Buckeyes pull away for win

Meyer not satisfied as OSU readies for Big Ten opener

9/23/2012
BY DAVID BRIGGS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Ohio State's Rod Smith is knocked out of bounds just short of the goal line by Alabama-Birmingham's Lamarcus Farmer, front, Vashon Landers, right.
Ohio State's Rod Smith is knocked out of bounds just short of the goal line by Alabama-Birmingham's Lamarcus Farmer, front, Vashon Landers, right.

COLUMBUS -- Urban Meyer did not return to the sidelines to write off two-touchdown victories.

The coach kept up appearances after Ohio State's 29-15 victory over winless Alabama-Birmingham. He clapped and smiled after singing the final notes of the alma mater in the south end zone, belted the fight song with his team in the locker room, and told players to enjoy the rest of their Saturday.

"I'm loving coaching this team," Meyer said.

Make no mistake: He was in no mood to celebrate.

With the Buckeyes perhaps looking ahead to next weekend's circle-the-date trip to Michigan State, what looked to be the most sugary of cupcakes went down the wrong way.

Quarterback Braxton Miller's late one-yard touchdown run to clinch the Buckeyes' unbeaten nonconference start could not mask Meyer's disappointment in a performance marred by inopportune penalties, special teams miscues, and a baffling malaise.

In his postgame news conference, he used terms like "nonsense" and "awful" to describe various missteps.

"We didn't play very good," he said. "I really had confidence this was going to be an Ohio State-looking team, and it wasn't."

On paper, the matchup was a Boeing jet against a horse-drawn carriage. Ohio State was a 37-point favorite over a team without a winning season since 2004. The Blazers, beaten 49-6 by South Carolina a week earlier, were allowing an average of 44 points per game this season.

Yet, the tension hung thick over Ohio Stadium late into the day. The Buckeyes trailed for most of the first half, burst ahead by running for three second-quarter touchdowns, then stood on the precipice of one of the biggest shockers in school history early in the fourth quarter.

Ohio State's Jordan Hall runs the ball.
Ohio State's Jordan Hall runs the ball.

After OSU went three-and-out leading 21-15, UAB took to the air against a secondary without injured lockdown corner Bradley Roby and safety C.J. Barnett. Nothing seemed implausible when quarterback Austin Brown's 23-yard pass to Patrick Hearn moved the Blazers to the OSU 24. This was no fluke. UAB finished with 403 yards of offense to the Buckeyes' 347 and had the ball for nearly 34 minutes.

"We seem like a very passive team," Meyer said. "On defense, we give up little screens, little bubbles. They didn't score a touchdown on our defense, but we gave up a lot of yardage. That hurts. I'm pained watching it."

The Buckeyes' defense ultimately held, and kicker Ty Long missed a 46-yard field goal attempt -- his lone wayward boot in four attempts. OSU answered with a 71-yard touchdown drive capped by Miller's run to push ahead 29-15 with 5:03 remaining.

Still, the game produced as many questions as answers for an enigmatic team that hoped to send a statement heading into the Big Ten.

"We're winning games right now, but we're not winning how we're supposed to," receiver Corey Brown said.

"You've got to think about where this team was," Meyer said. "This is not a finely tuned machine right now. It hasn't been for a while. Obviously, there's some growing pains. I thought we'd be further ahead. It is what it is."

For OSU, the frustration began early. Moments into the game, cornerback Travis Howard was flagged for running into the punter to extend the Blazers' first drive, then the Buckeyes had their first punt blocked and returned 20 yards for a touchdown.

"It's nonsense," Meyer said. "Just a flat missed assignment. We're playing a lot of young players. Injuries are kind of forcing some guys in."

Ohio State's Braxton Miller dives for a touchdown.
Ohio State's Braxton Miller dives for a touchdown.

The sequence foreshadowed an afternoon of one-sided special teams -- UAB recovered a pooch onside kick to begin the second half -- and a second straight week of ill-timed penalties. In the second half, an offside call negated an interception by Howard, while a taunting penalty by safety Christian Bryant after a third-down pass breakup extended another drive.

"I didn't say or do anything," Bryant said.

Meyer was less amused. There were positives, sure, including Jordan Hall's 17-carry day for 105 yards and Miller's continued ability to calmly direct the Buckeyes when it matters most. (Miller completed 12 of 20 passes for 143 yards and ran for 64 yards on 11 carries.)

Just not enough.

Asked if he was pleased with the progress from the start of the season to now, Meyer simply said, "No."

"You're always happy to win a Division I football game," said left tackle Jack Mewhort, a St. John's Jesuit graduate. "We're very pleased about that. But on the other hand, we know we have a lot of improving to do. There's no doubt about that."

Brown said the Buckeyes are going to have a "whole different mindset" preparing for Michigan State.

"I know we're ready," he said.

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.