IOWA CITY –
Ohio State is everyone’s No.-1. And now you know why.
The Hawkeyes are pretty much everyone’s No.-13. And now you know how far they have to go.
Iowa gave No.-1 its best shot last night.
Kinnick Stadium was a golden Milky Way with flashbulbs filling in for the stars and fans rocking eardrums. The Hawkeyes were game, putting together arguably – emphasis on arguably – their most complete 60 minutes this season. The atmosphere oozed Hawkeye, from the 70,585 gold-clad fans to ESPN’s Lee Corso slipping into the Herky head.
No.-13 gave No.-1 its best shot. No.-1 shrugged.
When the Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) crawled within four points in the first half, the Buckeyes (5-0, 2-0) went world-class sprinter speed, scoring 17 unanswered points and pulling away, 38-17.
Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith punched up his Heisman resume with a brilliant performance on ABC’s national broadcast, completing 16 of 25 for 186 yards and four TDs. Running back Antonio Pittman rushed for 117 yards and a score. Wideout Anthony Gonzalez caught two touchdown passes and put up the sure-fire ESPN highlight.
No.-1 had too many buttons to push. No.-1 never left any doubt.
“They’re No.-1 and we’re not,” running back Albert Young said. “They played like it tonight. We didn’t.”
Ohio State is No.-1. No.-13 Iowa won’t argue.
Four turnovers doomed the Hawkeyes, who needed to be perfect regardless. Ohio State turned two of quarterback Drew Tate’s three interceptions into touchdowns.
“It’s not the end of the world that we lost the game,” said Tate, who blistered himself in the postgame. “Move on.”
Tate was pulled from Tuesday’s practice, with his abdominal strain flaring up. When Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz went to bed Tuesday night, he didn’t know if Tate would be able to play.
But Tate progressed during the week. Ferentz believes the worst is over.
“We’ve done a little research,” Ferentz said. “I have been around many of these. We’re a little more optimistic now. We’re feeling the worst is behind us and that’s a good thing.”
The Hawks didn’t measure up to No.-1. They should get a better measure when they host Purdue (4-1, 1-0) next week. Purdue is unranked. That’s a start for Iowa.
“They played their best and we played our worst,” safety Miguel Merrick said. “We were in position to make plays and we didn’t.”
Tate was off the mark much of the night, completing 19 of 41 for 249 yards, a TD and three interceptions.
He blamed himself for everything from runny eye black makeup to untied cleats.
“I gave them two touchdowns,” Tate said. “If you take those two away, it’s a pretty close ball game.”
It didn’t kill Iowa until the first play of the second quarter. Wideout Herb Grigsby broke open down the middle of the field. Tate was late on the throw and strong safety Brandon Mitchell swooped in for the interception, setting up the Buckeyes at Iowa’s 30.
“Tate is a guy who tries to make plays,” OSU Coach Jim Tressel said. “They made mistakes; we didn’t. That’s why we’re the happy locker room.”
Three plays and 1:11 later, OSU running back Antonio Pittman trotted left and waltzed into the end untouched for a 14-3 lead with 13:41 left in the first half.
Down 14-3 and fresh off Tate’s interception, Iowa’s offense kept it on the ground and found gold.
Running back Damian Sims got it started with a 21-yard gain to Iowa’s 41. Running back Albert Young finished it with a picture-perfect zone play from 15 yards to pull Iowa within 14-10 with 11:10 left in the second.
Iowa rushed five times for 59 yards, including three for 33 from Sims. The Hawkeyes had five plays that went for double-digit yards, including an 11-yard scramble by Tate, who also beat an OSU safety blitz with a 21-yard pass to tight end Scott Chandler, setting up Young’s TD, the first rushing TD against Ohio State this season.
Smith engineered a flawless 12-play, 89-yard TD drive that ended with a 6-yard Smith pass to Roy Hall for a 21-10 lead with 2:19 left in the half.
This was the drive that said No.-1 is here and No.-1 is No.-1 for a reason.
Iowa traded punches with No.-1 in the first half, with first downs and total yards nearly even. But the Buckeyes turned the interception into seven points. You give No.-1 an inch, and No.- 1 will take however many yards it needs.
The Buckeyes stuck a bookend on that drive with an 11-play, 80-yarder to begin the second half. This time, the OSU wideouts took their bow.
OSU got the matchup it wanted at Iowa’s 30. Klinkenborg got caught trying to cover Gonzalez, who took a short pass and turned Iowa’s defense inside out for a 30-yard TD that you’ll be seeing again and again on ESPN today.
That gave OSU a 28-10 lead with 9:35 left in the third quarter. That gave ABC cameras their signature shot.
The cameras panned into the Iowa crowd and found fans with their hands on their heads and their mouths agape.
No.-1 can do that to the best of them.
The Hawkeyes had the ball for 2:01 in the third quarter, while the Buckeyes put 10 points on the scoreboard.
Defense generates field position. Offense lets the playmakers do their thing.
The Buckeyes’ first scoring drive was quintessential Ohio State football under Tressel.
The Ohio State defense sent Iowa’s offense to the sidelines after an ego-bruising three-and-out for minus-1 yard and the Hawkeyes were forced to punt from its 19-yard line.
From there, everything worked.
Ginn caught a pass for 11 yards, fumbled and then outmuscled Klinkenborg for the loose ball. Next play, Pittman popped a run outside for a 20-yard gain to Iowa’s 23.
On third-and-9 at the 13, Iowa linebacker Ed Miles blitzed, Gonzalez slanted inside safety Marcus Paschal, who left after the first quarter with a sore hamstring, and scored untouched just 3 1/2 minutes into the game.
Iowa countered thanks to a pass interference penalty.
Ohio State cornerback Donald Washington was hit for the penalty while in coverage with wideout Dominique Douglas. Contact didn’t appear to happen until after the play, springing Tressel 10 yards off the sidelines.
Tate also kept the 14-play, 66-yard drive alive with a desperation heave on a third-and-9 from Iowa’s 21. Wideout Herb Grigsby drifted to the outside and Tate lofted it to him with linebacker James Laurinitis around his ankles.
Kyle Schlicher’s 32-yarder made it 7-3 with 5:19 left.
The Hawkeyes went all pass to put a stop to the bleeding and pull within 31-17 early in the fourth quarter.
Tate completed six of 10 for all of the 86 yards, capping it with a 4-yard TD pass to wideout Andy Brodell at 13:08.
Any Iowa hopes died when Chandler fumbled a first-down reception and OSU recovered at its 47 with 8:57 left in the game.
The ball sat for a second under Chandler’s belly. Mitchell plucked it out.
No. 1 will reach into your gut and yank out your heart.
No. 1 is good at that.
That’s why Ohio State is No. 1.