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Published: Sunday, 10/21/2007

Buckeyes build big lead with big plays

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

COLUMBUS - Forget all that blabber you've heard about Ohio State being ultraconservative and never flamboyant. Jettison those reports that the Buckeyes are not explosive, and that they keep their

offensive approach very reserved and close to that gray sleeveless sweater vest worn by their often stoic coach, Jim Tressel.

There's some bang in those Bucks, too, and yesterday they needed it.

The No. 1 ranked Buckeyes used bursts and bombs in a concoction of big plays to overwhelm Michigan State early in a 24-17 Big Ten win, and those long gainers provided the cushion Ohio State would need to weather a couple of second-half turnovers that let this one get a lot closer than it otherwise might have been.

"We're not trying to impress anyone, and maybe we don't have the reputation as a big-play offense, but I think we've showed that we can hit our opponents a lot of different ways," Ohio State fullback Dionte Johnson said. "Our big plays got us out of some crunch-time situations today, and allowed us to get the lead that we needed."

Tailback Chris "Beenie" Wells carried the ball 31 times and rushed for a career-high 221 yards, averaging more than seven yards per carry, while quarterback Todd Boeckman completed 15-of-23 passes for 193 yards and two more scores for Ohio State.

The Buckeyes ran 70 offensive plays, and 13 of those went for 10 or more yards, highlighted by a 50-yard touchdown pass from Boeckman to Brian Ro-

biskie midway through the third quarter that made it 24-0, and a 47-yard run by Wells that got the Buckeyes out of a deep hole on their first scoring drive.

"I think that's what showed that we can be a great team - you have to be able to make those plays when your back is to the wall," Johnson said.

They had to make them when things got dicey, too, and for the Buckeyes, the two-time defending champions of the Big Ten, the real test came after they built that 24-point lead.

Boeckman was intercepted by Otis Wiley near midfield, and Wiley returned it 54 yards for the Spartans' first score. Boeckman fumbled when he got hit on the next Ohio State possession, and Michigan State's SirDarean

Adams picked up the ball and ran 25 yards for another touchdown, which made it 24-14 near the end of the third quarter.

"We obviously didn't finish the way we wanted to," Ohio State offensive tackle Kirk Barton said about the third-quarter lapses. "We're outclassing a team and then we give up two touchdowns on stupid things. We can't do that."

When Wells lost the ball on the next play after the Spartans' second defensive touchdown, Ohio State skirted a repeat disaster as the sophomore from Akron collected his own fumble.

"That's not a good feeling, when that happens," Tressel said. "You have to gather yourself and get going back in the right direction."

The Buckeyes did that as their dominant defense held a suddenly energized Michigan State in check. The Spartans came into the game leading the Big Ten with 467 yards per game, but Ohio State's defense held them to just 185 total yards.

"Our defense was lights-out, like they have been all year," Barton said.

That Ohio State defense regained the momentum with a stop to open the fourth quarter, and after the Spartans got a 43-yard field goal from Brett Swenson with 3:42 left in the game to cut the lead to seven, Wells just took over.

He carried seven consecutive times as the Buckeyes devoured the clock with a drive that started at their 16 and ended on Michigan State's side of the field as time ran out.

"We feel like Beanie can be the guy that totes it in moments like those last couple of drives, and when our backs were against the wall," Tressel said.

Ohio State, which has won a school record 26 straight regular season games, started the game in a deep hole by taking penalties on the first two plays and digging in at its 7-yard line. On second down from there, Wells slipped outside and streaked down the sideline for a 47-yard gain. Boeckman hooked up with Brian Hartline for 18 yards, and then again for 10 more, before throwing a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jake Ballard.

Ballard made an awkward airborne catch, then gained his balance to leap into the end zone. With the first of three extra point kicks by Ryan Pretorius, the Buckeyes led 7-0.

On the Buckeyes' next possession they were stuck at their 1 by a punt, but Robiskie curled around and got behind the Spartans' defense, and Boeckman found him for a 42-yard gain.

Wells then cracked the left side of the line, cut all the way back to the right side of the field, and angled his way on a 35-yard run.

The drive ended with a 42-yard field goal from Pretorius and a 10-0 Ohio State lead with just under four minutes left in the first quarter.

The Buckeyes made it 17-0

after a pass interception by Doug Worthington set them up at the MSU 29. Wells pounded in from five yards out for the score.

OSU stretched the margin to 24-0 after the half when Wells broke a draw play for 27 yards, and then Boeckman hit Robiskie with the 50-yard scoring pass.

"The greatest thing about this game was that, when things started going their way, no one had their head down," Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "Everyone just goes out there and wants to pick up their brother. It was a good, tough win."

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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