COLUMBUS, Ohio — Coming off a big win at Texas and with a week to go before the Big Ten opener, top-ranked Ohio State played like a team that knew eventually something good was bound to happen.
That patience paid off in the second half as the Buckeyes rode a big game by the defense and two touchdown passes from Troy Smith to Ted Ginn Jr. to beat Cincinnati 37-7 on Saturday.
"It didn't seem we had quite as much pep in our step as we came into the game," coach Jim Tressel said. "We didn't seem quite as explosive or that we were flying around the way we like to. But as the game went on, we picked up a little steam."
Much of it was supplied by the defense, which had eight sacks while holding Cincinnati (1-2) to minus-4 yards on 22 rushes.
"I'm really still kicking myself in the butt because I could have had two more sacks that I missed," said tackle Quinn Pitcock, who had three sacks for 24 yards in losses.
Much like in its 24-7 win at Texas last week, Ohio State (3-0) was overpowering when it had to be and always seemed to come up with a big play at the right time.
"We got better every quarter," defensive tackle David Patterson said. "It was just a matter of time until the offense exploded."
The Buckeyes didn't have a firm grip on the game until Pittman, who finished with 155 yards on 16 carries, raced 48 yards around left end for a score with 10 minutes remaining to make it 27-7.
"At halftime we talked to our players about playing one play at a time and the nation would begin to watch because the game is 13-7," UC coach Mark Dantonio said. "We sustained in the third quarter but then we started to fail a little bit."
Smith completed 21-of-30 passes for 203 yards before taking most of the fourth quarter off.
"As the game went on, our protection got better and we started to open up," said Smith, who hasn't thrown an interception in his last 152 attempts.
Ginn, Smith's high school teammate, was limited to five catches for 33 yards, but he scored twice from 12 and 9 yards out and helped draw attention from Pittman and Anthony Gonzalez.
Linebacker James Laurinaitis, who had an interception and forced a fumble against Texas, ended a drive by the Bearcats by picking off a pass late in the half. Malcolm Jenkins and Anderson Russell also had interceptions for the Buckeyes, who open Big Ten play next week at home against Penn State.
Leading 13-7 at the half, Ohio State got some breathing room on its second possession of the third quarter. Pittman had runs of 13, 6, 8 and 11 yards and Smith hit Gonzalez for 13 yards to give the Buckeyes a first down at the 9. Smith then found Ginn crossing over the middle for the touchdown.
After Pittman's touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, Ohio State cruised 72 yards in just 1:43 — with mostly subs on the field — to score on Maurice Wells' 9-yard run.
The opening half was not easy for the Buckeyes, who have a 12-2 record against the Bearcats and have not lost in the series since 1897. They only rushed for 2 yards in the first quarter.
Ohio State drove 28 yards after forcing UC to punt on its first possession, taking a 3-0 lead on Aaron Pettrey's 47-yard field goal.
UC's Dustin Grutza, who finished 18-of-22 for 202 yards with two interceptions, tossed a 28-yard pass to Derrick Stewart on first down and later scrambled for 23 yards. Jared Martin then caught his first career pass for a 22-yard touchdown and the Bearcats had a 7-3 lead.
All Ohio State was able to muster in its next three possessions was another Pettrey field goal but the Buckeyes finally got on track in the final minutes of the half.
"The momentum was going our way," UC tight end Brent Celek said. "At halftime the guys felt like we could give it to them. But then — mistakes here and mistakes there."
Smith connected on all six of his passes for 79 yards in an impressive drive that put them on top to stay. The key plays were Smith's 33-yard gainer to Gonzalez, who was pulled down when Dominic Ross grabbed his jersey and held on tight, and the 12-yard TD pass to Ginn that capped the 80-yard march.
Amid all the big plays, Ohio State's offense was hurt by penalties. They were flagged eight times for 75 yards.
"We're all anxious to get into the Big Ten season," Tressel said. "We perhaps played like (that)."