Buckeyes win ninth straight road game vs. Gophers

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- No. 12 Ohio State showed off its speed on Minnesota's fast track.

By beating the Gophers in a game of catch-us-if-you-can on the Metrodome's artificial turf, the Buckeyes stayed in step in the congested Big Ten race.

Antonio Pittman rushed for two second-half touchdowns and a career-high 186 yards, springing Ohio State to a 45-31 victory over Minnesota on Saturday.

"He showed how fast he really is," Buckeyes receiver Anthony Gonzalez said. "We all knew that, but hopefully everybody else realizes that now as well."

The teams combined for 1,027 yards of offense, and that didn't include Ted Ginn Jr.'s 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that gave Ohio State (6-2, 4-1) a 17-7 lead late in the first quarter.

The Gophers (5-3, 2-3) totaled 578 yards against the conference's leading defense, the second most allowed in Buckeyes history behind Illinois' 659 yards in 1980.

Ohio State, which entered the game as one of four teams with one loss in conference play, won its third straight since losing at Penn State.

"Lately, for whatever reason, we haven't been playing as well on the road," Gonzalez said. "This was a big step for us."

Buoyed by an average starting field position at their own 44, Ohio State's offense bailed out their defensive teammates and broke open the game in the third quarter. Pittman's 67-yard burst up the middle, his first score of the season, put the Buckeyes up for good, 24-17.

Nobody touched him.

"The offensive line did their job and opened up so many holes for me," Pittman said. "I had no choice but to run through them."

Troy Smith completed 14-of-20 passes for 233 yards and three scores, two to Santonio Holmes. Long known for a grind-it-out style, Ohio State seems to have found its stride with a remarkably balanced attack.

"We felt going into the Big Ten season if we could evolve to the fact where we always had a 100-yard back, then we could probably spread the ball around enough to have a good offense," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said. "We're starting to get consistent with that."

Oh, yeah, the Buckeyes are pretty fast, too.

"I've been coaching long enough that I've seen some guys that will turn your hair gray," said Gophers coach Glen Mason, whose team came back to the Metrodome hoping to make up for a 38-34 loss to Wisconsin on Oct. 15 when the Badgers blocked a punt for a touchdown with 30 seconds left.

Ginn is one of those guys Mason was referring to. One of the fastest players in college football, Ginn sprinted from end zone to end zone without being touched on that breath-stopping, 100-yard return.

Minnesota, which picked on Ohio State cornerback Ashton Youboty all afternoon, tied the game at 17 late in the second quarter on a pretty throw from Bryan Cupito to Jared Ellerson. He beat Youboty on a 5-yard fade route.

Lost in all of this was a career-best game by Cupito, who missed the Wisconsin game because of a shoulder injury. He completed 26-of-35 passes for 396 yards and a touchdown while wearing a brace. Cupito, from Cincinnati, is one of 16 Ohio natives on the Gophers.

"They might have all the great players and talent, but today we proved that we can play with those guys," Cupito said. "There is no reason that we still can't win out and go 8-3."

Laurence Maroney, the Big Ten's leading rusher for a Minnesota team that led the nation in yards rushing coming into the game, ran for 114 yards and a score on 16 first-half carries.

The Buckeyes, led by linebacker A.J. Hawk, were allowing only 62.7 yards per game on the ground -- tops in the nation. They played more like that after halftime, holding Maroney to just 13 yards on nine carries. He also fumbled.

"Everybody is OK," Maroney said. "We ain't happy that we lost, but we know how to bounce back."

After Pittman's first touchdown, the Gophers marched to the Buckeyes' 32 -- but gave the ball and their chance of winning back after two curious play calls.

On third-and-2, Gary Russell ran right, stopped and threw softly across the field to Cupito -- who was running up the left sideline. The ball hung in the air too long, and Malcolm Jenkins nearly intercepted it.

Then on fourth down, Maroney caught an option pitch from Cupito and tried to turn up the right sideline, but Mike Kudla chased him down and dragged him out of bounds short of the first down.

"We've got to get at least some points out of that," Cupito said.

The fans wearing scarlet and gray in the northwest corner of the upper deck began chanting, "Let's go, Bucks!" Pittman and Smith then led a drive for the clinching score -- a 27-yard pass from Smith to Gonzalez.