The difference between the two teams could not be any more striking. Wake Forest arrived in New Orleans a three days ahead of the game. Getting off the plane they looked like a team just happy to be there after eeking out a 9-6 victory over Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game. They had earned respect by defeating Boston College, Florida State, and Georgia Tech this year. But they also knew they were lucky to barely get by Duke, Syracuse, NC State, and UNC. Nobody expected them to be here at the beginning of the season so they were just happy to be here. Their reward would be a game with the 12-0 Ohio State Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes got off the plane the day before the game looking all business, though the mood of the team was relaxed and loose. They had a pretty nice bracket ahead of them. Wake Forest in the first round. The winner of Boise State and Louisville awaiting them in the second round. It appeared the Buckeyes had smooth sailing all the way to the Rose Bowl.
Like they had much of the year, Ohio State came out a little blah in the first quarter. Troy Smith looked sharp as he has all season. But a holding penalty stalled one drive at midfield. A dropped pass by Ginn halted another. But each time they were able to pin the Demon Deacons deep in their own territory. The efficient but non-explosive Wake Forest offense managed to get a couple first downs on the legs of Kenneth Moore and the accurate arm of Riley Skinner, but the tough scarlet defense forced them to fight for every yard.
With both teams scoreless early in the second quarter, Smith started trying to make things happen. He forced a pass to Ginn streaking across the middle. The ball was slightly high and behind his intended target. It bounced off his shoulder pad high into the air and into the arms of Josh Gattis who returned it to the Ohio State 33 yard line. The Wake Forest bench and their small contingent of fans erupted in celebration. Six plays later the Deacons had driven down to the 20 yard line, but facing a 4th and 5 they decided to take the points and get on the board. Swank's 37 yard attempt rang true and Wake Forest stared at the scoreboard in disbelief as they led the mighty Buckeyes 3-0. At that moment they were on top of the world.
When the network came back from commercial, Troy Smith could be seen fuming on the sideline. His lip pursed with helmet in hand. Shifting his weight side to side he stood on the sideline and staring at the Wake Forest bench. Anger in his eyes. Determination on his brow. Something changed during that commercial. The killer instinct had kicked in.
Smith came out throwing the ball with the precision of a surgeon. Twelve yards to Ginn. 20 yards to Gonzalez. The Heisman Trophy winner picked the Wake defense apart in frightening efficiency. The drive was capped off when Smith walked into the endzone on a naked bootleg from six yards away. Wake's high from a moment ago was dashed in seven plays as they now found themselves down 7-3 and on the ropes.
On the third play of their next drive Quinn Pitcock sacked Skinner and forced a fumble. Vernon Gholston fell on it at the 25 yard line and the Buckeyes were in position to score again. Two plays later Smith hit Antonio Pittman on a screen pass that went17 yards for the score and Ohio State was now comfortably ahead 14-3.
Everyone could tell the Deacons were defeated at that point. Their next drive went three and out giving Ohio State the ball near midfield. But like a boxer being saved by the bell of a bloody round, the clock ran down and Ohio State was forced to kick a 25 yard field goal as time expired to put the Buckeyes up 17-3.
The second half was all Antonio Pittman and Chris Wells. The Deacons knew what was coming. They saw it on film all week. It was the classic Ohio State running play. The left guard pulls behind the center and follows the right guard downfield sealing the outside linebacker. But knowing what's coming and stopping it are two different things. Big Ten teams have been facing this play for years and still struggle to stop it. Against the Wake Forest defense it was like taking candy from a baby. Pittman for eight yards. Wells for twenty. Pittman for another thirteen. The Deacons put eight guys in the box, but they were helpless to stop the play. The second half was all Buckeyes as Pittman rolled up 80 yards rushing in the half and Wells got another 65. Pittman scored two touchdowns and Wells got one.
Realizing there were still two more games to play, Tressel benched the starters midway through the fourth quarter. A fumbled snap by Justin Zwich and the backup center gift wrapped a touchdown for Wake Forest against the second string defense. When it was all said and done, the massacre ended 45-10.
Abbreviated Box Score
Troy Smith: 22-of-33, 250 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
Antonio Pittman: 21 carries, 142 yards, 2 TD
Chris Wells: 10 carries, 65 yards, 1 TD
Ted Ginn Jr: 12 catches, 145 yards, 1 TD
Anthony Gonzalez: 4 catches, 50 yards
Riley Skinner: 15-of-34, 134 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Kenneth Moore: 17 carries, 47 yards
Kevin Harris: 9 carries, 20 yards
Nate Morton: 5 catches, 62 yards, 1 TD