One-Sided Win Leaves Buckeyes Less-Than Happy
By Rob Ogden
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer wanted a fast start from his team in Saturday's season opener, and he got it. The turnovers, defensive breakdowns and momentum shifts, he could have lived without.
"I preached all week about coming out fast and playing strong," Meyer said following Ohio State's 40-20 win over Buffalo on Saturday. "But we've got to learn to fight through those momentum shifts."
The Buckeyes (1-0) jumped out to a 16-0 lead less than eight minutes into the game and pushed that lead to 23-0 before the first quarter ended.
But a series of mishaps shifted momentum in favor of the Bulls and Buffalo (0-1) drew to within 23-13 midway through the second quarter.
The biggest force in driving momentum to the Bulls was Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. Mack was a disruptive presence in the Buckeyes' backfield nearly all game long and finished with eight tackles and two-and-a-half sacks.
Following a drive in which the Bulls turned a Dontre Wilson fumble into their first score of the game, Mack intercepted a Braxton Miller screen pass and ran 45 yards the other way for a touchdown.
The interception was only Miller's third incompletion of the game. He finished 15-22 for 178 yards and two touchdowns, a fairly pedestrian end to what was an impressive start. On his first pass of the game, Miller hit Devin Smith for a 47-yard touchdown pass.
It was a good start, but Miller said it could have been a lot better.
"We were rolling at first and then I threw that blind screen screen. I think the momentum went down and shifted a little bit after that," he said. I thought we were gonna keep going, but it kinda went down hill."
The first quarter belonged to Ohio State, but quickly, almost single-handedly, Mack seemed take the air out of the Buckeyes' balloon.
"(Mack) kicked our tails," Meyer said. "He's a really, really, really good player."
Despite being occasionally abused by Mack, the Buckeyes' offensive line was still able to flex its collective muscle, creating gaping holes for senior running back Jordan Hall.
Hall rushed for a career-high 162 yards and two touchdowns, but much of the credit belongs to the line, which allowed Hall to go nearly untouched on touchdown runs of 49 and 37 yards.
With incumbent starter Carlos Hyde serving the first game of his three-game suspension, Hall took the vast majority of the carries in the Buckeye backfield, but was occasionally relieved by the freshman Wilson.
Wilson carried the ball only four times, but showed signs of why he was one of the most talked about Buckeyes this offseason. On his first touch of the game, Wilson took a pass from Miller in the backfield, weaved through a line of defenders and saw nothing but daylight ahead before being tripped up from behind.
On his only kick return of the afternoon, Wilson flashed his speed and elusiveness, bolting 51 yards to set up a Hall touchdown.
Defensively, the Buckeyes played the entire game without starters Bradley Roby and C.J. Barnett in the secondary and were without linebacker Ryan Shazier for the better part of two quarters.
Shazier, as well as a few others, was bothered by cramps, further depleting the Buckeyes' defense.
Without Shazier, the Buckeyes were forced to go to true freshman Trey Johnson. In the secondary, sophomore Armani Reeves replaced Roby.
Reeves came into the game with a career-high snap count of two. He played every snap on Saturday, and said he felt like the Bulls were targeting him.
"I knew that was going to happen, and I would have thrown at me too," Reeves said. "I didn't expect anything different, but I think I held my own."
Despite a few missed assignments, Meyer said he thought the defense played alright.
"The good thing is that they're fighters," Meyer said about his team. "We had our roster take some hits and some young players stepped up.
"I like the fact that they fought. I like the fact that they jumped out early and they like to play. That's the positive.
The negative, Meyer said, is that they didn't contain consistent effort and intensity.
Corey Brown was the Buckeyes leading receiver in each of the past two seasons, but was limited to only two catches on Saturday. Brown said the offense stalled a bit after the fast start.
"We came out and did everything coach Meyer wanted us to do," Brown said. "We came out, started fast and we just got to learn how to maintain it through adversity and learn how to get the momentum back and finish a game."
Overall, Meyer said he was disappointed with the effort, but the good thing, he said, is that there's plenty of time to fix their mistakes.
"When you score 40 points and you're disappointed, that's a good sign," he said.
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