12:10 PM ET, September 27, 2003
Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- No offense, but Ohio State's defense did it again.
With linebacker A.J. Hawk leading the charge, the fourth-ranked Buckeyes limited Northwestern to 185 yards to win their 19th straight game, 20-0 Saturday.
The Buckeyes clearly miss star running back Maurice Clarett, suspended for at least a year for violating NCAA rules, but it hasn't been enough to stop them yet.
"Maurice Clarett was a dynamic back, there's no denying that," tight end Ben Hartsock said. "He could break tackles and he was a spark. He'd make a play that wasn't blocked perfectly and maybe take it 6 or 7 yards or maybe break it all the way. We can't allow ourselves to dwell on that too much."
Neither offense mustered much as Ohio State (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) posted its first shutout in 62 games, dating to a 41-0 victory at Illinois in 1998.
That was it for the offenses as Northwestern (2-3, 0-1) missed two field goals and had a touchdown called back by a penalty.
"We had opportunities to seize the momentum and get a little something going and those opportunities did not come through for us," Northwestern coach Randy Walker said. "We came close. That's the most frustrating thing about today. You total everything up and there's probably 15 reasons why we didn't score or make more plays. If it was one thing, it would be easy."
The Buckeyes hurt themselves with dropped passes and struggled to run the ball.
Hawk had 13 tackles, including two for losses, before taking most of the second half off. Nate Salley added nine tackles and Chris Gamble broke up two passes.
"You can't say enough about that defense," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said.
Ohio State limited the Wildcats to 121 yards rushing on 40 attempts. The rushing total was more than the Buckeyes have given up in their first four games combined (96 yards).
Northwestern's Brett Basanez hit just 10 of 24 passes for 64 yards -- none longer than 12 yards -- and was sacked twice.
"Their front four is the core of the team," Basanez said. "They've got a couple of first-rounders there."
Ross bounced out of a traffic jam in the middle and coasted around left end on a 12-yard score on Ohio State's first possession, capping a 59-yard march that took 10 plays.
"It was congested up the middle and I glanced to the left and saw it was open," Ross said.
Nugent's 32-yard field goal made it 10-0 midway through the second quarter. The Buckeyes took over at the Northwestern 46 after Robert Reynolds recovered Ashton Aikers' fumble.
But Ohio State couldn't move the ball on its next three possessions, punting twice and turning it over on McMullen's high pass that was tipped by tight end Ben Hartsock to safety Bryan Heinz.
The Wildcats drove into Ohio State territory three times in the game but made pivotal mistakes each time.
Basanez avoided a tackle in the backfield and sprinted for an 8-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. Zach Strief was called for holding on the block that sprung Basanez, although subsequent replays appeared to show him pushing Hawk to the ground and away from Basanez.
Three plays later, Slade Larscheid shanked a 35-yard field-goal attempt that was wide left. His 47-yard attempt in the third quarter fell 20 yards short. The snaps bounced to the holder on both kicks.
"I don't feel that they adjusted to anything we were doing," Strief said. "We just killed ourselves over and over today."
Ohio State took the second-half kickoff and had to convert four third-down plays to score, capped by McMullen's 1-yard pass to Ryan Hamby.
The Buckeyes continued to have problems moving the ball on the ground. Coming in averaging just 128 yards rushing per game, they were limited to 125 yards on 35 attempts.
Ross led the Buckeyes with 43 yards on nine carries before leaving with a sprained right knee. Freshman Ira Guilford added 29 yards on eight carries and McMullen helped the cause with 23 yards on three attempts.
"We're a team right now," Hartsock said. "We're very tight knit. Guys who are in the backfield ... we have all the confidence in the world in. We'll do all we can for them to help them move the ball ... but that doesn't put points on the board."
Ohio State's regular quarterback, Craig Krenzel, missed his second game with a hyperextended right elbow. He threw some before the game but never left the sideline.
McMullen completed 16 of 25 passes for 166 yards with the one interception.
"We're still surviving and doing what we need to win football games," Tressel said.