COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- No. 1 Ohio State got a scare, but avoided being yet another upset victim.
The Buckeyes built a comfortable lead and then gave up two touchdowns off turnovers late in the third quarter - and almost lost another fumble deep in their own territory on the next play - to slip past Michigan State 24-17 on Saturday.
All week, both sides had talked about what happened in the 1998 meeting, when the unbeaten Buckeyes were 26 1/2-point favorites and had a 24-9 lead in the third quarter yet unraveled to lose the No. 1 ranking when the Spartans pulled off a 28-24 shocker.
Michigan State (5-3, 1-3 Big Ten) almost pulled off a repeat of that performance from nine years ago.
The Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0) rolled for most of the first three quarters, building their big lead on two touchdown passes by Todd Boeckman, the running of Chris Wells and a bruising defense that thoroughly shut down Michigan State.
Ahead 24-0 late in the third quarter, they were seemingly in command and looking ahead to next week's test at Penn State.
In the span of four plays, it was 24-14 and Michigan State blew a chance to recover another Ohio State turnover on the very next play when two defenders touched Wells' fumble, but the back ended up recovering.
The comeback started when Boeckman flipped a pass under pressure that safety Otis Wiley picked off and returned 54 yards to put the Spartans on the board.
After the ensuing kickoff, a short run and two penalties gave the Buckeyes a first down at their own 15. But Boeckman was sacked by Jonal Saint-Dic and fumbled, with linebacker Sirdarean Adams swooping in to scoop up the ball and run 25 yards to make it 24-14.
Suddenly, a crowd of 105,287 was so silent you could hear a national championship trophy drop.
After the next kickoff, the Buckeyes took over at their own 22. On first down, Wells fumbled when hit by Jeremiah Antonio and the ball bounced loose. Wiley and end Ervin Baldwin each had a clear shot at falling on the ball but failed to grab it.
Boeckman, who completed his first 10 passes in the game and tied a school-record with 12 straight completions, now had trouble even getting time to pass, much less complete one.
After an Ohio State punt midway through the fourth quarter, Brett Swenson kicked a 43-yard field goal to tighten it to 24-17 with just 3:42 left.
It got so bad that on the kickoff that followed, the Ohio State coach Jim Tressel even instructed returner Brandon Saine to take a knee to avoid turning the ball over with another fumble.
The Buckeyes took no more chances. Wells carried on the final seven carries while Michigan State exhausted its timeouts, gaining 36 yards as Ohio State played keepaway to stay perfect.
Wells, so close to being a goat, ended up a hero as he finished with 221 yards on 31 carries including a 5-yard touchdown.
After hitting his first 10 passes, Boeckman struggled, completing 15-of-23 passes for 193 yards and touchdowns of 14 yards to Jake Ballard and 50 yards to Brian Robiskie.
The Spartans mustered just nine first downs and 185 yards of total offense against an Ohio State defense which came in No. 1 in the nation in points (6.57 per game) and yards allowed (212 per game).
Michigan State didn't help itself in the opening half, with Brian Hoyer throwing an interception to Doug Worthington which helped set up Wells' TD run, and a 19-yard punt which gave the Buckeyes the ball at the Michigan State 29.
Hoyer, who finished 12-of-23 passing for 126 yards with the one interception, didn't complete his second pass until the Spartans' fourth possession.
Javon Ringer, averaging 178 yards in Big Ten games, ran for 49 yards on 18 attempts.
Ohio State's players wore small ``23'' decals on the back of their helmets in support of Ron Springs, a star running back from 1976-78 who is in a coma in a Dallas hospital after surgery. His son Shawn, currently a member of the Washington Redskins, also played for Ohio State from 1994-96.
Source: ncaafootball.com; Photo Credit: Collegiate Images