COLUMBUS - Ohio State went for the throat last week and lost at Wisconsin.
Yesterday, the eighth-ranked Buckeyes went for the jugular and beat No. 9 Iowa 19-10 at home on the strength of two special teams touchdowns.
Michael Jenkins returned a punt 54 yards for a touchdown and Donte Whitner recovered a blocked punt in the end zone as the Buckeyes improved to 6-0 at Ohio Stadium this season.
“The difference in the football game, quite obviously, was the special team plays that our guys made,” OSU coach Jim Tressel said.
Ohio State's beleaguered running game was virtually non-existent once again, so the Buckeyes (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) had little choice but to steal a page from Iowa's special team's playbook.
Jenkins' punt return was his first of the season and just the second of his career. He slipped Marcus Schnoor's tackle after fielding David Bradley's line-drive punt at the Ohio State 46, then used a block from normal return man Chris Gamble as a springboard to the end zone at 9:22 of the opening quarter.
Jenkins' punt return was the first for a touchdown by an Ohio State player since Nate Clements went 83 yards against Purdue on Oct. 28, 2000.
“I really didn't even know the return call, if there was blocking or whatnot,” Jenkins said. “I just caught the ball and saw two breaks to my left and right, got some great blocks and got down to the end zone.”
With Ohio State clinging to a 10-3 lead in the third quarter, Roy Hall shot through the line untouched and blocked Bradley's punt at the 1. The ball trickled into the end zone, where Donte Whitner fell on it for a touchdown at 7:54.
Ohio State's other points came on Mike Nugent's career-long 53-yard field goal in the first quarter - it was the second-longest in the history of the Horseshoe - and on a fourth-quarter safety.
Punter B.J. Sander, who replaced All-American Andy Groom, averaged 44.8 yards on eight punts as Ohio State dominated the field position in a game that featured no offensive touchdowns for either team.
“We always say the punt is the most important play in football and it worked twice for us today,” quarterback Craig Krenzel said. “Mike made a great play [on the return]. And then we blocked a punt for a touchdown. Any time you get quick points like that, it helps out.”
The Buckeyes, who are relying on their defense to carry them, just like last season, managed only 56 rushing yards on 42 carries against the Hawkeyes (5-2, 1-2), for a measly 1.3 average.
No Ohio State tailback touch the ball until more than three minutes into the second quarter, when safety-turned-running back Ira Guilford was stopped for no gain. Krenzel, who completed just 11 of 22 passes for 129 yards while being sacked four times, was OSU's leading rusher with 20 yards on 14 carries. Guilford was the leading rusher among running backs with 18 yards on eight carries.
The Buckeyes, who rank 109th among 117 Division I-A teams in total offense, finished with just 185 net yards yesterday, a week after having their 19-game winning streak snapped by Wisconsin. Iowa had 219 yards total offense, including 66 on the ground.
“I think we saw two of the better defenses in the country out there today,” Tressel said. “Our defensive front, I thought, did an extraordinary job of controlling the tempo of the football game.”
The Buckeyes, who are riding a 14-game home winning streak, have won two games this season in which they didn't score an offensive touchdown. In a 16-13 victory over San Diego State on Sept. 6, Will Allen returned an interception 100 yards for a score and Nugent kicked three field goals.
“Well, it's better than losing two games without scoring an offensive touchdown,” Tressel said. “But it's not OK that we're not where we'd like to be offensively. We had a chance to go out there today and work to get better against a very, very good defense. I think we did work to get a little better, but not enough to be touted as anything out of this world.”
Iowa managed only two scores against the Buckeyes - a 36-yard field goal by Nate Kaeding in the first quarter and a five-yard touchdown run by Kaeding on a fake field goal attempt in the fourth quarter.
“It was special to win this game after last weekend,” defensive tackle Tim Anderson said.
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