COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Big plays, big win, Big Ten.
Brian Hartline returned a punt a school-record 90 yards and Donald Washington brought back an interception 70 yards to lead third-ranked Ohio State past Kent State 48-3 on Saturday.
"When you get returns, like a 90-yard punt return and an interception return for a touchdown, it's going to be hard to have anyone beat you," coach Jim Tressel said.
Ohio State has allowed an average of only 7.1 points per game in its last nine regular-season non-conference games. Only two of those opponents scored in double digits.
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Just like the last time they met, Ohio State (7-0) hopes Kent State is a steppingstone to a national championship. The Buckeyes rolled 51-17 in 2002 on the way to a 14-0 record and their first national title since the 1968 season.
The game was little more than a tuneup for the Big Ten stretch drive. The Buckeyes play Michigan State, at Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois and at Michigan in the final five games, all teams with winning records.
"We had an opportunity to get a lot of guys some playing time, which was a good thing," Tressel said. "But we know full well that what's really critical begins next Saturday."
Ohio State shut down the Mid-American Conference's Golden Flashes (3-4) on defense, moved the ball down the field and made big plays on special teams.
"Nobody is going to score 30 points on this team," Kent State coach Doug Martin said of the Buckeyes. "Anybody that beats them is going to have to win in a close, physical game that comes down to the wire. This team is as good as any I've seen."
The biggest big play was Hartline's return. With the Buckeyes ahead 7-0 two plays into the second quarter, he grabbed a punt at the 10. Kent State's Kirk Belgrade had a clean shot, but slipped and fell as Hartline pivoted and cut to the right sideline. Hartline outran the coverage, with Ohio State defensive linemen Doug Worthington and Vernon Gholston shielding him from tackles as he went the distance untouched.
"I think he outkicked his coverage, so I thought I had some room," he said. "It was off to the races."
The return erased the mark of 87 yards set by Robert Demmel in 1950 against Iowa.
Later in the quarter, Washington stepped in front of a sideline pass from Julian Edelman and scored easily to make it 28-0. It was Washington's first college interception.
"[Edelman] threw the ball exactly where he should," Martin said. "He was just a little late and it was a little behind [flanker Phil Garner]."
Late in the half, the Buckeyes turned another Kent State turnover into points. The Golden Flashes were killing the final seconds off the clock when Eugene Jarvis was hit hard on a run up the middle by Worthington and Shaun Lane fell on the loose ball.
Three plays later, Boeckman passed into the right flat to Maurice Wells, who could have walked in from 15 yards out.
"We made mistakes we can't make playing against a No. 3 team," Kent State nose guard Colin Ferrell said.
Boeckman finished 13-of-16 for 184 yards, two scores and no interceptions. Backup Rob Schoenhoft ran for a 2-yard score and was 7-of-9 passing for 79 yards.
Martin said earlier in the week one of his major concerns was an injury to a key player, which could derail the rest of the season.
He didn't have to worry. Both sides made wholesale replacements early in the third quarter, about the time when many of the 105,051 spectators were heading for the exits.
Jarvis rushed for 84 yards on 16 carries before watching most of the second half. The 5-foot-5, 170-pounder came in fifth in the nation in rushing, averaging 142 yards a game.
"All year we've been able to run the ball," Jarvis said. "We're going to use this game as a springboard."
What was left of the crowd booed loudly when Kent State spoiled the shutout with 2:36 left on Nate Reed's 34-yard field goal. The Buckeyes held Purdue scoreless until 10 seconds remained a week ago in a 23-7 victory.
"For the most part, we had control of the game," Gholston said. "We have so much depth."