But the Buckeyes showed they are too sleek and too fast to be caught in any traps.
Ted Ginn Jr. set a new Big Ten record for career punt return touchdowns and Troy Smith threw for 234 yards and two touchdowns as Ohio State smothered Michigan State 38-7 before 73,498 – thousands of whom were disguised as empty bleacher seats on a blustery day – at Spartan Stadium.
"It was good for us to come in here to a tough environment with the wind blowing and Michigan State anxious to turn things around," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "It wasn't picturesque by any means, but I think we made some plays and our guys played steady."
Ohio State (7-0, 3-0) extended its nation's best winning streak to 14 games, while MSU (3-4, 0-3) dropped its fourth straight game.
Ginn returned to the scene of his breakout three-touchdown performance in 2004 and again electrified the crowd with his 60-yard punt return score that staked OSU to a 17-0 lead with 5:09 left in the first half.
Smith, who completed 15 of 22 passes on the day, then hit Anthony Gonzalez with a 12-yard touchdown pass with just 39 seconds left in the half to put the Buckeyes up 24-0. That score sent many of the MSU faithful to the exits as some of them headed to watch their beloved Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series.
Smith, who is now 20-2 as OSU's starting quarterback, was asked if this was the team's most complete game.
"Thus far, it is definitely up there," Smith said. "We did a lot of productive things offensively and defensively. The defense did a lot of good things. They did a great job today."
Smith's 7-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie gave OSU a 31-0 lead with 10:43 left in the third quarter.
Gonzalez caught seven passes for 118 yards, while Ginn had three catches for 54 yards and Robiskie made four grabs for 54 yards.
Freshman Chris Wells shrugged off an early fumble to lead OSU with 53 yards rushing and a touchdown on 12 carries. Antonio Pittman, bothered briefly by an ankle injury, had 48 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
The OSU defense, ranked No. 1 nationally in scoring, held the strong MSU offense to just 198 yards. The Spartans netted just 63 yards on 30 rushing attempts. Jehuu Caulcrick, MSU's 260-pound tailback, was limited to 45 yards on 15 carries.
"We were able to get two or three guys hitting him at once," said OSU defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock, who led the Buckeyes with two sacks. "If he gets you one on one, he'll run right over you."
The Buckeyes harassed quarterback Drew Stanton most of the day. He was 8 of 16 passing for 54 yards and an interception before leaving the game midway through the third quarter after a big hit by OSU linebacker Marcus Freeman. Freeman had earlier made a diving interception of a Stanton pass.
"Our coaches had us prepared and gave us a great scouting report," said Freeman, who also had five tackles. "That helps us to hopefully be in the right place at the right time. It's just good film study and good coaching."
Michigan State averted the shutout when A.J. Jimmerson scored on a 6-yard touchdown run with just 1:07 left in the game.
"We played an awfully good football team tonight," said MSU coach John L. Smith, who has been on the hot seat with his team's recent losses. "You've got to give them credit. We had an opportunity or two early that we needed to capitalize on and we didn't. That made for a long day."
OSU got the ball to open the game, but on its third play, Wells was hit and fumbled after getting an apparent first down at the OSU 31. MSU's Greg Cooper recovered and the Spartans were in business with 13:50 left in the first quarter.
"The fumble, I just wasn't being responsible with the football," Wells said. "But after that, the team showed a lot of confidence in me. That helped me get back into the game."
But a holding penalty negated an MSU big gain and, on third-and-4 at the OSU 25, OSU's Jay Richardson and James Laurinaitis teamed to shove Stanton backwards for a 16-yard loss on a sack. The play knocked MSU out of field goal range. Punter Brandon Fields' kick went into the end zone for a touchback.
"At the beginning of the game, you could see that they came out ready to go," Tressel said of the Spartans. "They forced a turnover, but our defense did a good job of turning them away with nothing. I thought from that point on, we took over the tempo of the game."
OSU took over and embarked on a workmanlike, 12-play, 80-yard scoring march. Smith got it going by converting a third down with a 12-yard toss to Robiskie. Smith then threw to Ginn on a crossing route. Ginn broke free of tackle attempts by MSU's Kendell Davis-Clark and Otis Wiley on his way to a 37-yard gain down to the MSU 24.
From there, OSU alternated carries between Wells and Pittman, who squirted through a small hole for the 2-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 6:12 left in the first quarter.
OSU extended its lead to 10-0 after Aaron Pettrey nailed a 32-yard field goal with 12:09 left in the first half. That kick was set up by Smith's nice 32-yard pass to Gonzalez down the seam.
Midway through the second quarter, the OSU defense forced a punt after MSU was stopped on its own 9. The result was not good for MSU as Fields drove Ginn back to his own 40 with a 51-yard punt. But Ginn went right and then cut back left through a seam, picked up blocks from Gonzalez and Derek Harden and was on his way to his punt return touchdown. That play put the Buckeyes up 17-0 with 5:09 left in the first half.
"I was so happy Gonzalez picked up that one block for me," Ginn said. "Then, when I looked (right), I saw all three green shirts there. I thought, ‘I can't go that way.' Then, I just cut it back and saw a lane and took it."
Stanton then tried to throw a screen pass back across the field to Jimmerson. But Freeman read the play perfectly and made a sliding interception at the MSU 39 with 2:27 left in the half.
"I know when they release real fast and the linemen come out, it's going to be a screen," said Freeman, who notched his second interception of the year. "I saw the linemen came out and I just went in and got the ball."
The Buckeyes needed seven plays to convert that turnover into points. After a holding penalty backed the Buckeyes up, Smith hit Gonzalez with a 23-yard gain down to the 26. Finally, on third-and-10 at the 12, Smith rolled to his right and lofted a pass over MSU's Wiley and Gonzalez went up and brought it in for the 12-yard touchdown and a 24-0 lead with 39 seconds left in the half.
"That was such a great throw," Gonzalez said. "It was one of those things where it was only in a spot where I could get it."
Ohio State extended its lead on its first possession of the second half, moving 53 yards in a quick five plays. Gonzalez got it started with a 29-yard gain on a reverse. Ginn then had a reverse for a 16-yard gain down to the MSU 8. Finally, on third-and-goal at the 7, Smith spun out of a sack attempt by MSU's Ervin Baldwin and hit Robiskie with the 7-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone for a 31-0 bulge with 10:43 left in the third.
"With a guy like Troy, he is always capable of making a play like that," said Robiskie, who notched his third touchdown grab of the year.
The Buckeyes tacked on one more score as Wells barreled up the middle for a 5-yard touchdown and a 38-0 lead with 12:49 left in the game. That capped a 13-play, 88-yard scoring march for the Buckeyes.
"It felt great," Wells said of his second career score. "It felt like a while since I had been in the end zone. Today, I got to do it again."
* Prior to his touchdown at MSU, Ginn was tied with former Iowa star Tim Dwight for the Big Ten career punt return record with five.
His new mark of six leaves him two behind the NCAA career lead of eight, set by Oklahoma's Antonio Perkins and Texas Tech's Wes Welker.
"It's great but records are made for people to be broken," Ginn said, slightly mangling a time-worn cliché. "So somebody is going to come along and break it."
MSU becomes the first team that Ginn has victimized twice for a punt return score.
His 60-yard touchdown return is also his 22nd career touchdown. Amazingly, 15 of them have been for 56 yards or more.
* Pittman missed a portion of the first half due to an ankle injury, but he returned to the game and should be fine.
"My ankle got rolled up, but it was nothing too serious," Pittman said. "I got it taped up."
* For Smith, this marked his 11th career game with at least two touchdown passes. It was also the 11th time in his career and fourth time this year he has hit the 200-yard mark in passing.
* Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Joel Penton made his first career start in place of senior David Patterson, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery this past week. Patterson could possibly return as early as next week.
* Ohio State now leads the all-time series 25-12, including 12-5 in East Lansing. The Buckeyes won their fifth straight game over the Spartans dating to a 1999 loss at MSU.
* The 31-point win was OSU's biggest win by margin in the series since a 48-16 win over MSU in 1980.
It was also OSU's biggest win of the year and its biggest by margin since a 48-7 win over Northwestern last year.
* The late score by MSU denied OSU its first shutout win since a 20-0 triumph over Northwestern in 2003.
The Buckeyes did lower their nation's best points allowed average from 9.3 to 9.0.
* OSU has now outscored its seven opponents 83-23 in the fourth quarter this year.
* OSU's record as the nation's No. 1 team is now 58-8-1.
* In the records department under Tressel, Ohio State is now 57-13 overall, 17-8 on the road and 33-10 in Big Ten games.
* MSU is now 3-13-1 all-time in games against the No. 1-ranked team, including now 2-4 against Ohio State.
* Former OSU linebacker – and Bucknuts.com contributor – Jerry Rudzinski was the honorary captain for Saturday's game at MSU.
* Ohio State returns home to host Indiana (4-3, 2-1), which upset No. 15 Iowa 31-28 on Saturday. The game, set for a noon start, will be televised by ESPNU.