Well, other than the first play from scrimmage – which went for an 80-yard touchdown for the visiting Aztecs – the Buckeyes were fairly impressive.
The ninth-ranked Buckeyes shrugged off that early touchdown and rode the play of quarterback Troy Smith and an otherwise smothering defense to a 27-6 win before 104,533 Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
The visiting Aztecs shocked the Buckeyes on their first play as quarterback Kevin O'Donnell threw a swing pass to receiver Brett Swain, who turned down the right sideline and was gone on a perfectly conceived 80-yard touchdown and a 6-0 lead just 11 seconds into the game.
But OSU milked good field position into a pair of first-half touchdown runs by Smith and built a 14-6 halftime lead.
"I think obviously after the first play of the game, our defense dominated the football game," said OSU coach Jim Tressel, whose team inched ahead to 2-1 overall. "They created field position for us and made for some short fields for the offensive team and came up with a turnover on the 1 and just really was in total control of the football game."
Ohio State stayed with its spread offense, but leaned heavily to the run with inside gives and option plays. Smith, making his first start of the year at quarterback, finished with 87 yards rushing on 14 carries with the two touchdowns. Smith, who improved to 5-1 as a starter, was also 14 of 26 passing for 149 yards with an interception.
"I thought Troy progressed and that's what we hope for," Tressel said.
OSU showed good balance with 179 yards rushing and 196 yards passing.
"It feels good that we got the W, but we don't feel good offensively with the way we performed," Smith said. "I don't think we're that far away. But, then again, I don't think that we're that close."
Tailback Antonio Pittman added 58 yards on 18 carries. Split end Roy Hall had four catches for 44 yards, while Santonio Holmes added four catches for 42 yards to go with a 35-yard punt return.
This was another command performance for the OSU defense, which, after the first 80-yard play, held SDSU (0-3) to just 99 yards total offense and two more first downs over the rest of the game. The Buckeyes stopped the Aztecs on six straight possessions by making them go three-and-out. SDSU went 2-1/2 quarters without a first down. The Aztecs were 1-for-12 on third-down conversions.
SDSU, which had averaged over 400 yards in its first two games, finished with 13 net yards rushing on 19 carries. O'Donnell, who was 12 of 17 passing for 159 yards with one touchdown, was sacked three times.
"Aside from the first play, we were good in most aspects," said OSU linebacker A.J. Hawk, who led the Buckeyes with eight tackles. "We shut them down most of the game and you have to give credit to the front four. They got pressure on the quarterback all day."
"We were committed to playing today," added OSU linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who tallied two sacks. "We knew we couldn't be hung up on last week's game. We knew San Diego State was going to be a good team and they showed that on the first play."
SDSU coach Tom Craft summed up the game.
"Going into this game, we really felt it would be a big challenge," Craft said. "It was an electrifying start, but without any follow-up. I saw growth and development with our special teams from week one, and we did things today that everyone can draw from in the future."
Josh Huston's kickoff to start the game was a touchback, giving SDSU possession on its own 20. Nobody saw what was coming next as O'Donnell hit Swain in the right flat. He picked up blocks on OSU defensive backs Ashton Youboty and Donte Whitner and was gone down the sideline on the 80-yard touchdown. Garrett Palmer's PAT kick missed the mark, but the Aztecs led 6-0 with 14:49 left in the first.
"We can't give up big plays like that, but at the same time we played well from there on out," Youboty said. "Half of their yards came on that one play. We just had to get our heads on straight and start executing and we did that."
Ohio State got two first downs on its first possession and one on its second drive, but was forced to punt each time. Finally, Holmes sparked the Buckeyes with a 35-yard punt return down to the SDSU 35. Roy Hall delivered a crushing block to spring Holmes and, after SDSU's Marcus Demps was penalized for a late hit, the Buckeyes were in business at the Aztecs' 20-yard line.
"The punt team, we feel, is the most crucial team in football," Holmes said. "We think the punt return team can also be the most devastating. When you get opportunities to make a play, you have to take advantage of it."
The Buckeyes needed three plays to find the end zone. Smith got 4 yards on a first-down keeper. Pittman got 2 yards on an inside give out of the one-back set. Finally, after an SDSU timeout to set the defense, Smith kept the ball over right tackle and made a couple of good cuts to get down to the goal line and complete the 14-yard touchdown. Huston's extra point gave OSU a 7-6 lead with 26 seconds left in the first quarter.
"Every guy on our offensive line was hungry for that score," Smith said. "Nick (Mangold) did a great job of blocking the middle linebacker. Rob (Sims) zoned another guy and I just took it in."
The Buckeyes then drove 75 yards on their next possession, from their own 24 down to the SDSU 1. Smith found Ginn for a 23-yard gain and Holmes for 25 more. But on first-and-goal at the 1, Brandon Schnittker fumbled trying to get the ball over the plane of the goal line. Jonathan Bailes forced the fumble and teammate Donny Baker recovered.
"I was just trying to make something happen," Schnittker said. "Maybe it was just inexperience. I talked to Coach Tressel after that play and he said, `Don't reach the ball out unless you're sure.' "
But another Holmes punt return – this time a 13-yarder – gave the Buckeyes possession at the SDSU 32. OSU needed eight plays to convert that field position advantage into a score. The Buckeyes got all 32 of those yards on the ground. Smith converted a third down with a 12-yard gain on an option keeper. Maurice Wells gave OSU a first down at the 2-yard line with a tough 4-yard run inside. On second-and-goal from the 1, Smith scored on a quarterback sneak, plowing into the goal line behind center Nick Mangold and left guard T.J. Downing for the touchdown and a 14-6 lead with 5:15 left in the first half.
OSU got the ball to start the second half and moved 62 yards in 13 plays. Smith got the drive going with a 20-yard pass to Hall. He converted a third down with a 7-yard pass to Anthony Gonzalez down to the SDSU 13. But Smith's third-down pass to Gonzalez at the goal line was incomplete and the Buckeyes settled for Huston's 25-yard field goal and a 17-6 lead with 9:33 left in the third quarter.
Smith was intercepted by SDSU's Baker midway through the third quarter, but the Aztecs could not threaten. A 49-yard A.J. Trapasso punt, coupled with a holding penalty on the Aztecs, backed them up to their own 7-yard line. On first down there, O'Donnell double clutched on an option pitch to Lynell Hamilton and the ball skitted to the ground, where OSU's Anthony Schlegel recovered it. The recovery, coming on the final play of the third quarter, came at the SDSU 1-yard line.
When play resumed to start the fourth quarter, Schnittker plowed into the end zone from the 1 on first down to put OSU up 24-6 with 14:58 left in the game.
"I was glad the coaches put me back in that situation," Schnittker said. "We talked all week that when we run that play we're going to run right up the middle. We're just going to put our head down and go. The offensive line did a great job."
Huston added a 39-yard field goal with 5:55 left in the game to push the lead to 27-6 with 5:55 left.
* OSU improved to 3-0 all-time against San Diego State. It was the third tough game the Aztecs have given OSU in five years. The Buckeyes won 27-16 in 2001 and 16-13 in 2003.
* The Buckeyes improved to 16-2 in nonconference regular season games under Tressel, in his fifth year as the OSU coach. OSU is 27-4 at home and 42-12 overall under Tressel.
* OSU is now 31-3 when leading at halftime under Tressel.
* The 80-yard touchdown pass San Diego State recorded in the first quarter is the longest touchdown allowed from scrimmage by Ohio State since Purdue connected on an 86-yard touchdown pass against the Buckeyes on Oct. 19, 1996 at Purdue.
* OSU came into the game with just two touchdowns on eight forays inside the red zone in their first two games. In this game, OSU was inside the SDSU 20 six times and came away with three touchdowns, one field goal and Schnittker's fumble. A sixth possession saw OSU end the game at the SDSU 12-yard line.
* OSU freshman Malcolm Jenkins made his first career start at cornerback, while regular corner starter Tyler Everett opened at nickel back in place of Brandon Mitchell.
* Redshirt freshman tailback Erik Haw saw his first action and had one carry for 6 yards and two catches for 6 yards.
* Huston's two made field goals make him now 9 of 10 on field goals on the year.
* The Buckeyes host Iowa next Saturday in their Big Ten opener. The game, starting at noon, will be televised regionally by ABC.