The Mid-American Conference’s Bobcats were perhaps overlooked by the Buckeyes, and OU 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’s 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.
“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,” OSU head coach Jim 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.”
The Buckeyes 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 the head of Todd Boeckman, who could not corral it in the end zone. Curtis Meyers recovered and suddenly the Buckeyes trailed 14-6.
After the 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.”
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 suffered a week earlier against Youngstown State.
While the run game eventually did get going, the passing attack on the whole did not. 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.”
2003: No. 2 Ohio State 16, San Diego State: Safety Will Allen returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown and Mike Nugent connected on three field goal attempts. That was about the only positives in Ohio State’s victory over the visiting Aztecs
A week after dominating Washington in a primetime season opener, the Buckeyes looked like a completely different team. Quarterback Craig Krenzel was intercepted on the field play from scrimmage and completed only 5 of 20 pass attempts for a meager 76 yards. The running game did not fare much better, and the Buckeyes had only 10 first downs and 196 total yards of offense.
“In the passing game, we had some guys open and I didn’t get them the ball,” Krenzel told BSB after the game. “We definitely were not consistent enough in anything we did today – run game, pass game, protection. We just didn’t seem to be on the same page.”
Tressel echoed that sentiment. “I can’t know for sure exactly what went wrong on each play, but as Craig mentioned, we all had a hand in this,” Tressel said. “Maybe it started with calling some things into some looks that maybe weren’t the best.
“Then the guys up front didn’t do exactly what they needed to do, and the guys in back maybe didn’t stay with the hole. The guys out wide maybe didn’t get to the proper spot route-wise. There’s enough (blame) to go around.”
The Aztecs took an early 7-0 lead on a touchdown drive stemming from Krenzel’s first interception. Krenzel tried to find Michael Jenkins on a corner route and had his pass picked off by SDSU’s Jacob Elimimian. The cornerback returned it to the Ohio State 23, and four plays later San Diego State had a lead. Matt Dlugolecki, making his first start at quarterback for the Aztecs, found Wesley Williams for an 11-yard touchdown pass.
Ohio State responded with its longest drive of the game – 30 yards. However, that was good enough to set up Nugent for a 38-yard field goal to cut the SDSU lead to 7-3. The Buckeyes eventually took the lead, but not until Dlugolecki drove the Aztecs 76 yards on six plays during the ensuing drive. That is when the OSU defense made the play of the game. On first-and-goal from the Ohio State 1, cornerback Chris Gamble stepped in front of a Dlugolecki pass and tipped it into the air. Allen caught the ball at the goal line and went the other way. He received big blocks from defensive tackle Darrion Scott and linebacker A.J. Hawk and returned the interception for a touchdown.
“It all started with the (pass) rush,” Allen said. “Those guys got pressure on the quarterback. Chris had great coverage and made a great play by tipping the ball. I just grabbed it out of the air and went. We practice that every day.”
The Buckeyes missed a chance to put the game out of reach after the Allen interception return. On the ensuing drive, Dlugolecki had another pass intercepted – this time by linebacker Robert Reynolds. Ohio State’s offense stalled, however, and settled for a 32-yard Nugent field goal. The Buckeyes went into halftime with a 13-7 lead.
After intermission, the Aztecs cut into the lead thanks to a Krenzel fumble, which led to a 47-yard field goal by J.C. Mejia that cut the lead to 13-10. Nugent later matched that field goal with one of his own early in the fourth quarter, but not before pushing a 28-yard attempt wide right in the third quarter and ending his string of 17 consecutive made field goals at the Horseshoe.
“I’ve been pushing some to the right all week, but that’s no excuse,” Nugent said. “I should have been able to kick that one left-footed.”
San Diego State scored the game’s final points when Mejia drilled a 46-yard field goal through the uprights with 10:13 remaining in the fourth quarter. The game’s outcome was still in doubt in the final minutes until Krenzel connected with Jenkins for a 14-yard gain on a third-and-6 play with 1:54 remaining – the first and only time Ohio State converted on third down.
The offensive bright spot for the Buckeyes came from Maurice Hall, who rushed for 91 yard on 19 carries. Lydell Ross was limited to 16 yards on seven carries and was slowed by an ongoing foot injury that had bothered him since fall camp. The running game was also without Maurice Clarett again, who was still under suspension.
The victory was similar to several of the Buckeyes’ close calls during its national title run in 2002. The Buckeyes could have also been looking past the Aztecs and ahead to a game vs. N.C. State a week later.
“It was reminiscent of a lot of games last year,” Allen said with a sigh. “We’re happy with the win but definitely not satisfied.”