struggled to beat Illinois last week, opened a 33-10 halftime advantage, converting five Northwestern turnovers into five touchdowns, though they twice failed on point-after attempts. Ohio State safety Brandon Mitchell recovered a fumble by receiver Shaun Herbert on Northwestern's opening drive, leading to a 14-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Brian Hartline.
"We definitely pretty much gave the game away," said Herbert, who lost the ball after being hit by linebacker James Laurinaitis. "We moved the ball up and down the field. We just turned the ball over too much and you can't make mistakes like that against the No. 1 team in the country and expect to win."
Two plays later, cornerback Antonio Smith pounced on a fumble by Wildcats quarterback C.J. Bacher, and Antonio Pittman scored on a one-yard run for a 14-0 lead just 5:35 into the contest. Pittman gained 80 yards on 19 rushes to become the first Buckeye to run for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons since Eddie George in 1994-95.
Mitchell intercepted Bacher and ran it back 46 yards for a score to push the advantage it 21-0 with 3:38 to go in the opening quarter.
"I thought the game plan was excellent. Turnovers just killed us," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "We moved the ball well in the first half, but you have to respect the ball. We really hurt ourselves the last few weeks. You look at all the games we've lost - we've killed ourselves in turnover ratio - and you just can't do that against good football teams and expect to win."
A blocked punt by Larry Grant and a fumble recovery by Jay Richardson led to two more scores in the second quarter, a nine-yard pass from Smith to Hartline and a 34-yard strike to Ted Ginn Jr.
"Last time we were here, it wasn't a great feeling," Smith said. "Not to say that that was our emphasis today, but it was definitely in the back of some of our guy's minds."
Smith added a six-yard TD toss to Anthony Gonzalez and true freshman Chris Wells scored on a one-yard run to make it 47-10 entering the fourth quarter.
"It was good to get a decisive win and put a lot of guys in the game," Tressel said. "We came out and were fairly sharp with some things, but we also have a lot to work on. We are fairly healthy still, so it was a pretty good day."
Bacher went 17-of-28 for 212 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted twice for the Wildcats (3-8, 1-6), who had shocked Ohio State in overtime in the last meeting here two years ago.
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