No Turnovers, No Problems

To call it a rough patch would not do it justice. Cruising along with a 24-0 lead, the Ohio State offense self-destructed to the tune of two turnovers returned for touchdowns and narrowly avoiding a third. Take a look at what happened and what the Buckeyes learned from themselves because of it

Less than two weeks ago, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel was asked what common thread, if any, existed in the rash of college football upsets around the country.

His answer was succinct: turnovers.

Against Michigan State in week eight, Tressel was almost proved disastrously right. Holding a comfortable 24-0 lead late in the third quarter, the OSU offense proved to be its own worst enemy.

On third and 10, junior quarterback Todd Boeckman dropped back to pass and instead found MSU junior free safety Otis Wiley, who took it 54 yards to the end zone.

Three plays later, Boeckman was hit in the backfield and fumbled the ball into the arms of MSU senior linebacker SirDarean Adams, who bolted 25 yards for a score.

Suddenly, the team's 24-point lead had shrunk to 10 points. And then Chris "Beanie" Wells fumbled deep in his own territory.

"I didn't hear the crowd yelling so I knew something was wrong," junior offensive tackle Alex Boone said. "I turned around and I saw Beanie get hit and the ball came loose and Jimmy (Cordle) said I almost paralyzed him when I hit him, but you don't like to see things like that."

Wells was hit by freshman defensive lineman Antonio Jeremiah, who simply punched the ball out of his arms. It bounced on the ground and two Spartans had chances to get it. First, Wiley tried to pick it up and carry it into the end zone for his second touchdown.

He missed.

"I should have fallen on it," he said. "The outcome of the game could have been different."

He was not alone, however. Senior defensive end Ervin Baldwin also tried to land on the ball, but somehow Wells found his way back to the pile and recovered his own fumble.

The Buckeyes had survived the worst charge by the Spartans, and it largely came about due to their own doing.

"(If they recover that), we're in OT," Boone said. "Here comes OT, I think. We can't do that. We've got to play smarter than that."

On Boeckman's interception, the Spartans did what they had been doing for most of the afternoon: they blitzed. This time, the Buckeyes did not handle the pressure and Boeckman had to hurry his throw.

Intended for sophomore wide receiver Brian Hartline, Boeckman said the interception was the result of a miscommunication.

"I thought he was going to curl right there but he didn't," he said. "He went inside. That is a call where if that happens he is going to go inside like that. Put that on me right there."

On the fumble, Boeckman was hit as he dropped back to throw what was going to be a screen pass.

"The guys didn't really get a hand on the guys and I took my third step – usually I take five quick ones – and they got to me already," he said. "They should have at least put a little nick on them so I could have a little bit of time and separation to get the ball off."

The situation was a learning experience for the offense, Boeckman said. At the time, his words to his teammates were simple.

"I just told them, ‘Stay poised, stay calm and be smart about it. Don't turn the ball over and hand it to the official just like Coach Tressel always says.' "

However, Boeckman needed a little calming of himself. Sophomore tight end Jake Ballard said he was upset on the sidelines, as were several of his teammates.

"Things aren't going to go our way sometimes and they didn't twice," Ballard said. "It's just unfortunate they were returned for touchdowns. We got frustrated, but we knew just to stay calm and just keep doing what we were doing the whole game before that point."

Boone said he wanted to start yelling at people but decided against it.

As it stands, the Spartans finished with 17 points – 14 scored by their defense. The rash of turnovers (and near-turnovers) left a sour taste in the mouths of the members of the OSU offense. For the game, the Buckeyes outgained the Spartans by a wide margin: 422 to 185. Wells himself finished with 221 yards, 36 more than the entire MSU team.

For those three possessions, Boone said the Buckeyes began playing a different brand of football.

"They were just blitzing a lot and we kind of got confused and started playing some nervous football, which we should never do, ever," he said. Obviously you can't do that as a good football team. Next time we have to go out and just keep going. We kind of relaxed when we were up and that's obviously nature but we can't do that anymore."

Lesson learned, and the Buckeyes are one step closer to a perfect season.

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