Ohio State slips by Aztecs, stays perfect

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 6, 2003

COLUMBUS -- Defending national champion Ohio State stayed perfect despite an imperfect game.

Will Allen returned a tipped pass 100 yards for a touchdown for one of the few highlights as No. 2 Ohio State barely slipped past 32-point underdog San Diego State 16-13 Saturday.

''We were ready to play. I'm not sure about the national champions,'' Aztecs linebacker Kirk Morrison said. ''I've never been a moral victory guy, but no one expected us to be in the game. Thirty-two point underdogs? I took offense to that.''

Email newsletter signup

The Buckeyes won their 16th game in a row, but were in trouble throughout as quarterback Craig Krenzel had the worst day of his career. Krenzel went 5-of-20 for 76 yards with one interception and three sacks.

''Fortunately we found a way to win,'' Krenzel said. ''Great teams have to win ugly some times.''

The Buckeyes were manhandled up front. San Diego State had twice as many first downs (20-10) and outgained the Buckeyes 216-196. Ohio State converted just 1-of-14 third-down opportunities and added two turnovers.

San Diego State had the Buckeyes on their heels even though they were without their starting quarterback. Adam Hall sprained his ankle in the opener and was replaced by Matt Dlugolecki.

''The fans clapped for us going off the field. That's a first,'' San Diego State coach Tom Craft said. ''(The Buckeyes') experience was the final difference today. We had to come in and face the defending national champions with an inexperienced quarterback. And we didn't quite make it.''

Ohio State's running game, obviously hurt by the absence of suspended tailback Maurice Clarett, was limited to 120 yards on 37 rushes. That was more than offset by the Buckeyes' 124 yards in penalties.

Krenzel was picked off on Ohio State's first play of the game by Jacob Elimimian at the Ohio State 37, with Elimimian returning it 14 yards. Four plays later, Dlugolecki -- who had taken his first collegiate snap last week in a 19-9 win over Division I-AA Eastern Washington -- tossed an 11-yard scoring pass to Wes Williams.

After Mike Nugent kicked a 38-yard field goal on the ensuing possession, the Aztecs (1-1) drove from their own 20 to a first down at the Ohio State 4.

On the next play, Dlugolecki tossed a pass in the right flat for Jeff Webb that cornerback Chris Gamble was able to get a hand on. The ball deflected to Allen, who followed a group of several blockers to go the 100 yards untouched.

''My first thought was, 'I'm gone!''' Allen said. ''I saw all the blockers and I thought, 'I'm going to go 100 yards!' That's probably the first time since I was a little kid that I ran that far in a game.''

Dlugolecki was intercepted by Robert Reynolds on the next series, with Reynolds returning it to the San Diego State 23. The Buckeyes -- who played flawlessly in last week's 28-9 rout of No. 17 Washington -- mustered 8 yards on three plays before settling for Nugent's 32-yard field goal.

The Aztecs were handed a prime opportunity early in the third quarter when Krenzel was sacked by Va'ati Maka and fumbled the ball to Brandon Rager at the Ohio State 26.

The defense stiffened, however, and J.C. Mejia's 47-yard field goal cut the lead to 13-10.

Over the remaining 24 minutes, the Aztecs drove into Ohio State territory three times.

A roughing-the-kicker penalty extended one drive, with the Aztecs moving to a first down at the Buckeyes 34 before being forced to punt.

Mejia added a 46-yard field goal with 10:13 left to match Nugent's 35-yarder on the previous series.

''Our philosophy was to just keep coming at them,'' Craft said. ''We tried to do it on both sides of the ball and really never let up.''

San Diego State's last chance started at its 35 with 4:13 left. On third-and-14, Dlugolecki completed a 23-yard pass to Devin Pitts to the Ohio Sate 46. But the drive ended when four consecutive passes went incomplete.

Dlugolecki completed 23 of 39 passes for 189 yards with two interceptions.

''It's very frustrating when I look back on the game and see my mistakes,'' he said. ''We came in and a chance to win.''

The Aztecs also scared the Buckeyes two years ago at Ohio Stadium, taking a 12-9 halftime lead before Ohio State won 27-12.

''There will be some great lessons from this football game,'' Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. ''The key will be, what do we do with those lessons?''