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Published: Sunday, 10/31/2004

Many happy returns for Buckeyes

By DAVE HACKENBERG

BLADE SPORTS WRITER

OSU generated just 202 yards of total offense, but 251 yards in returns during a 21-10 victory over Penn State at Ohio Stadium.

There was a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown by freshman Ted Ginn Jr.

There was a 24-yard interception return for a TD by strong safety Tyler Everett.

Those scores made it 14-0 before the Ohio State offense had managed a first down.

But the Buckeyes weren't done.

After Penn State's only touchdown drive of the game, a 41-yard push following a fumble recovery, had sliced the Lions' deficit to 14-7, Maurice Hall returned the ensuing kickoff 62 yards to set up OSU's only offensive score.

Yes, it was many happy returns for the Buckeyes on an unseasonably warm but wind-whipped day in the Horseshoe.

The OSU performance did not surprise - but did disappoint - Penn State coach Joe Paterno, whose team dipped to 2-6 overall and 0-5 in the Big Ten.

"We worked like dogs all week on the kicking game," he said. "They scared us. And we just kept finding ways to kill ourselves."

Ohio State safety Tyler Everett returns an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter. Ohio State safety Tyler Everett returns an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter.
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The Buckeyes led 21-7 at halftime despite its offense being on the field for just 18 plays. At that point, Penn State had a 123-54 edge in yardage and a 13-4 lead in first downs.

But defense and speed on special teams was more than an equalizer for Ohio State (5-3, 2-3 Big Ten).

The Nittany Lions put together a nice opening drive, moving from their own 24 to the Ohio State 31 before Michael Robinson, a quarterback turned flanker turned quarterback in place of the injured Zack Mills, made a sideline heave that was intercepted by Ashton Youboty and returned 35 yards.

Penn State's next drive ended in the punt that Ginn returned untouched for the score that made it 7-0.

"On [the offense's] only time on the field before that, I dropped a slant pass that might have gone all the way," Ginn said. "I wanted to do something to make up for that. I have a lot of confidence that I can out-run people, and on that punt I was able to hit a hole and burst."

The Buckeyes continue to thrive in their two-back punt return formation with Ginn and Santonio Holmes.

"They've given us energy and electricity all year," coach Jim Tressel said. "Whoever gets the ball, it's usually the other guy who gets the big block."

Sure enough, Holmes made the block that turned Ginn loose.

A kickoff and four plays later, Everett didn't need any help. He saw Penn State's Robinson locked onto a receiver running out of the slot, stepped in front of him at the perfect time and made an easy pick for an easy score.

Hall's long kickoff return with six minutes left in the first half put the Buckeyes in command at the Nittany Lion 35-yard line. Quarterback Troy Smith hit Ginn for a key third-down conversion and had an 11-yard scramble to set up a four-yard scoring run by fullback Branden Joe that made it 21-7.

Facing a sad-sack Penn State offense that had scored just two touchdowns in four previous conference games, Tressel and the Buckeyes pretty much shut it down from there and let the defense, which played over two lost OSU fumbles, finish up.

Ohio State allowed the Lions a 13-play drive in the second half, but Paterno opted to settle for a field goal facing a fourth-and-goal at the OSU 3.

Robinson threw for just 69 yards, but he and Tony Hunt accounted for 90 and 87 rushing yards, respectively, as the Lions netted 177 yards on the ground.

"We were playing a lot of zone in an attempt to stop certain things, and the quarterback scramble with a lot of misdirection can hurt you in a zone," said OSU linebacker Anthony Schlegel, who had a team-best seven solo tackles. "We missed some tackles, which is unacceptable. But I think we're improving. We attacked a lot more today. We're trying to get some swagger back."

The Buckeyes have won two straight after opening Big Ten play with a three-game losing streak. But after polishing off Indiana and Penn State on consecutive Saturdays at home, OSU faces back-to-back road tests against Michigan State and Purdue.

Tressel said it was very likely that Smith, who attempted just eight passes and completed six of them for 59 yards while adding 26 yards on 12 rushes, would remain the choice ahead of Justin Zwick at quarterback.

"If I could erase the fumble that Troy had [on a blind-side sack] that set up Penn State's one touchdown, then I'd say he had a real solid day," Tressel said. "He made good decisions on his running plays and was in command.

"I think we've all progressed the last couple weeks, but we're not going to be able to become the top team we want to be if we keep turning it over."

Contact Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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