Buckeyes Hold Off San Diego State (Barely)

Penalties, turnovers mark OSU's unexpected nail-biter with upstart Aztecs. We have notes and quotes on OSU's all-too-close win.

A great defense will erase a lot of mistakes, and that's good because the Ohio State offense made a lot of them against unranked and unheralded San Diego State Saturday.

OSU, second-ranked and the defending national champion, looked downright beatable after sleepwalking to a 16-13 win over San Diego State before 104,433 at Ohio Stadium.

The Buckeyes (2-0) were outgained by the upstart Aztecs (1-1) 216-196. OSU, which was a prohibitive 32-point favorite, also had just 10 first downs for the game. Some other numbers to ponder:

* OSU was a dismal 1 of 14 on third-down conversions, although that one was a big one: Craig Krenzel found Michael Jenkins for a 14-yard gain on third-and-6 with just under two minutes left to effectively cinch the game.

* But Krenzel, one week after playing the hero's role in a win over Washington, struggled mightily all day. His first pass was intercepted, setting up an SDSU touchdown. He ended up 5 of 20 passing for 76 yards with that one interception. He was also sacked three times.

* The Buckeyes were uncharacteristically undisciplined, committing 12 penalties for 124 yards. SDSU got seven of its 20 first downs by penalty.

* Once again, the OSU running game was stuck in neutral. OSU attempted 37 rushes and netted 120 yards (3.3 average). Maurice Hall went most of the way at tailback with Lydell Ross suffering from a foot injury. Hall finished with 91 yards on 19 carries, although he got 33 of those on one play.

Had it not been for safety Will Allen's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown, OSU may not have reached the end zone.

Add it all up and you'll understand why OSU coach Jim Tressel was less than pleased afterwards.

"Obviously, we did enough things to have an opportunity to not come out on top," Tressel said. "Fortunately, our defense made some big plays, including the scoring play and causing four turnovers. They gave us some opportunities, some of which we took advantage of.

"There are some great lessons we can take from this football game. The key now will be what we do with those lessons."

Krenzel shouldered a good portion of the blame for his team's lackluster performance against an SDSU team that was just 4-9 a year ago.

"With the passing game today, sometimes there were guys open and I didn't get them the ball," Krenzel said. "We were definitely not consistent in anything we did today -- the run game, the passing game or the protection. We were not on the same page."

Meanwhile, SDSU's Matt Dlugolecki, making his first career start in place of the injured Adam Hall, did not look like an untested sophomore. He completed 23 of 36 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions.

"We knew they were going to be a pretty good offense," OSU linebacker Robert Reynolds said. "They got up on us early. They played together and they played hard."

The day began on a sour note for the Buckeyes on the first play from scrimmage. Krenzel dropped and threw to the right flat, where SDSU's Jacob Eliminian was waiting. He picked the ball off and returned it 14 yards to the OSU 23. Hamilton was stopped for a 2-yard loss on first down, but OSU was penalized half the distance to the goal due to a face mask penalty. On first down at the 11, Hamilton got 5 yards on a draw.

After an incompletion and a delay of game penalty, Dlugolecki hit Wes Williams on a flanker screen that went for the 11-yard touchdown, giving the Aztecs a 7-0 lead at 13:42 of the first quarter.

SDSU was penalized for excessive celebration and, after the ensuing kickoff sailed out of bounds, OSU was in business at midfield. Hall was slammed for a 3-yard loss on first down, but came back to convert a fourth-and-1 situation with a 3-yard run. He then picked up 14 yards on a cutback run. But the drive stalled after Krenzel was only able to get 8 yards on third-and-10 from the SDSU 24. Mike Nugent's 38-yard field goal cut the SDSU lead to 7-3 with 9:54 left in the first quarter.

Dlugolecki then led SDSU on a 76-yard march down to the OSU 4. The drive was aided by a pair of OSU personal foul penalties. But on first-and-goal at the OSU 4, Dlugolecki was pressured by OSU defensive tackle Darrion Scott. His pass to the right flat was tipped up in the air by OSU corner Chris Gamble, right to teammate Will Allen just inside the end zone. Allen headed down the west sideline, cut back to midfield and, with a convoy, of blockers went 100 yards for the touchdown and a 10-7 lead with 6:36 left in the first.

"That was a total team effort," Allen said. "The play started with the rush. Then, Chris Gamble had excellent coverage. He tipped the ball up in the air. I just played the football and reacted. I grabbed it out of the air.

"I had four or five blockers in front of me. You've got to score when you have that. We practice that every day."

Dlugolecki was then intercepted by OSU's Reynolds. He returned the pick 19 yards to the SDSU 23. But OSU's Lydell Ross was slammed for a 1-yard loss on third-and-1 at the 14. Nugent came on and hit a 32-yard field goal to push the lead to 13-7 with 3:25 left in the first quarter.

That score remained until early in the third when Krenzel was hit by SDSU's Brook Miller and Robert Miller and fumbled on OSU's 25. Brandon Rager recovered the fumble with 10:46 left in the third quarter.

The Aztecs lost 4 yards on a sack by linebacker A.J. Hawk, but J.C. Mejia came on and hit a 47-yard field goal to cut the OSU lead to 13-10 with 9:17 left in the third.

The Buckeyes looked to extend their lead late in the third quarter. Krenzel found Ryan Hamby for a 31-yard gain before Hall ripped off a season's best 33-yard run to the SDSU 16. The Buckeyes got as close as the 11 after a Krenzel scramble on third down. But Nugent's 28-yard field goal sailed wide right.

But the Aztecs bailed the Buckeyes out once again. OSU's Mike D'Andrea hit SDSU receiver Jeff Webb, forcing a fumble which teammate David Patterson recovered at the SDSU 21 with 14:54 left in the game. But, again, OSU could not land the death blow. Three plays netted 3 yards before Nugent's 35-yard field goal made it 16-10 with 13:22 left.

The Aztecs answered with a 56-yard push, again aided by an OSU late hit penalty, before Mejia's 45-yard field goal cut the lead to 16-13 with 10:13 left.

OSU was forced to punt on its next two possessions. SDSU threatened after Dlugolecki threw a perfect sidearm spiral for a 24-yard gain to Devin Pitts on third-and-15 at the SDSU 30 with 3:55 left. But, on fourth-and-9 from the OSU 45, Dlugolecki's slant pass to Pitts was behind him incomplete. OSU got the ball back with 2:49 left.

Krenzel's pass to Jenkins gave OSU a new set of downs and ended SDSU's upset bid.

"We weren't considering running the ball there," Tressel said. "We knew they would either spend a time out or the pass would be incomplete. We had nothing to lose by throwing it. That was a pretty good connection."

Jenkins added, "There was a guy inside and he put it on my back shoulder. I had to go get it. It was third-and-6 and I had to get the first down. That was the ball game."

Squib Kicks

* OSU center Alex Stepanovich suffered a sprained ankle on the final play of the first half and did not return. Sophomore Nick Mangold relieved him. There was no immediate word on Stepanovich's status.

Ross also dealt with an injured foot.

"Lydell's foot has been bothering him off and on," Tressel said. "We thought a week ago he turned a corner. But later in this week, he didn't seem to be right. He didn't feel like he could push off it."

* OSU corner Dustin Fox led the Buckeyes with nine tackles, while Hawk had seven. Safety Brandon Mitchell had six stops, including two sacks. Allen and Will Smith also had six stops.

* Hamby said it felt good to haul in a career-long pass.

"It felt good just to get something going," Hamby said. "After that, Mo Hall had the big run and I thought we were going to get something going. We just need to keep working at it."

* Allen's interception return eclipsed an 88-yard interception return by Howard "Hopalong" Cassady against Wisconsin in 1954 as the longest in Ohio Stadium history. It also tied 100-yard INT returns by David Brown against Purdue in 1986 and Marlon Kerner against Purdue in 1993 as the longest in school history.

* This marked the first time the OSU offense was held under 200 yards since a 13-6 loss at UCLA in 2001.

* OSU improved to 2-0 all-time against SDSU, also winning 27-12 in 2001. The teams are due to meet again in 2005.

* OSU is 7-1 all-time against current members of the Mountain West. OSU has beaten BYU three times and also beaten Utah and Wyoming once each besides SDSU. The lone loss was to Air Force in the 1990 Liberty Bowl.

* OSU has now won 33 straight non-conference games, dating to a 1990 loss to USC. OSU has also won 10 straight home games, dating to a 2001 loss to Illinois. OSU's 16-game winning streak is the third longest in school history.<.p>

OSU has also now won eight straight games when the margin is a touchdown or less.

* OSU will host N.C. State, which was ranked 14th nationally before a 38-24 ACC loss at Wake Forest on Saturday. That game will start at noon and will be televised on a split-national basis by ABC (Arkansas-Texas is the other game).

"We need to come out next week and get back at it," Hamby said. "They will be ready. We need to be ready for them. We better have our A game next Saturday."

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