No, you were not watching a replay of Ohio State’s 1998 collapse against Michigan State on Saturday. This was the real thing. The difference this time was the Buckeyes hung on to remain No. 1 for at least another week.

No, you were not watching a replay of Ohio State’s 1998 collapse against Michigan State on Saturday.

This was the real thing. The difference this time was the Buckeyes hung on to remain No. 1 for at least another week.

Two costly turnovers and a near-fumble almost were Ohio State’s undoing in a 24-17 victory over Michigan State. The Buckeyes were in firm control for 2 1/2 quarters, then suddenly found themselves in a fight to the finish as everything was falling apart.

How could any Buckeyes fan not think about what the Spartans did to No. 1 Ohio State nine years ago as this was going on? Turnovers did in the Buckeyes as Michigan State came from behind to win that day.
Facing adversity for the first time, the ’07 Buckeyes won the test of survival.

“I think we showed again this is a team of survivors,” receiver Brian Hartline said. “We are not going to give up or back off.”

The Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0) led, 24-0, midway through the third when the momentum swung Michigan State’s way.

Spartans free safety Otis Wiley intercepted a Todd Boeckman pass and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown. Less than a minute later, linebacker SirDarean Adams recovered a Boeckman fumble and ran it back 25 yards for a touchdown.

Suddenly, Ohio State’s lead was just 24-14. And when tailback Beanie Wells fumbled on the first play of the next drive, it looked like the lead would shrink further. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Wells recovered his fumble.

Ohio State’s defense was in the unusual position of dominating again, not giving up points, but seeing an opponent sitting on 14.

“I think we feel a little guilty,” Boeckman said. “Our defense is so good, and we should not have given up those points.”

Holding on to the ball and getting it in Wells’ hands provided the answer.

A 43-yard field goal by Michigan State’s Brett Swenson with 3:42 left in the fourth quarter cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 24-17. But the Spartans were unable to get the ball back.

The Buckeyes handed the ball to Wells seven times on their final drive, and the sophomore from Akron ran out the clock. He converted three first downs and gained 36 yards.

“The only thing on my mind was getting the ball and holding on tight to it,” Wells said. “I knew I had to go in and help my football team.”

Wells has dealt with a nagging ankle injury, but he helped his team out a lot against the Spartans (5-3, 1-3). He scored on a 5-yard run early in the second quarter and finished with a career-high 221 yards on 31 carries. It was the ninth-highest single-game rushing total in Ohio State history.

“I had an OK day,” Wells said, downplaying his success. “I didn’t do everything I should have properly. It could have been a lot better.”

His coach could not ask for more.

“We knew for us to be a good team, we were going to need Beanie to be a warrior, a workhorse,” Buckeyes Head Coach Jim Tressel said.

“That’s what he wants to be. That’s what we want him to be. ... We feel as if Beanie can be the guy that totes it in moments like those last couple drives.”

Boeckman threw for 193 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Jake Ballard made a leaping catch on his touchdown pass early in the game. Brian Robiskie scored after catching a 50-yard strike from Boeckman in the third quarter.

For the fifth straight home game, Ohio State’s defense did not give up an offensive touchdown. It has given up just four all season.

“Offensively, unfortunately we gave away 14 points, which you can’t do if you want to be Big Ten champions,” Tressel said. “Fortunately our defense is who they are and got them stopped.”

Reach Repository sports writer Mike Popovich at (330) 580-8341 or e-mail mike.popovich@cantonrep.com