- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 9, 2006

AUSTIN, Texas — The Buckeyes of Cleveland are upon Texas.

Redemption day has finally arrived for Ohio State’s Cleveland connection of playmaker Ted Ginn Jr. and quarterback Troy Smith. The Buckeyes’ dynamic tandem has waited an entire year to erase the memory of last season’s painful loss to the Longhorns, a game in which both played poorly.

That opportunity comes tonight when the duo leads top-ranked Ohio State (1-0) against No. 2 Texas (1-0) in the marquee matchup of college football’s regular season.

“I just wish Vince [Young] was still there,” Smith said of the electric quarterback who turned pro after leading Texas to the national title last season. “They’re a great team with great tradition, and they got out of here last year with a win. Hopefully, we can put our best foot forward this year and return the favor.”

Last season at the ‘Shoe, Smith and Ginn slumped forward against the Longhorns on the equivalent of a clubfoot. Smith, who was coming off a two-game suspension for accepting cash from a booster and was in coach Jim Tressel’s doghouse, didn’t even start against Texas. He shared snaps with pure pocket passer Justin Zwick, and the result was a predictable lack of rhythm and continuity.

Ginn, who already was being lauded as one of the game’s preeminent quick-six threats after a freshman season in which he set an NCAA record by returning four punts for touchdowns, entered the showdown with Texas as the Buckeyes’ star counterbalance to Young. But the hype was wasted on Ginn, who proceeded to play the worst game of his young career, finishing with two catches for 9 yards, one rush for a loss of 2 yards and two huge first-half drops.

“As far as this game is concerned, I don’t think there’s much relevance in that performance in that I think he’s progressed quite a bit since then,” Tressel said of Ginn. “And I think we’ve progressed with him as an offense.”

The Ohio State offense blossomed after that loss to the Longhorns. Smith became the most formidable dual-threat quarterback after Young in the college game, finishing the season with 2,282 yards passing, 611 yards rushing and 27 combined touchdowns to just four interceptions.

Ginn, a 6-footer with 4.2 speed, developed into much more than just a return specialist once Tressel scrapped the specifically designed package of bubble screens and reverses and pushed Ginn to polish his routes and cuts as a downfield receiver. Ginn finished the season with 51 catches for 803 yards and four touchdowns, making a huge leap down the stretch after a slow start at the new position.

Ohio State’s final game of the season, a 34-20 win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, served as the pair’s shared accomplishment. Smith rushed for 66 yards and threw for 342 yards, many on hookups with Ginn, who finished with eight receptions for 167 yards and a touchdown and added 73 yards and another score rushing.

That performance helped Ohio State enter this season ranked No. 1, and both Smith and Ginn appeared on every Heisman Trophy hot list. For some teammates, sharing the spotlight might create an awkward sense of personal competition. But not for Smith and Ginn, who grew up in the same Cleveland neighborhood and attended the same schools from kindergarten through high school, eventually both playing for Ginn’s father at Glenville High School.

“We were always friends since we were about seven,” said Smith, a senior who is actually two years older than Ginn. “We went to the same church, stayed around the corner from each other. So, it’s always been a family-like atmosphere with us.

“If I help him win awards or he helps me do the same, it will be like we both won either way. I’d do anything for him, and I know he feels the same.”

Amazingly, Ohio State’s Cleveland combo has an equally impressive supporting cast. Junior tailback Antonio Pittman rushed for 1,331 yards last season, giving the Buckeyes the second-most productive trio in the college game after Southern Cal’s Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Dwayne Jarrett. The Ohio State threesome averaged 491.0 yards of offense a game, well short of the Trojans’ trio (577.0) but easily past Young and Co. at Texas (466.2).

Ohio State’s offensive attack should be even more powerful this season, with the emergence of speedy second receiver Anthony Gonzalez, perhaps the only player in the nation faster than Ginn, and the arrival of running back Chris Wells, the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruit. A 6-1, 230-pound bruiser from Akron, Ohio, Wells rushed for more than 4,000 yards and 48 touchdowns in his last two seasons in high school and played extensively in last week’s season-opening romp over Northern Illinois.

But the Buckeyes’ offense is still primarily predicated on Smith and Ginn.

“You have to slow down those two guys if you’re going to beat Ohio State,” Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said earlier this week. “That’s a brutal task, because you can’t simulate Smith, just like I’m sure nobody could simulate Vince last year. And number 7 [Ginn] certainly has the right number on his back. He can drop a home run on you any time he touches the ball. I think the number of big plays those two make, or we keep them from making, will be the difference in this ballgame.”

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