OSU finds good and bad in opening-day win
COLUMBUS – For the first 15 minutes, it looked like every bold prediction, every dream of a perfect season and every kind word uttered about Ohio State’s football team in the preseason had come true.
Then it got real. Perfection is achieved over time, it doesn’t just arrive on its own.
After jumping out to a 23-0 lead one quarter into its season opener against Buffalo on Saturday, No. 2 Ohio State struggled at times the rest of the way – if a 40-20 win can be called struggling.
“You can’t play much better than our guys did (in the first quarter),” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “We were pushing the ball down the field and making plays.”
Ohio State scored the first two times it had the ball, the first time on a 47-yard pass from Braxton Miller and the second on a 7-yard throw from Miller to Chris Fields.
It extended its lead to 23-0 in the final minute of the first quarter when Jordan Hall went 49 yards untouched for a score.
But on its next three possessions, Ohio State was stopped on a 4th down and 1-yard to go play, saw freshman running back Dontre Wilson lose a fumble, and Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack intercepted a screen pass by Miller and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown.
All of a sudden, instead of being hopelessly out of the game, Buffalo was within 10 points of the Buckeyes at 23-13 halfway through the second quarter.
“We were rolling at first and with that screen I threw, the momentum kind of went down,” Miller said.
“I thought it was going to keep going and keep going. It kind of went downhill. We kind of brought it back up but it could have been a lot better.”
Ohio State pushed its lead to 30-13 at halftime on a 37-yard run by Hall, who had a career-high 159 yards on 21 carries.
Buffalo scored first in the second half on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Joe Licata to Alex Neutz to make it 30-20, but Ohio State closed out the game with 10 unanswered points.
Meyer saw positives and negatives in the game.
“The good is that they’re fighters,” he said. “Obviously, our roster has taken some hits. We’re down some players. I like the fact that they fought. I like the fact they jumped out early. The negative is that you need to sustain consistent effort and intensity.”
Ohio State came into the game with several large holes in its roster. Running backs Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith and cornerback Bradley Roby were suspended. Safety C.J. Barnett was out with a sprained ankle and backup defensive lineman Tommy Schutt will be out six to eight weeks with a broken foot.
Those problems got even bigger when standout linebacker Ryan Shazier had to go to the locker room for more than a quarter because of cramping on a hot, humid day.
When Shazier went out, that left safety Christian Bryant as the only returning starter on OSU’s defense.
Miller completed 15 of 22 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed 17 times for 77 yards.
It was a tale of two very different halves for him, though. He threw 18 of his 22 passes in the first half and 11 of his 17 running plays were in the second half.
The turnaround in his approach was based on doing what was needed when Buffalo began dropping eight defenders back into pass coverage in the second half, he and Meyer both said.
In the series that produced Ohio State’s final touchdown in the fourth quarter, Miller had runs of 40 yards and 16 yards after leaving the game twice earlier with leg cramps.
“When we needed a couple of plays, he had a couple of big ones for us,” Meyer said. “We were backed up in a critical situation and he got us almost all the way down the field.”
Shazier, who returned to play the final quarter and a half, says Ohio State can do the same kind of thing as a team, even if the opener wasn’t always pretty.
“We’re the No. 2 team in the nation and we’re supposed to be a great team in a lot of people’s eyes,” he said. “We did a good job today but we really weren’t playing to our best abilities,” he said. “I feel like we’re going to come out and do a better job next week (against San Diego State).”