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That shouldn't be too hard. Jonathan Wells rushed

By Rusty MillerAssociated Press Published: September 9, 2001 12:00 AM

That shouldn't be too hard.

Jonathan Wells rushed for 119 yards and scored twice but the 24th-ranked Buckeyes, favored by four touchdowns, were less than impressive in a 28-14 victory over Akron on Saturday.

"We're not perfect," said Tressel, hired to replace the fired John Cooper after spending the last 15 years at Youngstown State. "I knew that coming in."

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The Zips made things interesting on Rickie Coble's 87-yard interception return in the fourth quarter. Coble's return matched the second longest by an opponent in the history of 79-year-old Ohio Stadium, which was rededicated prior to the game after a three-year, $210 million reconstruction project.

A crowd of 102,602 in the expanded stadium was the largest ever to watch an Ohio State home game.

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"I can't say enough about that stadium and that crowd," Tressel said. "That was exciting. Who wouldn't be excited? Everyone who was in there was excited, whether they were running across the field or in the stands or in the press box. The atmosphere was extraordinary. There can't be a better place to play college football in America."

Ohio State's Steve Bellisari threw two touchdown passes but fumbled four times and had passes go through the hands of defenders three other times.

One of Bellisari's passes was thrown directly to Akron free safety John Fuller but the ball squirted through his hands and into those of Chris Vance, who completed a 61-yard touchdown play.

"I took my eye off the ball," Fuller said. "I couldn't believe I didn't make the play."

Backup quarterback Scott McMullen lost a fumbled snap, also had a defender drop a pass and was victimized on Coble's broken-field return.

After Coble's touchdown with 7:48 left, the Zips (1-1) recovered an onside kick and drove to the Ohio State 28 before running out of downs.

"If we cut it to one touchdown with five or six minutes to go, it's a whole different story," said Akron coach Lee Owens, like Tressel a former Ohio State assistant. "Then the pressure's on Ohio State."

Bellisari, who hit on 15-of-24 passes for 246 yards, completed a 12-yard pass to Jamar Martin _ matching the number of catches the fullback had all of last season _ and a 14-yarder to Ricky Bryant to set up Wells' 14-yard scoring run on the Buckeyes' second possession.

"I had something to prove to the coaches and myself," said the senior, who has never lived up his press clippings as a Louisiana prep star. "This is my last chance. I want to out-rush every opponent every week."

Chris Vance's 18-yard punt return to the Akron 36 to set up Martin's 10-yard touchdown catch-and-run from Bellisari.

Akron's Brandon Payne lost a punt in the sun midway through the first half, with Ohio State's Jason Bond falling on it at the Zips 1. Wells plowed up the middle for the score on the next play to make it 21-0 in the second quarter.

"I saw it was bright, but it's a different kind of thing when you're looking for the ball," said Payne, who rushed for 75 yards on 13 carries.

Payne had a 17-yard run, Bob Hendry carried for 16 yards and Frye flipped a 23-yard pass to tight end Tim Ritley late in the first half for Akron. Frye, a redshirt freshman making his first career start, then lofted a pass into the back of the end zone where Jake Schifino beat cornerback Cie Grant for the catch, barely getting his foot inbounds for the 15-yard TD catch.

"I don't know what took us so long to get going," said Frye, who completed 15 of 31 passes for 134 yards. "For a long time there it was three-and-out, three-and-out ..."

Both teams had other opportunities to score.

The Buckeyes drove to the Akron 18 late in the first half, but freshman Mike Nugent missed a 35-yard field-goal attempt.

Bellisari fumbled a snap on first down at the Akron 14 on the first drive of the third quarter with Akron's Chris Smith recovering.

Bellisari was blindsided by linebacker Ryan Myers on a blitz on the next Ohio State possession. Bellisari's fumble sat on the ground and Martin recovered for the Buckeyes.

"We did not play the finest game of 2001," Tressel said. "There were moments when we were sloppy and moments when I thought we were pretty sharp."

"We didn't have to play perfect to win today," Owens said. "Sometimes in

games the ball doesn't quite bounce your way."

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