COLUMBUS - If you need someone to cut through all the New Age philosophical yarns, skip the feel-good spin and refuse to engage in any kind of performance- enhancement lingo, then Brian Hartline is probably your guy.
After No. 3 Ohio State stumbled and fumbled and just dumbled its way through a 26-14 win over Ohio University yesterday, the junior wide receiver for the Buckeyes wanted nothing to do with putting the afternoon's developments in the best possible light.
Hartline chose to spread out the cold, harsh facts and then expose them with a flood lamp.
"Our performance was pathetic - OU should have won the game," Hartline said after the Buckeyes had to score two fourth-quarter touchdowns to finally overtake and then put away the Bobcats (0-2).
"It was a frustrating game and we could never get in any kind of rhythm. I don't see a top-five team going through that - we have to set the bar a lot higher than that."
Ohio State, poised to travel to Los Angeles later this week to take on top-ranked Southern California, looked out of synch, out of sorts and at times nearly out of ammo with star running back and Heisman Trophy candidate Chris "Beanie" Wells on the sideline in sweats, recovering from an injury to his toe suffered in the first game of the season.
"There's no excuses, that was just not good football," Hartline said. "If we're trying to be a good football team, that's not close at all."
Ohio State (2-0) had produced just two field goals and trailed the Bobcats 14-6 with less than three minutes left in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes fumbled the ball away in their end zone, missed a field goal and an extra point, and converted just five of 15 third-down plays.
"Maybe this is humbling, but I'm sick of being humbled," Hartline said.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel essentially admitted his team suffered a significant letdown, as the showdown with USC loomed ahead.
"I guess the way that I would take a nutshell look at it would be, it kind of looked like everyone predicted you might look in between your opener and your big "national stage" game, which is disappointing," Tressel said. "The good news is that we're 2-0 and it's September and, hopefully, we can get a lot better."
Before the Buckeyes could finally exhale and put this game behind them, they looked to their defense numerous times to go out and save the day. End Lawrence Wilson batted an Ohio pass into the air, intercepted the ball and returned it 24 yards to the Bobcats 24. From there Ohio State got a 27-yard field goal from Ryan Pretorius and a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Ohio lost starting quarterback Theo Scott to a shoulder injury but still drove down the field and took a 7-3 lead in the second quarter. Pretorius hit from 38 yards to make it 7-6, but then missed from 53 yards after one of the Bobcats' three sacks cost the Buckeyes field position, and Ohio went into halftime leading mighty Ohio State.
Early in the second half, Ohio pinned the Buckeyes inside the 10 with a punt, and on third down the shotgun snap sailed over Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman's shoulder and into the end zone. Boeckman scooped up the ball but got hit twice and lost it, with Ohio's Curtis Meyers recovering for the touchdown and a 14-6 lead.
"I thought I had it, thought I had the ball tucked against my stomach," Boeckman said.
After Ohio took that eight-point lead, the Buckeyes drove the length of the field and scored on a one-yard run by redshirt freshman Dan "Boom" Herron. Pretorius missed the point, leaving Ohio State down 14-12.
The Bobcats fumbled away a punt return a short time later, and Shaun Lane recovered at the OU 35. After a 12-yard completion to sophomore Dane Sanzenbacher on third down kept the drive moving, Brandon Saine opened the final quarter by punching the ball in from two yards for a 19-14 Ohio State lead, following the extra point.
Ray Small closed the door on the Bobcats with about six minutes left in the game by taking a punt back 69 yards for a touchdown.
"I think we felt a little better after we got the lead, but Ray's punt return was really what sealed it," Sanzenbacher said. "They definitely came out hard and weren't intimidated by anything."
Contact Matt Markey
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