The Jim Tressel era will be remembered for a lot of things, but one that tends to get lost in the sauce was the occasional down-to-the-wire nail biter with an in-state/MAC team (Cincy-’02, BG-’03, Marshall-’04). The formula was dusted off for an encore and the #15th-ranked OSU gridders were fortunate to get out of “Dodge” with a 27-22 win over the Rockets, setting the stage for a prime-time tangle in South Florida next weekend.
dozen on an opening-play reverse, and then plucking a Joe Bauserman pass for another 13. “Philly” Brown grabbed an 11-yard aerial, and one play later Jake Stoneburner flat ran by/through safety Jermaine Robinson and made a one-handed, 26-yard scoring catch, his fourth in 4+ quarters of 2011 action. OK, it wasn’t like Evan Spencer’s gem last week, but this one ended up in the house for a quick 7-0 lead.
Toledo served notice on its opening drive that the Buckeye defense would have to expand a lot more effort than a week ago. Quarterback Austin Dantin hooked up with his money man, junior wideout Eric Page, three times on the opening march as the visitors worked their way to the Buckeye 28. On 3rd-and-5 from there, Andrew Sweat stayed stride-for-stride with Page on an underneath route and broke the play up. Ryan Casano was called on for a 45-yard field goal, but it stayed right and Luke Fickell’s troops remained, for the time being, unscored upon.
That status required updating one 3-and-out later. Kishon Wilcher blew in untouched and stretched out to block Ben Buchanan’s punt. Morgan Williams tried to pull off the scoop-and-score but Adam Homan drove him out at the 1. A false start penalty proved to be a momentary hiccup, as Eric Page caught a short pass coming across, curled around the official and dove over for not only the first points against the Ohio State defense this season, but the first-ever Rocket points against the Buckeyes. Page stayed in on the conversion attempt and took a shotgun snap. Forced to his right, he found backup defensive end Hank Keighley sitting in the endzone and pegged him for the deuce. The Bucks fell behind 8-7- their first deficit since the fourth quarter of last year’s Iowa thriller. Or since the Wisconsin fiasco for those of you buying into the “vacated wins” business.
Verlon Reed took a couple for the team on the next series. Reed got horse-collared on a 10-yard catch, which gave his team a gift 15. Then, when it appeared Rocket LB Charles Rancifer had stymied the drive with an 11-yard sack of Bauserman, Reed’s facemask had been yanked away from the ball and OSU got a fresh set of downs. Toledo’s “D” stiffened and Drew Basil’s miseries continued as he hooked a 47-yard field goal attempt.
The guests didn’t waste time taking advantage. Two plays later, Eric Page caught a short pass from new QB Terrance Owens. Splitting two defenders, Page got in, and won, a footrace with C.J. Barnett down the west sideline. It’s not often an OSU defensive back doesn’t have the closing speed to stop a play, but Page owns the wheels and his team was now the owner of a 15-7 lead in a stunned Ohio Stadium.
The temperature was nowhere near a week ago, but the home team was feeling the heat. Jamaal Berry bobbled the ensuing kickoff, but managed to corral it and work out to the OSU 30. But the less-than-stellar drive fizzled as Bauserman tried to hold up on a pass attempt and the football slipped from his grasp. The game had all the feel of the wheels coming off the wagon, but the defense responded. Toledo went to the trick bag on first down, breaking out the old “double pass”, but the Bucks sniffed it out and dropped Eric Page for a four-yard loss. Bradley Roby broke up a third-down toss and Toledo was forced to punt.
Ohio State managed to carve out a couple of first downs, but the drive would be low-lighted by Corey “Philly” Brown being carted off the field after having his leg and ankle rolled up on from behind by a defender. Ben Buchanan pinned the Rockets back at their own 5, and Austin Dantin couldn’t engineer anything. In an eerie foreshadowing, Toledo was hit with a procedure call on the punt- a 49-effort from Vince Penza. And just like clockwork, when OSU took the flag, Penza’s second try was nowhere near as good. The Buckeyes set up shop at the Rocket 42 and cashed in three plays later. Carlos Hyde took the handoff out of a split-back set heading left. Guard Jack Mewhort got a block just in the nick of time to spring Hyde as he set sail down the east sideline. Picking up a great downfield block from Chris Fields, Hyde cruised untouched to complete the 36-yard play, and with the PAT, the gap was closed to 15-14.
Eric Page continued to show why he was such a lethal kick returner, breaking off a 42-yard return to give his team decent field position at their own 44. But Jonathan “Big Hank” Hankins stalled the march with a sack on third down. The teams traded punts and after Toledo had gained one first down on a screen to Adonis Thomas, QB Terrance Owens fired one right into the breadbasket of Storm Klein, who returned it to the OSU 45. Verlon Reed drew an interference call to lift off what looked to be a promising march, but Joe Bauserman’s touch went south on him. After missing a wide-open Devin Smith on the post, Bauserman couldn’t connect with Jake Stoneburner on 4th-and-4.
Dantin’s nine-yard scramble set Toledo up with an enviable 2nd-and-1, but Page lost 3 on a lateral and after a false start, Garrett Goebel motored in for a 7-yard sack. Penza got off a 55-yard bomb, setting the Buckeyes up seemingly at their 17, but once again Toledo was nailed for an illegal formation. The Buckeye brain trusts ordered up a re-kick, and this time Penza and Co. would pay dearly.
Chris Fields fielded an ideal low boot at his 31 and after taking a couple steps to the right, cut back left. One Rocket dove and was left grasping air at the 40. Three white-shirted cover men closed in, but one lost his balance and took the other two out. One defender was left and Ryan Shazier had a nice running start and absolutely blasted the poor dude. Fields jetted easily to paydirt, a picture 69-yard play equaling the distance of Ohio State’s last punt-return TD by Ray Small against Ohio U. in 2008. With the point after, the Bucks regained the lead and would take the 21-15 advantage in at the break.
Drew Basil tried to squib the second-half kickoff to keep it away from Eric Page, but it ended up in his hands anyway and Page worked his way out to the Toledo 40. Austin Dantin swung a quick pass in the right flat to Adonis Thomas on first down. Storm Klein overran the play, and Orhian Johnson flat looked lost. Thomas showed a nice burst and by the time C.J. Barnett could yank him out of bounds by his facemask, the Rockets had a 44-yard play with 5 tacked on for the mask infraction once a sideline penalty on Toledo was factored in. It seemed like the alarm finally went off for the sleepwalking defense, and they got tough, bringing up a 4th-and-1 at their 4. Thomas took the snap out of the “wildcat” and not only popped through the middle for the first down, but met no resistance until he’d plowed into the endzone. Ryan Casano’s PAT was true and the Rockets went back up by a point, 22-21.
Jamaal Berry grabbed the ensuing kick 3 yards deep in the endzone but brought it out anyway and only made it to the 17. Carlos Hyde, who had rang up 74 solid first-half yards, revved it up again with a gain of 8 on first down. But his next two totes produced only one yard and the Buckeyes had to give it up. To add to the natives’ restlessness, defensive tackle John Simon was carted off, and then Toledo came back with another first down swing pass to Adonis Thomas who broke free for 21. With the “D” on its heels, Andrew Sweat came up big, making a diving stop on David Fluellen for a loss of two. But Toledo got 11 of the 12 back as Dantin and Thomas continued to work the east-west passing game. Rocket coach Tim Beckman went for it again on 4th-and-1 and Thomas worked the “wildcat” for 7 through the middle. Following an incompletion, Eric Page picked up 6 on a short toss to the OSU 25, but that would be as far as the march would go. A holding call pushed the pigskin back to the Buckeye 35, then holder Bill Claus became “Santa” Claus and bobbled the snap on a field goal attempt. Claus tried to run but got overhauled by Dominic Clarke and Bradley Roby.
The defense and special teams had risen to the occasion, and it was time for the offense to do likewise. Carlos Hyde initiated the next series with an 8-yard catch, and two plays later Joe Bauserman found Devin Smith roaming lonesome in the secondary and the two combined on a 36-yard strike to the Rocket 7. The visitors held on 3rd-and-goal from the 5, but again a critical penalty did them in. A holding call gave Ohio State a fresh set of downs from the 2, and Hyde walked in practically untouched on first down for his second score of the day, lifting the Buckeyes back into the lead at 27-22 after a 2-point try failed.
The way the flow of the game had been going, it certainly didn’t seem as if the offenses were done scoring. But little did anyone know that the scoreboard operator was done for the day and that the drama was only beginning.
As the fourth quarter opened, the Buckeyes were forced to punt and Ben Buchanan dropped a beaut at the 2-yard line. Toledo couldn’t get anything going, and then Joe Bauserman found the going even rougher. A couple of deep balls fell harmlessly to the turf, and the “boo birds” voiced their displeasure. Buchanan’s mojo continued as he got his next punt down at the Toledo 8. The Rockets managed to ring up a pair of first downs to get out to their own 35, but on third down John Simon, whose return to the game was a most welcome sight, looped in and grabbed Austin Dantin for a -3 yard sack. The Buckeye offense took over, and at this point all thoughts of point spreads and polls were by the wayside- it was time to simply kill the clock.
Carlos Hyde picked up 9 yards on two trips, and Bauserman barreled ahead on a sneak for the first down. Hyde got nothing on first down and Toledo burned a timeout to conserve some clock. It looked like it might be a moot issue one snap later as Bauserman spotted Devin Smith once more running free in the secondary. Joe threw one of his best passes of the day, pegging Smith at the west sideline for a huge 31-yard pickup to the Rocket 33. Buckeye Nation was breathing a bit easier but the worm suddenly turned.
Rod Smith found a crack over the right side and muscled his way for five yards, but Taikwon Paige ripped the ball out and defensive tackle Johnathan Lamb pounced on it. The Rockets were 72 yards and just over 3 minutes from a huge upset and Ohio Stadium was suddenly very quiet.
Terrance Owens, the stronger-armed of the Toledo quarterback duo, entered the fray and immediately aired one deep to Bernard Reedy who had gotten behind coverage. Dominic Clarke, making his case to stay in the lineup pending Travis Howard’s return, put on a nice burst of closing speed and perfectly timed a PBU, even trying to swat the ball to a trailing Christian Bryant. Just as that bullet whizzed by the Buckeye defense, here came another round on second down. Adonis Thomas took a screen pass and had a convoy of white shirts along the Toledo sideline. Thomas was snaking his way to daylight when Etienne Sabino managed to pull him down by the ankles. Two plays, two close calls and the vast majority of the Horseshoe throng were sweating.
The “D” stiffened and forced a 3rd-and-long. Sabino roared into the backfield and Owens had no choice but to throw it away and take a grounding flag. But to Toledo’s credit, they stood tall on 4th-and-14. Lining up three receivers to the right, Owens got good protection and waited for the inside receiver of that trio, Eric Page, to work his way under the others. Christian Bryant got caught up in all the traffic and was late coming over. Page snared the throw for a 19-yard gain into OSU territory, silencing the crowd. Once again facing third down moments later, Owens had John Simon bearing down on him but managed to yet again find Page crossing for 11. The clock was down to 1:10 and the Rockets were in tall cotton at the Ohio State 21. Owens misfired on his next two throws, and then on 3rd down Thomas was held to 5 as Toledo tried to cross OSU up with a draw.
Toledo burned a timeout, and on fourth down Owens had Kenny Stafford open on a crossing route but John Simon had barreled over and through guard Greg Mancz. Owens had to heave it earlier than he wanted and the ball fell to the turf.
The Rockets will have to regroup quickly as they not only have a Friday night tilt on the horizon, but it will be at home against #4 Boise State. The Buckeyes will head to South Beach to tee it up with the Hurricanes, but only after they help Buckeye 50’s own Gregg Watson celebrate 26 years of marital bliss with his lovely wife Deanna.
RANDOM THOUGHTS - As announced earlier this week, the Buckeyes’ next home tilt with Colorado on Sept. 24th will be a 3:30 kick. Those of you in the Central Ohio area can catch the game on ABC (WSYX-TV in Columbus), while the rest of the nation can see it on ESPN 2 … Of the 414 yards of offense that Ohio State rang up on Miami in Columbus last year, only 8 of those yards came from someone who will play in this game- Jake Stoneburner … Last week, the Columbus Dispatch had a poignant article about backup DB Nate Ebner, who served as a captain for the Toledo game. His back story is worth a read - Link