The Mid-American Conference's Bobcats were perhaps overlooked by the Buckeyes, and Ohio University led 7-6 at halftime and built that lead to 14-6 early in the third quarter before Ohio State rallied.
The Ohio State offense did not have a particularly good afternoon. The Buckeyes piled up only 117 yards of offense in the first half and finished with 272 yards for the game. The team needed its defense and special teams to pick up the slack, and that is what happened. The defense allowed only seven points and a special teams touchdown on a 69-yard punt return by Ray Small in the fourth quarter allowed the Buckeyes to escape with a victory.
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel looked haggard after the victory.
"I guess the way I would take a nutshell look at it would be that it kind of looked like what everyone predicted it might look like between your opener and your ‘national stage game' – and that's really disappointing," Tressel said in the Sept. 20, 2008, edition of BSB.
"We really needed to make progress. We did make progress in takeaway area … and it was good to see us hit a home run on a punt return. But we have a lot of work to do. The good news is that we're 2-0, it's still September and hopefully we can get a lot better."
Ohio State scored the first points of the game thanks to a Lawrence Wilson interception inside OU territory. The miscue led to a 27-yard field goal by Ryan Pretorius late in the first quarter.
The Bobcats later took the lead when Donte Harden rushed for a 15-yard touchdown with 6:56 left before halftime. The Buckeyes responded with a 38-yard Pretorius field goal, but Ohio took a narrow 7-6 lead into halftime.
The majority of the 105,002 fans at Ohio Stadium found themselves even more on edge when early in the second half the Bobcats scored to extend their lead to eight. The Buckeyes, taking over at their own 6-yard line on their initial possession of the half, gave the ball to Maurice Wells twice for a total of 8 yards before a third-and-2 at the 14. Center Jim Cordle's snap sailed over Todd Boeckman, who could not corral it in the end zone. Curtis Meyers recovered and suddenly the Buckeyes trailed 14-6.
After score, the OSU offense finally got on track. The Buckeyes drove down the field and scored on a 1-yard touchdown run by Dan "Boom" Herron, his first career score.
"I just knew I had to do something for us to get the whole offense going," said Herron, who would finish with 50 yards on 12 carries, both team highs. "We started slow, so somebody had to make a play."
The running game would later allow the Buckeyes to take the lead again. Shaun Lane recovered an Ohio furmble in Bobcat territory, and Brandon Saine cashed in for Ohio State with a 2-yard touchdown to give OSU 1 19-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Ohio looked primed to respond after losing the lead, but the Buckeye defense once again made a big play when necessary. The Bobcats drove into OSU territory before quarterback Boo Jackson had a third-down pass tipped by Marcus Freeman that was hauled in by a diving James Laurinaitis.
Then after the defense stopped the next Bobcat drive, Ohio State's special teams iced the win. Small caught a punt at the OSU 31-yard line and returned it for a score.
Ohio State's rushing attack helped turn the team's fortunes around. The Buckeyes finished with 162 yards on 50 carries. Of those yards, 112 came in the second half.
"We came out a lot better in the second half," Herron said. "The first half, we came out a little dry, and the second half we knew we had to pick it up to win the game."
Senior tailback Maurice Wells added 48 yards rushing, while Saine added 15. The trio had to try to replace the output of Heisman Trophy candidate Chris "Beanie" Wells, who missed the game because of a right foot injury.
While the run game eventually did get going, the passing attack on the whole did not. Quarterback Todd Boeckman looked uneasy in the pocket and completed 16 of 26 passes for 110 yards while being sacked three times.
Laurinaitis led the Buckeyes in tackles with nine while fellow linebacker Ross Homan added a career-high eight stops. Russell and senior linebacker Marcus Freeman added six each.
The win did produce some history, as it was the Ohio State football program's 800th victory. Tressel called being on the field as Ohio State joined an elite club that includes only Michigan, Notre Dame Texas and Nebraska "quite a privilege."