COLUMBUS - It was the Wisconsin game in reverse, and it finally got the Buckeyes into forward gear yesterday in Ohio Stadium.
Saving its best for last, instead of first, Ohio State took advantage of five consecutive second-half San Diego State turnovers, turning them into 21 points in a 27-12 triumph.
The opposite occurred the previous week here against Wisconsin. OSU jumped ahead 17-0 in the first half and then got stuck in neutral, the Badgers speeding back to win 20-17.
It was the defense that shifted the momentum in Ohio State's direction yesterday. The offense was inconsistent again, but worthy when the ball was given to it at the San Diego State 18 and 5-yard lines in the third quarter as the result of turnovers.
The Buckeyes scored touchdowns on both occasions and added another turnover-inspired TD early in the fourth quarter on a 51-yard run by freshman tailback Lydell Ross.
So dominating was OSU by then, especially defensively, that backup quarterback Scott McMullen got into the game with 5:51 to play in place of starter Steve Bellisari.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was asked why his team wasn't more aroused after its fourth victory in six games.
“Well, it's a win, so that's good,” he responded. “We had a chance to come back and play after being disappointed with our performance a week ago, so that's good. And I don't think there's any misconception by anyone in our locker room that all of a sudden we're wonderful. So that's pretty good.”
The wonderment was why the Buckeyes weren't any better in the first half. They trailed 12-6 at halftime. That was the same tally until Bellisari scored from the 4-yard line on a broken play to give the Buckeyes the lead for good at 13-12 with 4:35 remaining in the third quarter.
That followed an interception by OSU linebacker Joe Cooper, followed by the interception of a Bellisari pass, followed by a fumble by San Diego quarterback Lon Sheriff on the next play that Fred Pagac recovered at the Aztecs' 18-yard line.
There was a skull session at halftime in the Ohio State dressing room, one that was harsh enough to possibly encourage the players to keep their helmets on.
Among the incensed speakers was defensive tackle Mike Collins, normally a quiet guy, but not at the critical juncture of this makeup game that was originally scheduled for Sept. 15.
“That (the five consecutive turnovers) was key. Obviously we were flat in the first half,” he said. “Everybody was saying, `Hey, if you're going to come out flat in the second half, stay in the locker room. We don't want this. We're not having another Wisconsin half.'
“Going out (to start the game) everyone was sort of, you know, glaze-eyed,” Collins added. “In the second half it was like the start of a new game. The sideline was even flat in the first half. It was dead. It was so quiet, I could hear a pin drop. The second half was like a Northwestern kind of game.''
After OSU freshman Josh Huston, of Findlay, missed a 31-yard field goal, San Diego State's Tom Kirovski made a 29-yarder. Ohio State then put together an 80-yard drive that culminated in a two-yard touchdown run by Ross. Mike Nugent missed the PAT kick and it was 6-3.
Aztecs' tailback Larry Ned scored on a one-yard burst early in the second quarter. The PAT was blocked, but Kirovski booted a 38-yard field goal with just under three minutes remaining in the first half to give San Diego its 12-6 lead at intermission.
After Bellisari scored late in the third quarter to make it 13-12, it became the Ross procession. Ohio State junior cornerback Derek Ross grabbed the first of his two interceptions and returned it to the Aztecs' 5. Tailback Jonathan Wells scored from the one four plays later and it was 20-12.
Ross' second interception in the fourth quarter gave the Buckeyes the ball at their 35. Four plays later, Lydell Ross rambled 51 yards for his second touchdown of the game.
“The way we played in the second half is the way we have to play all the time,” Tressel said. “We've got to get pressure and get turnovers. We didn't get that in the first half and it was an even game.”
Ohio State has to kick the habit of missing field goals if it's going to be good, according to m Tressel.
Red-shirt freshman Josh Huston missed a 31-yard field-goal attempt after the Buckeyes had stalled on their first drive at the San Diego State 15-yard line.
When the Buckeyes scored a touchdown later in the first quarter, en route to a 27-12 triumph, freshman Mike Nugent missed the conversion kick. OSU led 6-3 when it could have been ahead 10-3.
“Right now we're not as good as we have to be if we want to win,” Tressel said in response to a question concerning the Buckeyes' kicking game. “You have to make every kick inside 42 and make your share outside of 42, in my opinion. We're not making every kick inside 42. That's when you're good, when you can do that. And we're not good right now.”
Huston has made just three of eight field-goals attempts. Nugent is 1-of-3. That brings the total to 4-of-11. On PAT conversions, Huston is 9-for-9, Nugent 8-for-10.
Ohio State had an opportunity to kick a field goal with a fourth-and-nine situation at the San Diego State 29-yard line early in the fourth quarter but opted to attempt a pass and failed.
It would have been a 46-yard attempt that could have given Ohio State a 23-12 lead with the wind at its back.
“It seemed like there was a little breeze at that time,” Tressel said. “From a wind standpoint, I thought it was not a good percentage there. I liked the way the defense was playing and wanted to strike it (score a touchdown) and go up by 15 rather than 11.''
ASSESSING QBs: Steve Bellisari completed 15 of 28 passes for 198 yards with one interception. He was sacked four times. He was only 3-of-6 in the second half for 33 yards.
He was replaced by sophomore Scott McMullen with 5:51 left in the game. McMullen missed all three of his pass attempts.
“I thought Steve did a number of good things, but we need to get a lot better at a lot of things very quickly,” Tressel said.