Fine defensive play, the ability to capitalize on NC State mistakes and a Groza Award-worthy performance by Mike Nugent helped the Buckeyes overcome a poor offensive showing as Ohio State stopped North Carolina State for a 22-14 road victory in Raleigh, North Carolina.
All week long, a topic of much discussion was Ohio State's turnover differential, which stood before today's game at minus-7 for the year, second worst in Division I-A. Today, however, the Buckeyes forced five North Carolina State turnovers while giving up just one, and senior kicker Mike Nugent stepped up in MVP fashion with a 5-for-5 field goal performance (three of which came from over 45 yards) and kicking five of six of his kickoffs for touchbacks.
It was a hard-fought first half defensively for both teams combined with some sloppy offensive play, but it was the Buckeyes who capitalized off North Carolina State mistakes. Ohio State was forced to punt after six plays on their opening drive, but the Kyle Turano punt pinned the Wolfpack at their own 8-yard line. After a three-and-out by NC State, Ohio State started the next drive with great field position at the NC State 43.
A third-down pass interference on NC State kept OSU's drive going instead of a three-and-out, and after a Santonio Holmes 11-yard catch and three incompletions, Ohio State had to settle for a 45-yard field goal attempt. A motion penalty on OSU made the attempt 50 yards, but Buckeye kicker Mike Nugent made the field goal with room to spare, giving the Buckeyes a 3-0 lead.
On the following drive, North Carolina State had their best drive of the opening half as they moved the ball down inside OSU territory after starting on their own 20. The drive was halted, however, when OSU's Ashton Youboty intercepted a Jay Davis pass at the Wolfpack 28-yard line.
The Buckeye offense sputtered on the next drive, which saw the first in a pattern of major penalties by NC State as a running-into-the-kicker call on fourth down gave OSU a first down. The Buckeyes could not capitalize and had to punt once again, but the Buckeye defense held and forced NC State to punt after five plays.
Ohio State went three-and-out on the following possession, and on the punt back to NC State, an illegal block drove the Wolfpack back inside their own 20-yard line. NC State was forced to punt once again after five plays.
OSU took over on their own 11-yard line and went three-and-out, but the Wolfpack committed a costly error as Tramain Hall fumbled the Kyle Turano punt, which was recovered by OSU at the NC State 48. The Buckeyes only had two positive offensive plays on the next drive, but pass interference and roughing the passer penalties committed by NC State put the Buckeyes well within field goal range. The drive was capped by a 30-yard Nugent field goal, giving the Buckeyes a 6-0 lead.
It became 13-0 shortly after that as on a third down play on the following NC State possession, Donte Whitner picked off a Jay Davis pass and returned it to the NC State 3-yard line. Lydell Ross punched it in for a touchdown on the next play, which was followed by a Nugent extra point.
"I wish I could have gotten it in there, but I was glad we were able to punch it in right after that," Whitner said of his interception.
NC State started the following drive on their own 20, but time expired on the Wolfpack, and the Buckeyes carried a 13-0 lead into the half.
The costly mistakes immediately continued to start the second half, this time on both sides of the ball. NC State's T.A. McLendon dropped a pitch on the first play of the Wolfpack's first possession, which was recovered by Ohio State at the NC State 16. The Buckeyes could not manage a first down on the drive, but Mike Nugent chipped in with his third field goal of the day to make it 16-0.
NC State started the next drive on their own 20, and the Buckeye defense appeared to have the Wolfpack wrapped up before Quinn Pitcock committed a costly personal foul on a third down that gave NC State new life. The Wolfpack cashed in as T.A. McLendon took the handoff on the next play and rumbled 41 yards into Buckeye territory. Shortly after, McLendon capped the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run, and the point after cut the OSU lead to 16-7.
NC State held OSU to a three-and-out on the following possession, but careless mistakes would haunt the Pack once again as after a 15-yard personal foul penalty on wide receiver Brian Clark on the punt, the Wolfpack was pinned back at their own 12-yard line. A false start by Clark on the next play moved NC State back even further, and after a three-and-out, OSU took over with good field position once again at their own 41.
A set of Lydell Ross runs and two Bam Childress catches moved OSU down inside field goal range once again, and after failing to convert on a third down, Mike Nugent booted his fourth field goal of the day, this one from 46 yards to make it 19-7 Buckeyes.
The Buckeye defense stepped up once again on the following possession as after two Darrell Blackman runs, A.J. Hawk intercepted a Jay Davis pass, giving OSU possession at the NC State 28-yard line. The Buckeyes could not manage a first down on the possession, but Mike Nugent stepped up one more time as he hit from 47 yards out for his fifth field goal of the day to give OSU the 22-7 lead.
Marcus Stone entered the game at quarterback for NC State on the next possession, but he was unable to produce results as the Wolfpack could not come up with a first down. The Buckeyes went three-and-out on the next possession, and the Kyle Turano punt pinned NC State back at their own 13, leaving them once again with poor field position.
An Anthony Schlegel sack left NC State further in a hole, and they were forced to punt from their own end zone, giving OSU the ball at the NC State 48-yard line. The Buckeyes drained some time off the clock on the possession as Lydell Ross, Antonio Pittman, Maurice Hall, and another NC State personal foul penalty moved the ball deep in Wolfpack territory. OSU looked poised to put the game away, but NC State's Pat Thomas forced Lydell Ross to fumble on a third down run, which was recovered by Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay at the NC State 21-yard line.
The clock had run under four minutes in the fourth quarter, but Wolfpack came up with their best drive of the day as they moved 11 plays on 79 yards for a touchdown. Ohio State recovered the N.C. State onsides kick with less than two minutes in the game and was able to ice the game and seal the 22-14 win.
"That was a heck of a football game," said OSU head coach Jim Tressel. "For us to come down here and win with a young group against a veteran group, we feel pretty proud. We forced some turnovers, we didn't commit many turnovers, and we did some good things on special teams."
Both offenses struggled on the day as Ohio State only managed 137 yards of total offense, while North Carolina State had 271 unofficially. Justin Zwick was 10 of 21 passing for 73 yards, while Lydell Ross had 25 carries for 51 yards and a touchdown.
Tressel believed that Ohio State's two previous games helped set the tone for the victory today.
"They had a young quarterback who hadn't been hit," Tressel said. "They played two weeks ago in a game that was probably less difficult than practice. They hadn't been in a slugging match yet, and we'd had two."
Mike Nugent tied the OSU record for field goals in a single game (Bob Atha, 1981 vs. Indiana) and moved into fifth all-time on the Ohio State scoring list.
Tressel discussed Nugent's performance after the game.
"Mike is a veteran," Tressel said. "He is very technique-conscious. It doesn't matter to him if it's raining or if he has a 55-yarder with two seconds. He is a good kicker, the best in college football."
Nugent was able to overcome a wet field in a stadium he had never been to before.
"We had a little walk through last night and the field was really wet," he said. "I knew we were going to have to make a few adjustments.
"It was good to make a 50-yarder on my first attempt in a new stadium. That gave me a lot of confidence."
Zwick acknowledged the game was a tough one for the OSU offense.
"We knew coming in it would be harder than what we were used to," he said. "We did the best we could to get Nugent in field position and he made a lot of kicks for us."
Meanwhile, Jay Davis, a new starter at quarterback just like Zwick, struggled as he was 12 of 24 for 99 yards and 3 interceptions for NC State.
"Anytime a quarterback turns over the ball that many times, it's easy to lose the game," Davis said.
OSU linebacker Bobby Carpenter and the OSU defense came up big today after not performing as they would have liked to against Marshall. Carpenter said that something the team happened to catch on ESPN College Gameday provided an extra spark.
"We came back from breakfast this morning and turned on the television and saw Herbstreit and Corso," Carpenter said. "They didn't pick us. That gave us a little bit of motivation. I'm sorry we had to put one in the loss column for them."
The Buckeyes move to 3-0 with the win and have a bye week before traveling to Evanston, Illinois to face Northwestern on Saturday, October 2.