COLUMBUS, Ohio – Santonio Holmes’ punt returns set up Troy Smith’s two first-half touchdown runs to help No. 9 Ohio State shake off its Texas hangover with a 27-6 win over San Diego State on Saturday.

The Buckeyes (2-1), who lost 25-22 to No. 2 Texas last week before a record home crowd, took a while to find their bearings – trailing 6-0 just 11 seconds into the game. They moved in fits and starts on offense throughout the entire game.

But spurred on by a relentless defense and mistakes by the Aztecs (0-3) they were never seriously challenged.

San Diego State’s offense never advanced past the Ohio State 46 after the game’s opening play and finished with just three first downs – the fewest in school history.

On the last play of the third quarter, the Aztecs muffed an option pitch on first down at their own 1. Anthony Schlegel’s recovery set up Brandon Schnittker’s TD dive on the next play for a 24-6 lead.

San Diego State shocked the Buckeyes on the first play from scrimmage when Kevin O’Connell tossed a quick sideline pass to Brett Swain, who turned the corner at right end behind a block by Robert Ortiz and raced untouched for the 80-yard touchdown.

A crowd of 104,533 was silenced.

Ohio State’s offense floundered on its first two possessions, each of which resulted in punts. But special teams picked up the slack.

Holmes returned a punt 35 yards and a late hit gave the Buckeyes a first down at the Aztecs 20. Three plays later, Smith burst through a truck-sized hole at right tackle for a 14-yard TD. Josh Huston’s kick gave the Buckeyes a 7-6 lead.

Ohio State then drove from its own 24 to a first down at the San Diego State 1, but Schnittker fumbled at the goal line with the Aztecs Donny Baker recovering.

The Aztecs, who had given the Buckeyes good games twice in the last four years, failed to get a first down for the third possession in a row and punted to Holmes again, his 13-yard return putting Ohio State in business at the Aztecs 32.

Smith carried on four of the seven plays leading to his 1-yard keeper for the score and a 14-6 lead at the half.

After the second-half kickoff, Huston’s 25-yard field goal capped an Ohio State drive which died at the 7.

Ted Ginn Jr.’s 26-yard punt return helped the Buckeyes maintain field position late in the third quarter. That possession ended in a punt but a holding call on the return pinned the Aztecs on their own 1. On first down, O’Connell’s option pitch to the right was behind Lynell Hamilton and Schlegel pounced on it to set up the easy touchdown by Schnittker.

San Diego State totaled 417 yards in a 41-29 loss to Air Force last week and 402 yards the week before while falling 44-21 to UCLA. But the Aztecs, after getting 80 yards on their first play, mustered just 99 on the next 40 plays.

Smith, making his first start since running for 145 and passing for 241 yards to lead an upset of Michigan last year, completed 14-of-26 passes for 149 yards with one interception, and also led the Buckeyes in rushing with 87 yards on 14 carries.

He was suspended for taking $500 from a booster and missed the Buckeyes’ bowl game and the opener against Miami (Ohio), then came off the bench in the loss to Texas.

Justin Zwick, the starter against the Longhorns, played only the final series and hit on 9-of-10 passes for 47 yards.

AP-ES-09-17-05 1906EDT


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