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    Wildcats Fall To No. 1 Buckeyes, 54-10

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM The Wildcats tried to slow down Heisman Trophy candidate Troy Smith.
    The Wildcats tried to slow down Heisman Trophy candidate Troy Smith.

    Nov. 11, 2006

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    EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern knew heading into its game with the nation's top-ranked team that it had to keep its mistakes to a minimum. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, four turnovers and a blocked punt in the first half spoiled what could have been an interesting day.

    Instead, the No. 1-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes posted a 54-10 victory in front of a sold-out Ryan Field.

    Northwestern led in total offensive yards at the half -- 235 to 229 -- but the five miscues led to all 33 Buckeye points and the Wildcats could not recover.

    OSU's James Laurinaitis set the tone when he forced a fumble on the opening possession, albeit a questionable call. Replays showed that NU's Shaun Herbert might have been down, but there was no stoppage to review.

    The 54 points were the most for Ohio State since a 72-0 victory over Pittsburgh on Sept. 21, 1996, and the defense played a major role in that.

    The Buckeyes (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) turned four turnovers and a blocked punt into touchdowns en route to a 33-10 halftime lead and their 18th consecutive victory -- the nation's longest winning streak.

    Quarterback Troy Smith matched a season-high with four TD passes and threw for 185 yards while completing 12-of-19 with one interception. Antonio Pittman ran for 80 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, and freshman Chris Wells ran for a season-high 99 and a touchdown. Brian Hartline caught two touchdown passes.

    Laurinaitis jarred the ball from Shaun Herbert after a catch near midfield on the fourth play from scrimmage, setting up Hartline's 14-yard touchdown reception, and the Buckeyes forced a season-high five turnovers.

    C.J. Bacher was 17-of-28 for 212 yards for the Wildcats but threw two interceptions before being replaced by Mike Kafka midway through the third quarter. Tyrell Sutton carried 12 times for 57 yards and caught seven passes for 75, but Northwestern (3-8, 1-6) couldn't hang onto the ball.



    Two years after a 33-27 overtime loss at Ryan Field -- its first to the Wildcats in 33 years -- Ohio State led 21-0 after the first quarter. Unlike last week, when the Buckeyes allowed 10 points in the fourth and hung on to win 17-10 at Illinois, there was no drama.

    Their only difficulties were getting to Evanston.

    Scheduled to leave Columbus at 3:30 p.m. Friday, they had to wait for another plane to arrive from Miami after a truck backed into the nose of their charter. Bad weather then kept them on the ground until 8 p.m. and forced them to land in Milwaukee instead of O'Hare International Airport. They finally arrived at their hotel at 10:30 p.m.

    With the stands split with OSU red and NU purple, Ohio State made itself at home and recovered fumbles on Northwestern's first two possessions.

    After Laurinaitis jarred the ball from Herbert, Smith started the ensuing drive with a 28-yard pass to Anthony Gonzalez that put the ball on the Northwestern 27. Four plays later, Hartline had his first touchdown, and Ohio State had a 7-0 lead.

    Northwestern, which defeated Iowa a week earlier, immediately gave the ball back.

    This time, Bacher fumbled away the snap on the second play, and Antonio Smith recovered, giving Ohio State possession at the Northwestern 27. After Pittman ran 14 yards to the 1, he bounced off the line and turned right for the second touchdown. And Brandon Mitchell made it 21-0 with 3:38 left in the first quarter when he picked off Bacher in front of the Northwestern sideline and returned it 46 yards.

    (The Associated Press contributed to this story.)