And it was anything but easy, but the Buckeyes will live for another day.
No. 15 Ohio State sloughed off four turnovers and a command performance by MSU quarterback Drew Stanton to take a wild 35-24 win over the 16th-ranked Spartans before 105,122 on Homecoming at Ohio Stadium.
Stanton, the nation's No. 1-rated passer, lived up to his billing. He completed 26 of 36 passes for 340 yards and one touchdown. But he was sacked 12 times.
The Buckeyes (4-2, 2-1) saved their season by rallying for a pair of touchdowns in the final 4:56 after trailing 24-21. Quarterback Troy Smith hit Santonio Holmes for the go-ahead touchdown on a 46-yard pass with 4:56 left. Then, after the defense held, Smith's 1-yard touchdown plunge with 1:29 left put it away.
"Our kids played hard," said OSU head coach Jim Tressel. "They just play and they play and they understand that every second is important."
The Spartans (4-2, 1-2) outgained OSU 456-386 in total yardage and held the ball for nearly 41 minutes. The Buckeyes got a blocked field goal return for a touchdown by Ashton Youboty, but were their own worst enemy with four lost fumbles. Those miscues led to 10 MSU points and, for the second week in a row, the OSU defense did not create a turnover.
"I congratulate Ohio State," said MSU coach John L. Smith. "They are a tremendous football team. They won the game. It was a hard football game. Offensively the kids (Ohio State) have special talents and (defensively) we had trouble blocking them.
"My guys played their hearts out today. The loss is placed on the coaches for this game and I take full responsibility."
For OSU, Troy Smith completed 10 of 15 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns. Although he did lose a fourth-quarter fumble, he rebounded from last week's loss at Penn State.
"I hope this is the turning point in the season for us," Smith said. "The guys showed up and played today. The defense especially stood up and without them, it would have been a long game. I give a lot of respect to the team. They were able to stick with the game plan."
Holmes had five catches for 150 yards with two touchdowns, while Ted Ginn Jr. caught a 57-yard touchdown pass among his four grabs.
Tailback Antonio Pittman had 18 carries for 101 yards.
"I believe we're fortunate to have a great defense," Pittman said. "The fumbles gave them great field position, but our defense just kept holding them out. They gave us one last chance and we took advantage of it."
Sure enough, the Buckeyes got after Stanton. Linebacker Bobby Carpenter notched a career-high four sacks. It did not matter that the defense was on the field for 87 plays compared to 41 for the OSU offense.
"That's what we work for," said defensive lineman David Patterson, who had a career-high three sacks. "That's why (strength coach Allan) Johnson has us run gassers in the summer. I think that really prepares us. Guys are in shape and ready to play. They were an extremely good offense. They had a great scheme and Stanton is the best quarterback we've played this year."
Linebacker A.J. Hawk led the Buckeyes with 19 tackles.
"We knew after the last game, no one wanted to be 3-3," Hawk said. "We knew it was going to be hard. We didn't focus on winning the game. We focused on the first play and went from there."
Safety Donte Whitner, who added 11 tackles, said the game did take a toll on the defense.
"We were very tired," Whitner said. "There are guys still down there in the locker room. But we had to suck it up. That's why we condition in the off-season, so we can go long in games like this and play a lot of plays."
As It Happened
OSU's second possession ended prematurely as Pittman fumbled after a 14-yard gain down to the MSU 37. The officials initially ruled Pittman down, but upon review by the replay official, MSU's Michael Bazemore was awarded possession of the fumble at the MSU 37 with 8:35 left in the first quarter.
"I felt as if I was down," Pittman said. "I know I was down. I couldn't let that keep me down. I knew I had to come back from that."
The Spartans drove 47 yards in eight plays with the key play Stanton's 26-yard pass to Scott. But Stanton was pressured into an incompletion on third-and-5 at the OSU 16. John Goss' 32-yard field goal put MSU up 3-0 with 6:02 left in the first quarter.
Things went from bad to worse as MSU's Todd Boleski popped up a short kickoff, which OSU's Holmes could not handle. The ball skitted back toward the goal line and MSU's Otis Wiley recovered it at the OSU 4-yard line. The Spartans were backed up by a holding penalty, but got new life when OSU's Bobby Carpenter was flagged for roughing Stanton after a third-down incompletion.
On first-and-goal at the 3, MSU's Jehuu Caulcrick powered in over right tackle for the touchdown and a 10-0 lead with 4:34 left in the first quarter.
Ohio State rallied with a five-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Smith completed a 14-yard pass to Ted Ginn Jr. Then, Pittman had a pair of 7-yard runs, moving the ball to the OSU 49. On first down there, Smith faked an option right, dropped back and threw deep down the left sideline to Holmes. Holmes got behind MSU's Demond Williams and safety Eric Smith was late coming over. He caught the ball at the 10 and rolled into the end zone for the 51-yard touchdown, cutting the MSU lead to 10-7 with 2:37 left in the first.
"I want to give every bit of respect to the offensive line," Smith said. "That key right there made the play, to me. Without that protection, without the line holding its strength for that amount of time, you know, Santonio wouldn't have been able to get open.
"But just being disciplined within the play. The week before, we tried to run that play, I didn't get enough depth in my drop, you know, and we emphasized that throughout the week, depth on that, selling that play, and Santonio made a great play on the ball."
Early in the second quarter, OSU's A.J. Trapasso uncorked a career-best 76-yard punt to push the Spartans back to their own 16-yard line. But MSU drove 84 yards in 12 plays to extend their lead. Ringer had five carries for 28 yards on the drive, which was capped when Stanton threw down the middle to Scott for a 36-yard touchdown. They completed the pass over OSU's Ashton Youboty as safety Nate Salley was late converging. MSU led 17-7 with 6:30 left in the first half.
Late in the half, the Buckeyes forced an MSU punt. But Ginn fumbled it and Diego Oquendo recovered it at the OSU 26 with 1:20 left in the half. The Spartans used their final timeout when Stanton was sacked at the OSU 17 with 24 seconds left. He then tried to throw a pass on second-and-12 there, but was stopped by OSU's Quinn Pitcock for no gain with 19 seconds left and the clock rolling.
Instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock, MSU tried to rush Goss and the field goal unit on for a 34-yard field goal attempt. But the Spartans failed to get their 12th man off the field and allowed OSU's Salley to block the kick. Youboty scooped it up and, with plenty of blocking help, returned it 72 yards for a key touchdown that closed the MSU lead to 17-14 as the half expired.
Youboty hobbled into the end zone, but the play gave OSU a much-needed boost.
"Two plays before that, I took a shot to the hip," Youboty said. "It was just hurting a little bit. I think they were just rushing out there and they didn't have the right personnel and we were able to make the play. It was a 10-point shift. The opportunity came. They made a mistake, and we capitalized."
Salley said it was an easy block.
"They left one of the most important guys out – their wing, and we took advantage of it," Salley said. "We had been close a few times before that. When I saw the wing wasn't there, I knew it would be a good opportunity. I just tried to focus in and get that block. I knew we needed a big play.
"Earlier in the game, we had given up that touchdown. That put some pressure on me."
MSU coach John L. Smith said it was a mix-up on his sideline that led to the block.
"We were going for the spike (to stop the clock on third down)," Smith said. "We practice the fast field goal. We time it out in practice. We have someone count the guys so there are not 12 or 10 players on the field. We have them line up, and before they go out, I tell them if we're going for the kick, the fake or a spike and that didn't happen. When the guys lined up, I heard someone yell, ‘Field goal' and it wasn't me. So that comes down to me."
OSU forced an MSU punt to open the second half, then drove 76 yards in four quick plays to take its first lead. Pittman started it with a 13-yard gain on a draw. Two plays later, on third-and-4 at the OSU 43, Smith threw to Ginn on a simple slant. One MSU defender missed the tackle and Ginn sidestepped a second before escaping and sprinting down the left sideline on the 57-yard touchdown that gave the Buckeyes a 21-17 lead with 10:21 left in the third quarter.
"Two guys tried to hit me and it actually gave me some bounce," said Ginn, who had not scored since the season opener against Miami (Ohio). "I was a little bit at a standstill and they kind of got me back on the go. When I saw there was nobody ahead of me I was off. It felt great."
The lead was short lived, though, as MSU moved 80 yards in 11 plays to regain the lead. Stanton was 3 for 3 for 49 yards on the drive. But Teague capped it with bullish runs of 3, 7 and 6 yards for the touchdown to put the Spartans back up 24-21 with 4:53 left in the third quarter.
OSU lost its fourth fumble with 8:52 left in the game, when Bazemore stripped Smith on a scramble attempt and MSU's Clifton Ryan recovered at the OSU 22. But the defense held and forced a Goss field goal attempt. But Youboty blocked the 37-yard attempt, giving the Buckeyes new life with 7:12 left.
The Buckeyes regained the lead with a five-play, 80-yard scoring march. Smith got it started with a 9-yard keeper. He then threw to Pittman for a 21-yard gain on a backside screen. Then, on first down at the MSU 46, Smith again faked the option right and threw left to Holmes. Holmes caught the ball at the MSU 28, eluded an MSU defender and was gone on the 46-yard touchdown that gave the Buckeyes a 28-24 lead with 4:56 left.
"The main thing I think was our protection unit was great on both of those plays," said Holmes, who now has four TD catches this year and 16 for his career. "I think the offensive line did a real good job. Troy did a great job getting the ball out there where it's supposed to be and ran a good route and worked for the ball, and like coach said yards after the catch is what's important. That was what was big for us and we scored touchdowns."
The OSU defense then held as Marcus Green sacked Stanton at the MSU 1. It appeared that Green had forced a fumble that teammate Quinn Pitcock had recovered, but referee Steve Newman ruled Stanton down with 3:01 left.
"Coach (Jim) Heacock called a great defense there and I was able to make a play," Green said. "I'm just glad we won. It's good for the team. I'm glad we were able to come out of here with a victory."
Holmes returned the ensuing punt 26 yards down to the MSU 19 with 2:48 left and Smith's 1-yard TD run put the game away with 1:29 left.
"It was a great feeling," said OSU guard Rob Sims of when Smith scored the game clinching touchdown. "We were on the sidelines saying, 'We've got to finish. We've got to finish.'
"We thought we would be there at the end and they would be there, too. We just kept fighting and got it done. It felt great."
* Carpenter tied the OSU single-game record with his four sacks, equaling the mark set by Jason Simmons against Washington State in 1991.
* OSU coach Jim Tressel improved to 3-0 all-time against MSU, while Spartans coach John L. Smith is now 0-3 against Ohio State.
* OSU now leads the all-time series 24-12, including 13-7 in Columbus. OSU has won four in a row and nine of the last 11.
* OSU is now 18-7 against ranked teams under Tressel, including 2-2 this season.
* The Buckeyes are now 10-2 off regular season losses under Tressel, including 5-1 in such games at home.
* OSU is now 29-4 at home under Tressel.
* Freshman Alex Boone made his first career start at right tackle in place of the injured Kirk Barton, who did not dress.
* OSU cornerback Tyler Everett left the game in the first half and was sent to OSU Medical Center. It was unclear what his injury was or how severe it might be. Freshman Malcolm Jenkins replaced him and Brandon Mitchell worked in as the nickel back.
* Ohio State travels to Indiana next Saturday. The game is set for noon Eastern time (11 a.m. in Bloomington). It will be televised by ESPN-Plus and may also be seen in some areas on either ESPN or ESPN2.
As of Friday, OSU still had 400 tickets available for the Indiana game.
"We still have some pretty good seats left for next week," said OSU associate athletic director Richelle Simonson, who noted the university initially received 15,000 tickets for the game in Bloomington. "Our fans can purchase them on line at www.hangonsloopy.com or by calling the ticket office (614/292-2624 or 1-800 GO BUCKS)."
Tickets, which are $46 each, also can be purchased at the Athletics Ticket Office in the Jerome Schottenstein Center.
Indiana lost 37-21 at Iowa Saturday to fall to 4-2 overall and 1-2 in Big Ten play.