Buckeyes rolling along without key skill players

COLUMBUS – Remember all those great players Ohio State lost from last season’s team? They’re not missed as much as everyone thought.

The Buckeyes routed Northwestern 58-7 Saturday to go to 4-0, successfully opening their defense of the Big Ten title they’ve won the last two years.

“It’s a good start from a defensive standpoint, but there are always things you can get better at,” linebacker James Laurinaitis said after Ohio State limited the Wildcats to zero yards rushing, 120 total yards and no offensive points. “We’ll go and check the film and see what we can do better to look forward to going up to Minnesota.”

Averaging 37 points and 414 yards a game on offense and giving up just seven points and 178 yards a game, the Buckeyes hit the road for the next two games. First, they face a Golden Gophers defense that ranks among the worst in the nation before encountering a Purdue team that appears on a roll.

“We are hitting on all cylinders and our offense is really clicking,” said Maurice Wells, who matched his career total with two touchdowns against Northwestern. “Wins like this feel good.”

It’s clearly not just the offense, either.

“After four games, we’re starting to find out what we are capable of,” said defensive tackle Vernon Gholston, who scored the first touchdown of his life when he returned a fumble 25 yards Saturday.

Ohio State rocketed to a fast start and didn’t let up, leading 28-0 after the first 9? minutes and 45-0 at the half. This from a team that had not played well in an opening half all season.

The Buckeyes looked sluggish in taking a 21-3 lead against Youngstown State in the opener, then trailed 3-2 after two quarters against Akron. In their first road game of the year, they trailed 7-3 at halftime at Washington.

“The last few weeks we did not come out as strong as we wanted to,” said quarterback Todd Boeckman, who completed 11 of 14 passes for 179 yards with one interception and four TD passes against Northwestern. “Today we had a good game plan and we came out and executed.”

Northwestern wanted to set the pace early. So much for that plan.