The Braxton Miller Era officially opened at Ohio State on Saturday to largely favorable reviews as the freshman quarterback helped lead the Buckeyes to a 37-17 victory over mistake-prone Colorado.
Miller, who made his first collegiate start, accounted for 166 yards of total offense while tossing a pair of touchdown passes. He became only the third freshman to start a game at quarterback for the Buckeyes following Art Schlichter (1978) and Terrelle Pryor (2008).
Miller rushed 17 times for 83 yards and completed 5 of 13 pass attempts for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns while Ohio State amassed 336 yards of offense – only 22 more than Colorado’s total of 314.
The Buckeyes were helped immensely by the Buffaloes, however, who committed two turnovers, surrendered three sacks, were penalized nine times for 83 yards and had four costly gaffes on special teams.
CU had a punt go for only 20 yards, made a fair catch on its own 5, fumbled a punt inside its own 10 and gave up a 90-yard kickoff return. Those blunders led directly to 24 of Ohio State’s points.
“The No. 1 thing we wanted to do today was to make some things happen on special teams,” OSU head coach Luke Fickell told reporters after the game. “I think you have to like what we did today. We did a good job out there making plays.”
Miller’s debut somewhat overshadowed a workmanlike performance by junior tailback Jordan Hall. He accounted for 231 all-purpose yards, including rushing 18 times for a game-high 84 yards and a touchdown. Hall also had a 90-yard kickoff return in the third quarter that set up another score, and that was part of 147 yards worth of kick returns for Hall, who had 40 more return yards wiped out by a penalty on the game’s opening kickoff.
Freshman receiver Devin Smith had three catches for 64 yards and two touchdowns – a 32-yard strike from Miller in the second quarter and a 17-yard flip from the freshman QB early in the third period.
In addition to their problems on special teams, the Buffaloes couldn’t seem to generate much offense with the exception of their two touchdown drives. The first was a 10-play, 83-yard drive in the second quarter while the other was a 13-play, 91-yard march that came long after the outcome had been decided. CU’s other 10 possessions accounted for only 140 total yards.
Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen entered the game averaging 304.0 yards for his previous three games, but the senior managed only 238 yards and a touchdown on 22-of-39 passing. Seven of Hansen’s completions and 83 of his yards came during the fourth-quarter touchdown drive against Ohio State’s second- and third-team defense.
CU running back Rodney Stewart, who had been his team’s top offensive threat during the first three weeks with averages of 74.3 yards rushing and 92.3 yards receiving, was limited to 55 yards on the ground and only 27 yards on five pass receptions.
Miller’s first series of the game was a disjointed three-and-out that netted a mere 2 yards, but the Buckeyes took advantage of a short field the next time they got the ball. CU punter Darragh O’Neill’s attempt went for only 20 yards and OSU set up at the Colorado 43, setting up an eventual 1-yard touchdown run by Hall.
OSU kicker Drew Basil tacked on the extra point for a 7-0 Buckeye lead at the 8:27 mark of the opening period.
Basil added a 28-yard field goal with 4:49 left in the first quarter and then Smith caught the first of his two touchdown passes for Miller, a 32-yarder at the 7:53 mark of the second period. The score capped another short drive at began at the Colorado 46, set up because Stewart made a fair catch of an OSU punt at his own 5. The defense then forced a three-and-out, giving the Buckeyes a field-position advantage.
Basil added the PAT after Smith’s touchdown catch and the rout appeared to be on as the Buckeyes enjoyed a 17-0 lead.
Hansen got his team on the scoreboard, though, engineered that 83-yard drive that was capped by an 11-yard touchdown toss to receiver Toney Clemons. CU kicker Will Oliver added the extra point to make it 17-7 with 2:44 left until halftime.
That was the way it looked it would stay at the break until Stewart fumbled an OSU punt at his own 11 and the muff was recovered by junior Zach Domicone with 0:15 showing on the clock.
Miller ran for 10 yards on the next play, but with only six seconds left, Fickell elected to go for an 18-yard field goal from Basil to make it 20-7 going into the locker room.
The Miller-to-Smith connection was worth a 17-yard touchdown that pushed the Buckeyes’ lead to 27-7 at the 9:04 mark of the third quarter, and after Colorado added a 47-yard field goal from Oliver, Hall broke off his 90-yard return that was followed by a 5-yard touchdown run from sophomore tailback Carlos Hyde to make it 34-10 after three quarters.
Basil finished his team’s scoring with a career-best 47-yard field goal at the 11:42 mark of the fourth quarter while Colorado capped things with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Hansen to freshman receiver Tyler McCulloch with 3:31 remaining.
Ohio State (3-1) kicks off the 2011 Big Ten season next week when Michigan State comes to town. The Spartans (3-1) scored a 45-7 victory earlier today over Central Michigan. Kickoff next Saturday is set for shortly after 3:30 p.m. Eastern.