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September 2, 2006

Ohio State lives up to top billing

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -Troy Smith and Ted Ginn Jr. were looking out for No. 1.

Smith tossed touchdown passes of 5 and 58 yards to Ginn on top-ranked Ohio State's first two possessions to fuel the Buckeyes' 35-12 victory over Northern Illinois on Saturday.

Tailbacks Antonio Pittman and acclaimed freshman Chris Wells also ran for scores as the Buckeyes set the stage for next week's showdown with No. 3 Texas in Austin. The No. 3 Longhorns did their part, beating North Texas 56-7.

Former Cleveland high school teammates Smith and Ginn appeared to be in tune for the rematch of last year's dramatic game at Ohio Stadium in which Vince Young led Texas to the winning touchdown in the final minutes of a 25-22 victory. The Longhorns went on to win their first national championship since 1969.

Smith completed 18-of-25 passes for 297 yards for the Buckeyes, also tossing a 15-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Gonzalez on Ohio State's third possession for a quick 21-0 lead.

Ginn had four catches for 123 yards and returned two punts for 44 yards and two kickoffs for 25 more yards.

Pittman totaled 111 yards on 19 carries and scored on a 1-yard plunge on the first play of the fourth quarter, with Wells chipping in with 50 on 10 attempts.

The Buckeyes offense rang up 488 yards but also lost fumbles twice inside the Northern Illinois 10 and missed two field goals.

The Buckeyes won their 28th consecutive home opener.

On the second play after the opening kickoff, Northern Illinois got Ohio State's attention when Phil Horvath hit Garrett Wolfe for a 31-yard gain. But that drive died when Horvath was sacked by Vernon Gholston.

Wolfe had a huge day, rushing for 171 yards on 26 carries and catching five passes for 114 yards and a score. The nation's leading returning rusher, dragged cornerback Malcolm Jenkins over the goal line on his 4-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter.

Smith hit Brian Hartline for a 32-yard gain on the first offensive play of the season before the Buckeyes marched to a first-and-goal at the 7. On third down, Smith found Ginn on a hook pattern in the right corner of the end zone for a 5-yard score.

On Ohio State's next possession, Ginn, flanked left, was held up at the line by cornerback Adriel Hansbro but broke free and Smith lofted a perfect spiral down the sideline that Ginn caught in stride for a long TD.

Andy Dittbenner's 11-yard punt gave Ohio State the ball at the Huskies' 20 and it only took three plays for Smith to turn that into a touchdown pass over the middle to Gonzalez.

Smith started 5-for-5 for 119 yards.

The Buckeyes left a lot of room for improvement after building a 28-0 lead on Wells' TD.

Justin Zwick - the starter last year against Texas - replaced Smith midway through the fourth quarter after Smith hit Ginn for a 56-yard gain. Zwick came in and promptly slipped while handing off to Wells, Tim McCarthy recovering for NIU.

Two other drives ended with missed field goals, a 51-yarder by 27-year-old walk-on Ryan Pretorius and a 45-yarder by former walk-on Aaron Pettrey, who converted five extra-point kicks for his first collegiate points.

Chris Nendrick added field goals of 35 and 37 yards for Northern Illinois.

For more coverage of the Ohio State, check out BuckeyeSportsBulletin.com.

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