COLUMBUS - Angry, bewildered, and embarrassed - that's how Ohio State's defense found itself just 11 seconds into yesterday's game against San Diego State.
The Buckeyes got duped by a little screen pass that went 80 yards for a touchdown on the first play, and they trailed the winless Aztecs by six before most of the 104,533 fans settled into their seats at Ohio Stadium.
But No. 9 OSU pitched a dominant shutout the rest of the way, and went on to overwhelm San Diego State 27-6.
"I think everyone was kind of in disbelief after they scored like that," said Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who had two sacks. "We kind of looked at each other and wondered what just happened."
San Diego State quarterback Kevin O'Connell froze the OSU defensive
backs with a fake handoff, then flipped a short pass to the side to Brett Swain. A couple of blocks bounced Swain to the outside, and he was gone down the sideline for a touchdown and a 6-0 lead after a missed extra point.
"It makes you look bad when a team goes 80 yards on the first play," said OSU linebacker A.J. Hawk, who led the team with eight tackles. "But I think it shows the character of the guys on this team to not get down after something like that. I wish we could have it back, but we did play pretty solid defense after that one play."
That is an understatement.
After that 11-second interlude, the Buckeyes subjected San Diego State to six straight series without a first down, allowed the Aztecs just two first downs the rest of the game, and let San Diego State convert just one of 12 third-down situations.
"After the first play, our defense dominated the football game and they created field position for us and made some short fields for the offense," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "That first play went out - and that happens sometimes - but what you do after you're startled a little bit, that talks a lot about who you are. Our defense just decided no more of that, and they shut them down."
San Diego State had just 13 rushing yards on 19 attempts, for an average that computes to a fraction of a yard per try. Throw out the first play, and the Buckeyes allowed just 99 yards of offense to the Aztecs on 40 offensive plays.
Carpenter said the three-and-outs were a product of the defense refusing to recoil after the initial big play it had allowed.
"As a defense, you get to appreciate those three-and-outs where you are back off the field so quickly," Carpenter said, "but it did get kind of boring after a while. We kept shutting them down and giving the ball to our offense, and that kept us in control of the game."
The Buckeyes countered San Diego State's early score in the final minute of the first quarter after a 35-yard punt return by Santonio Holmes and a personal foul penalty set them up at the Aztecs' 20.
Troy Smith ran 14 yards out of the shotgun for the score, and the first of Josh Huston's three extra point kicks put OSU ahead for good at 7-6.
An Ohio State fumble at the Aztecs' 1-yard line early in the second quarter gave the OSU defense another opportunity to slam the door and force a punt that would give the Buckeyes excellent field position.
Smith completed a 32-yard drive with a one-yard run that put the Buckeyes up 14-6.
"The defense set us up all day," Smith said. "The field position they were giving us was great, and we had a lot of good situations to operate in. I think maybe that first play made them mad, and they took it out on San Diego State."
The Buckeyes got a 25-yard field goal from Huston to open a 17-6 lead early in the third quarter, and when OSU stuck the Aztecs deep in their own end a couple of series later, linebacker Anthony Schlegel disrupted a pitch play, forced a fumble, and recovered the ball at the 1.
Brandon Schnittker powered in on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 24-7, and Huston added a 39-yard field goal with just under six minutes left in the game.
"I think we put the pressure on them on every snap, after that first play," Schlegel said. "Guys have too much pride to just brush off that touchdown. We shut them out the rest of the way, and pretty much shut them down."
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