But before things could get that bleak, the OSU defense and senior safety Will Allen turned the tables on the Aztecs. SDSU quarterback Matt Dlugolecki had driven his team to a first-and-goal at the OSU 4-yard line. But on first down there, his quick pass to the right flat was tipped up into the air by OSU cornerback Chris Gamble.
Allen, opportunistic as always -- remember his big picks a year ago to seal wins over Cincinnati and Michigan, was in the right place and caught the ball just inside the end zone. He turned and headed down the west sideline, then cut back to the middle of the field to complete a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown.
The play, which tied the OSU record for longest interception return, stood as the team's only touchdown in what was ultimately a 16-13 nail-biter over SDSU.
"You dream of making plays like that," Allen said. "It was our only touchdown of the game. My teammates led me to the end zone. It's a wonderful feeling that 105,000 people are behind you and happy that you made the big play. It's a blessing to be out there.
"That was a spark. It was huge. It was a turnover. Even if I hadn't scored, it would have been big because it gave our offense an opportunity. It was huge for our team just to pick us up because we were down. We were down 7-3 at the time."
Allen's breathtaking touchdown return was capped by his bobble of the ball just as he reached the goal line in the north end of a delirious Ohio Stadium.
"I was just running so fast and my arm just locked up. I had a cramp," he said. "I tried to switch arms at the last second and the ball just went up."
Although he fielded the pass in the south end zone, Allen sensed he would be able to go the distance with it, saying, "I knew I was going all the way when I grabbed it."
"That was like a two-touchdown swing right there," OSU coach Jim Tressel noted as his team surged ahead 10-7 late in the first quarter.
The interception brought back memories of Gamble's INT return for a score against Penn State. That was OSU's only touchdown in a 13-7 win.
"It was reminiscent of a lot of games last year," Allen said. "But like Coach said, a win is a win. We're happy with the win, but we're not satisfied."
Allen gave the Aztecs and Dlugolecki, who was making his first career start, credit.
"We were heavily favored, but we knew San Diego State was a good team," he said. "They've got a lot of transfers and JUCO guys. They wanted to show what they could do against the national champions. They came out ready to go. We may have been a little flat, but we picked it up. Right now, my attitude is we've got to get better and come out more prepared and more hungry each week.
"It's disappointing because we made a lot of busts. We weren't polished, but we got the win."
Allen said it takes a lot of determination to put yourself in position to make big plays like that interception.
"Running hard, working hard and playing hard and just wanting to make that play and being a senior. Being a leader on the field, you have to make that play. Your teammates are counting on you and you have to do it," he said.
Although next opponent N.C. State dropped a 38-24 decision at Wake Forest Saturday, Allen knows quarterback Phillip Rivers and the Wolfpack will again test the OSU pass defense.
"They're going to come in ready to go after they see how we barely won," Allen said. "N.C. State is a huge game and we've got to get up for that."