But it was Ohio State's special teams play that helped decide the long awaited match-up of last year's Big Ten co-champions. OSU returned a punt for a touchdown and blocked another for a score in a 19-10 homecoming win before 105,044 at the Horseshoe.
Ohio State (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) rebounded from a tough 17-10 loss at Wisconsin last week.
"It was special to win a game after last weekend," said OSU defensive tackle Tim Anderson, who had two tackles-for-loss and a fumble recovery in the win.
OSU got the help it needed this week with Purdue going into Wisconsin and defeating the Badgers 26-23.
That result leaves Michigan State, a 44-38 winner at Minnesota, and Purdue as the only unbeaten teams in Big Ten play. OSU again controls its own destiny in regards to the Big Ten championship as it faces Michigan State in its next home game Nov. 8. OSU will then host Purdue Nov. 15.
"Iowa is a good football team," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "They played the whole game. They played hard. Our team is a good football team and we played hard. We knew it was going to be who was standing last at the end.
"Those were two of the best defenses, really, in the country out there today. The difference in the football game, quite obviously, was the special teams plays our guys made."
Michael Jenkins, replacing Chris Gamble as OSU's punt returner, had a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown, while Roy Hall blocked an Iowa punt that Donte Whitner covered for another score.
"We knew if we were going to beat Iowa, we had to do a good job on our special teams," Tressel said.
OSU is still in search of consistency on offense, netting a season-low 185 yards against the Hawkeyes, although Iowa boasts one of the nation's top run defenses. OSU attempted 42 running plays and netted 56 yards on them.
Quarterback Craig Krenzel hit on 11 of 22 passes for 129 yards. Drew Carter had a big day with six catches for 95 yards.
The OSU defense had another big day, holding Iowa (5-2, 1-2) to just 219 yards total offense.
Iowa quarterback Nathan Chandler was 14 of 27 passing for 153 yards with an interception. Tailback Fred Russell got 42 yards on 22 carries.
"Defensively, we did a good job of disrupting things," Tressel said. "I thought we got good pressure on their quarterback. If they keep hitting you, like we were hitting their tailback, it's going to be a long one. I didn't see a lot of him at the end.
"I thought our defensive front did an extraordinary job of controlling the tempo of the football game."
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz discussed the defeat.
"It's obviously a tough loss," he said. "It was a battle and our kids competed. Ohio State did a great job, just like they've done for the past 21 games. It was a defensive battle and neither defense disappointed. We didn't get the job done on special teams and that's a tough one to live with."
As It Happened
Ohio State forced a punt on Iowa's first possession, then drove 28 yards in eight plays to the game's first points. The key play was Krenzel's 23-yard pass to Carter, who found a seam in Iowa's soft zone on second-and-12 at the OSU 46. But Krenzel's next three passes all fell incomplete and, with an OSU false start mixed in, the Buckeyes faced fourth-and-15 at the Iowa 36.
But that was no problem as Mike Nugent booted a career-long 53-yard field goal to put OSU up 3-0 with 9:56 left in the first quarter.
"We got the three points," Nugent said. "It was good to hit a 53-yarder, but, to me, it was no different than if I'd hit a 22-yarder. I knew it would be such a close game. All but two points came on special teams."
The OSU defense then forced another punt as safety Nate Salley brutalized receiver Ed Hinkel to break up a third-down pass. In a change of personnel, Jenkins stood back to receive the punt. He fielded it at OSU's 46-yard line and got an immediate block from Gamble. He cut through traffic, making Iowa's Grant Steen miss at the Iowa 35 before rolling to complete the 54-yard return that gave the Buckeyes a 10-0 lead with 9:22 left in the first quarter.
"I didn't know the return call," Jenkins said. "I got the ball and I had a guy at my leg. There were two defenders to my right. Then, I just took it north and south. (OSU assistant Mel) Tucker always talks about getting up the field. I had some great blocks and I was able to take it to the end zone."
Iowa answered with a 14-play, 51-yard scoring march. Iowa drove and had a first-and-goal at the OSU 9. But Russell was shoved down for a 4-yard loss on first down by OSU's Will Allen and Will Smith. He got 3 of those yards back on second down, before Chandler was sacked for a 9-yard loss by blitzing linebacker A.J. Hawk. But kicker Nate Kaeding came on and drilled a 36-yard field goal for a 10-3 lead with 2:45 left in the first quarter.
Twice during the remainder of the half, OSU got possession on Iowa's side of the 50-yard line. But each time the Buckeyes failed to score. They were foiled by a pass interference penalty on Carter on the first possession. On the second one, OSU opened at the Iowa 39 and even had a 34-yard pass from Krenzel to Carter down to the Iowa 1.
Krenzel's first-down quarterback sneak netted no gain, but his second-down sneak was even more disastrous. He put the ball out ahead of him to try and get the touchdown. But Iowa linebacker Abdul Hodge knocked it out and teammate Sean Considine at the Iowa 1 with 4:34 left in the first half.
"On the first sneak, we didn't get any push," Krenzel said. "On the second one, I just tried to get over the top and get high. I will never do it again. That was a bad decision. I was just trying to make something happen."
Iowa twice fumbled snaps away in the third quarter as backup center Eric Rothwell, playing in place of injured starter Brian Ferentz, and Chandler could not connect. But, again, OSU could not take advantage either time. On the second occasion, OSU lined up to attempt a 47-yard field goal. But long snapper Kyle Andrews‘ snap was high and holder B.J. Sander aborted the try and was tackled for a 10-yard loss.
The Buckeyes did, however, make a break of their own as Roy Hall burst up the middle untouched and blocked a Bradley punt at the goal line. The ball skitted into the end zone, where Whitner recovered it for a touchdown and a 17-3 lead with 7:54 left in the third quarter.
Iowa drove for its first touchdown in unusual fashion early in the fourth quarter. The first key play on the 60-yard drive was Chandler's 51-yard bomb to Ramon Ochoa, who got behind Gamble and safety Nate Salley.
Then, facing third-and-goal at the OSU 20, Chandler hit Ochoa for an inside screen and a 15-yard gain down to the OSU 5. Trailing 17-3, Ferentz made a tough call and went for a fake field goal. Bradley, the holder, flipped the ball back to Kaeding, who danced around right end easily for the 5-yard touchdown. Kaeding appeared to benefit by a blatant holding penalty against OSU's Allen, which was uncalled.
Following the play, Tressel argued the no-call to no avail.
"You know, there's judgments made all the time," the coach said. "I thought there might have been a little holding, but I guess not."
Kaeding's PAT kick pulled Iowa within a touchdown at 17-10 with 14:09 left in the game.
OSU punter B.J. Sander pinned the Hawkeyes back to their own 9-yard line with a 48-yard punt. On second-and-15 from the Iowa 4, Rothwell again misfired on a snap. His shotgun snap to Chandler in the end zone sailed wide of the quarterback and out of the end zone for a safety and a 19-10 OSU lead with 3:03 left.
"Everybody came on the field fired up," said Smith, who had a sack and 2-½ tackles-for-loss. "The fans in that end zone were going crazy. I didn't even know what the defensive call was. My hat is off to our 12th man on that play."
OSU got the ensuing kickoff and whittled the most of the time away after Maurice Hall picked up a first down with a 3-yard run with 2:16 left. OSU punted back to Iowa with 29 seconds left, with Sander nailing a 62-yarder.
"Late in the game, they tell me to just get the punt off," said Sander, who averaged 44.8 yards on eight punts.
The Hawkeyes‘ last gasp was snuffed out when Gamble intercepted a Chandler deep pass with 10 seconds left.
* Outside linebacker Bobby Carpenter made his first career start in place of suspended linebacker Robert Reynolds, who was in street clothes in the bench area after choking Wisconsin quarterback Jim Sorgi last week.
Carpenter had two tackles.
* The safety was OSU's first since the Washington State game early last season.
* Allen and linebacker A.J. Hawk led OSU with seven tackles each, while defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock was active with six -- including 2-1/2 for losses.
* OSU holds a commanding 43-12-3 lead in the all-time series, including 27-7-1 in Columbus. The Buckeyes have won eight straight over Iowa dating to a 16-9 loss in 1991 in Columbus.
* While OSU's 19-game winning streak was snapped against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes have now won 14 straight home games at Ohio Stadium. OSU's last loss at home was to Illinois in November 2001.
That is the longest home winning streak for the Buckeyes since they won 14 straight in the Horseshoe from October 1994 through November 1996. The school record for consecutive home wins is 20, running from October 1982 to November 1985.
* Ohio State avoided back-to-back defeats since losing to Michigan and South Carolina to end the 2000 season.
* OSU won for the second time this year without the benefit of an offensive touchdown. San Diego State, whom OSU defeated 16-13, was the other opponent that held OSU without an offensive TD.
* Jenkins' punt return for a score -- coming on his first career return -- was OSU's first for a touchdown since Nate Clements took one back 83 yards against Purdue in 2000.
* Hall's punt block was OSU's first since Jenkins blocked one against Purdue last November.
* Nugent's 53-yard field goal is the second longest in Ohio Stadium history. Dan Stultz nailed a 55-yarder against Indiana in 1997. Nugent‘s kick is tied for the fourth-longest in OSU annals.
* Tressel improves to 6-0 in games after defeats at OSU. He is also 3-0 vs. top-10 teams at OSU, 11-3 against ranked teams and 18-2 at Ohio Stadium.
* Ferentz fell to 27-28 as the Iowa coach, including 16-19 in Big Ten games.
* This was only the Hawkeyes' second defeat in their last 16 regular season games.
* Iowa, at ninth in the AP poll, was the highest ranked team to visit OSU since No. 7 Penn State came to town in 1998. OSU, ranked No. 1 that day, won 28-9. This was the first home match-up of top-10 teams for the Buckeyes since they were ranked sixth and defeated No. 10 Washington State 25-7 last year.<.p>
OSU is now 19-11-1 all-time in match-ups of top-10 teams in Ohio Stadium since the advent of the AP poll in 1936.
* The crowd figure is the second largest this season and fourth largest in Ohio Stadium history.