Mixed bag for No. 2 Ohio State in 40-20 win over Buffalo

Buckeyes win big, but struggle with mistakes, injuries


COLUMBUS — Jordan Hall was agitated with excitement, unable to steal more than an hour of uninterrupted sleep as he waited for the sun to rise and football to return.

At 5:30 a.m., the Ohio State senior gave up trying. He awoke for good, then waited and waited until it was time to leave The Blackwell Inn and walk the block to Ohio Stadium. Finally, after one of the longest offseasons in program history, the 2013 Buckeyes could be set free.

"We preached all week about coming out hard and fast," coach Urban Meyer said.

So Hall and his teammates did just that.

PHOTO GALLERY: Click here for more photos from the game

The second-ranked Buckeyes made a blistering early statement in their 40-20 victory over Buffalo, disassembling the 36-point underdogs with efficiency and flair.

In the first quarter alone, quarterback Braxton Miller threw a pair of touchdowns — including a 47-yard strike to Devin Smith on the Buckeyes’ fourth play — and Hall, a senior returning from a medical redshirt season, burned untouched up the middle for a career-high 49-yard score.

Meyer, meanwhile, was in an unsparing mood. Unable to go for three, he successfully went for two-point conversions after the first two of three straight touchdown drives.

"The way we came out," Hall said. "I thought we were going to score 100."

Yet the Buckeyes’ first wind would gust away.

On a sun-bleached and muggy day Meyer called a "hot mother," where one player after another dropped with cramps, OSU showed there is much work to be done to repeat its perfect 2012 season.

After opening a 23-0 lead, the offense stammered and a new-look defense made even greener by suspension (cornerback Bradley Roby), a late injury scratch (safety C.J. Barnett), and recurring cramps (linebacker Ryan Shazier) at times cracked. Most surprising, an experienced Buckeyes offensive line allowed four sacks — though sophomore right tackle Taylor Decker endured the brunt of that abuse, mostly at the hands of Bulls star linebacker Khalil Mack.

"That unacceptable," Meyer said. "Completely unacceptable. We’ll get it fixed."

Ultimately, the Buckeyes left the opener with mixed feelings.

There was a lot of good. Hall ran for a career-high 159 yards on 21 carries in place of suspended starter Carlos Hyde; Miller had his moments and accounted for 255 of the Buckeyes’ 460 yards of offense; the super-hyped Dontre Wilson was one of several freshmen who displayed bursts of promise — and exasperation — turning a swing pass into an 18-yard gain on his first touch and later returning a kick 51 yards; and a defense that played most of the game with one returning starter held the Bulls to 258 yards.

But as a 36-point favorite against a Mid-American Conference team that averaged three wins the last three years, the Buckeyes hoped to show more.

"When you score 40 points and put up 460 yards and you’re disappointed, that’s a good sign," Meyer said. "The bad sign is we’ve got a long way to go."

In fairness, OSU set a near-impossible bar at the start.

Miller validated talk of his reformation as a passer, zipping passes into windows gaping and shut. He completed his first seven throws, including the back-shoulder deep ball to Smith and a seven-yard score to Chris Fields — the first of Fields’ two touchdown catches.

"I felt good," said Miller, who completed 15 of 22 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 77 yards on 17 carries. "I thought it was going to keep going."

But the Buckeyes' next three drives ended with a fourth-and-1 stop, a lost fumble by Wilson, and Miller misreading a screen pass, which Mack returned an interception 53 yards for a touchdown to pull the Bulls within 10 at 23-13.

Offensive coordinator Tom Herman later wondered if the early lead made him too conservative.

"Myself as a play-caller, coming off that game, I felt like [the lead] had put me back in conservation mode," he said. "I probably shouldn’t have let it affect me the way that it did, and we need to do a better job as an offensive unit of responding to the adversity."

Ohio State endured a mild late scare. Buffalo threatened in the third quarter with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Joe Licata to Alex Neutz that cut Ohio State’s lead to 30-20, and Miller briefly was sidelined with cramps.

Backup quarterback Kenny Guiton, though, relieved Miller and threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Fields to push OSU ahead 37-20. The Buckeyes followed with a goal-line stand, then sent Miller back on the field. The junior star afterward said he was fine.

A day that began well would end well, though with a lot of drama in between.

"The good is that these guys are fighters," Meyer said. "Our roster has obviously taken some hits. I like the fact that they fought. I like that we jumped out early and they like to play. That’s the positive.

"The negative is that you need to sustain consistent effort and intensity. And the offensive line is something that we really rely on. After the film, I bet I’ll come and say they played OK. The expectation level of that group is not OK. ... We’re very satisfied to win a game. But we also know we have to get a lot better, which is good."

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