Ohio State got all it wanted Saturday from perennial giant-killer Toledo before escaping with a 27-22 victory before 105,016 fans in Ohio Stadium.
The Rockets, who own at least one win over a BCS conference team in each of the last five seasons, came closer to knocking off the Buckeyes than any other Mid-American Conference member since Ohio State began playing MAC opponents with regularity in 1992.
Toledo enjoyed a 22-21 advantage through much of the third quarter, and drove deep into OSU territory in the final minute of the game. But on fourth-and-5 at the 16 with 0:52 showing on the stadium clock, Ohio State defensive lineman John Simon pressured Toledo quarterback Terrance Owens into rushing his pass attempt and the Buckeyes dodged the bullet.
That the bullet had to be dodged at all was due to a fumble by OSU running back Rod Smith – his second fumble in as many games – at the 3:08 mark as the Buckeyes appeared to be on their way toward salting away the win. The Rockets took over at their own 28 and Owens engineered a drive that included converting a fourth-and-22.
“We knew this was going to be a challenge and we liked how the guys kept battling, kept their chins up,” OSU head coach Luke Fickell told reporters after the game. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’re not looking for pity. Adversity is going to happen whether that’s off the field or on the field. All this adversity, all these things that have happened, it can only make you stronger if you handle it the right way.”
After the late Friday afternoon announcement that three players suspended for last week’s opener against Akron – tailback Jordan Hall, cornerback Travis Howard and defensive back Corey Brown – would remain suspended for the Toledo game, Fickell and the Buckeyes were likely looking for a little less adversity on the field.
Nevertheless, the upset-minded Rockets outgained Ohio State by a 338-301 margin largely on its two-pronged passing attack that alternated Owens at quarterback with teammate Austin Dantin. Owens completed 7 of 16 attempts for 137 yards and a touchdown while Dantin was 14 for 26 for 155 yards and a score. Owens threw the game’s only interception.
Junior receiver Eric Page was a constant thorn in the Buckeyes’ sides as he caught 12 balls during the game for 145 yards and both TDs. Senior tailback Adonis Thomas added six catches for 111 yards.
The Buckeyes got 189 yards and a touchdown through the air from senior quarterback Joe Bauserman, who completed 16 of 30 attempts.
Ohio State’s leading receivers were junior tight end Jake Stoneburner and redshirt freshman tailback Carlos Hyde, who each had four catches. Stoneburner finished with 43 yards and a touchdown while Hyde totaled 28 receiving yards. True freshman Devin Smith added a pair of catches for 67 yards.
Neither team featured much of a running attack. OSU totaled 112 yards on the ground, led by Hyde who carried 20 times for 76 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas was the Rockets’ leading rusher with 47 of his team’s 53 net rushing yards on 17 attempts. He also ran for a touchdown.
There was little indication the game would play out as it did after the Buckeyes took the opening kickoff and marched 67 yards in seven plays. Stoneburner finished things off with a one-handed, 26-yard touchdown catch from Bauserman at the 11:45 mark of the first quarter. OSU kicker Drew Basil added the extra point and the Buckeyes were seemingly off and running with a 7-0 lead.
But Toledo came back at the 7:06 mark after UT’s Kishon Wilcher smothered a Ben Buchanan punt that was recovered and returned to the Ohio State 1 by T.J. Fatinikun. The Rockets were whistled for a false start to start the possession, but on the next play Page gathered in a 6-yard TD pass from Dantin. Page then flipped a two-point conversion pass to junior tight end Hank Keighley to give the Rockets an 8-7 advantage.
Page struck again later in the opening period when he grabbed a short pass from Owens and streaked down the near sideline for a 66-yard touchdown scamper. Toledo kicker Ryan Casano added the PAT, and the visitors had the full attention of the Buckeyes with a 15-7 lead at the 2:18 mark.
OSU fought back for a halftime lead on a pair of second-quarter scores. Hyde broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and turned a slant run into a 36-yard touchdown bolt with 8:02 remaining, and then redshirt freshman Chris Fields electrified the crowd with a 69-yard punt return with only 46 seconds left until halftime.
Basil tacked on the PATs after both scores and the Buckeyes went into the locker room with a 21-15 lead.
Toledo would simply not go away, though. Thomas capped a five-play, 60-yard drive with a 4-yard run at the 12:56 mark of the third quarter. Casano added the extra point for a 22-21 lead.
Ohio State responded later in the third period, thanks in part to a botched snap on a 50-yard field goal attempt by Toledo. That gave the Buckeyes the ball at their own 45 and Bauserman directed a seven-play drive that included a 36-yard strike to Devin Smith. Hyde finished things off with a 3-yard bolt up the middle for the touchdown, but Bauserman couldn’t connect on the two-point conversion try to leave the score at 27-22 with 3:17 left in the third quarter.
Toledo refused to quit, however. The Rockets moved into Ohio State territory with six minutes remaining in the game, but Simon sacked Dantin on a third-down play and Toledo was forced the punt the ball away with 5:45 remaining.
What should have been the dagger came less than two minutes later when Bauserman connected with Devin Smith again for 31 yards to give the Buckeyes a first down at the Toledo 33. But Rod Smith fumbled after a 5-yard gain, giving the Rockets one last chance at a comeback that ultimately fell short.
Defensively, Ohio State was led by safety Orhian Johnson, who made a career-high nine tackles. Junior linebacker Etienne Sabino also established career-bests with eight overall stops and three tackles for loss. Sabino also had a sack, one of four the Buckeyes had on the day. Defensive linemen Johnathan Hankins, Garrett Goebel and Simon had the others.
Cornerback Taikwon Paige and linebacker Robert Bell led Toledo with seven tackles each. Paige also broke up three passes and was credited with forcing Rod Smith’s fumble.
Ohio State (2-0) takes to the road for the first time next week to visit Miami (Fla.). The Hurricanes (0-1) were idle this week after a 32-24 loss Sept. 5 to Maryland. Kickoff next Saturday is set for 7:30 p.m. Eastern.