Braxton Miller became the first Ohio State quarterback in 34 years to rush for three touchdowns as the Buckeyes overcame a somewhat choppy performance to secure a 31-16 victory over visiting Central Florida on Saturday afternoon in front of a crowd of 104,745 at Ohio Stadium.
Miller, who just missed topping the 300-yard mark in total offense for the second time in as many games this season, was already going to be an enormous part of the OSU offensive game plan, but he became even more so when starting tailback Carlos Hyde went down with a knee injury in the first half.
As a result, Miller piled up a career-high 27 carries for 141 yards and three touchdowns. The three scores marked the first time an Ohio State quarterback had carried the ball across the goal time three times in a single game since Art Schlichter did it during a 45-7 victory over Illinois in 1978.
Miller added an 18-for-24 performance in the passing department, good for 155 yards and one touchdown. The sophomore QB also tossed his first interception of 2012.
OSU head coach Urban Meyer wasn’t exactly effusive in his praise of the victory, summing things up with a succinct, “We won the frickin’ game against a pretty good opponent, so we’re happy about that. But … pass defense, we have a long way to go. We’re down to our third tailback and we looked like it.”
As to the number of Miller’s carries, the coach replied, “Twenty-seven hits, whew! That’s too much. Somebody’s gotta run the ball … but 27 carries? Too much. You could tell he was kind of blown out in the fourth quarter.”
Meyer indicated Hyde would likely miss a couple of games with his knee injury, meaning the team will have to develop another option in the run game.
“We really have to ID who’s going to touch the ball,” the coach said. “We have to go back to the drawing board and really identify who’s going to touch that ball.”
While Miller carried most of the offensive load for his team, so did UCF quarterback Blake Bortles. He completed 25 of 41 attempts for 249 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Two of those picks thwarted possible scoring opportunities for the Knights, and the third led directly to an Ohio State touchdown.
UCF had an excellent chance to take control of the contest late in the second quarter. With the score tied at 10, Ohio State fullback Zach Boren fumbled and Knights safety Kemal Ishmael made the recovery at his own 43. Just two plays later, however, Bortles threw behind his intended receiver, the ball was tipped by OSU safety Orhian Johnson and cornerback Travis Howard made the interception at his own 43.
Another tipped ball victimized Bortles midway through the third quarter. The Buckeyes had just scored to make it 24-10 and the Knights were starting the ensuing possession inside their own 20. On the third play of the drive, Bortles threw into traffic with the ball being batted first by OSU cornerback Bradley Roby and then by Johnson before falling into the waiting arms of linebacker Etienne Sabino.
It was Sabino’s first career interception and gave the Buckeyes the ball at the UCF 32. Three plays later, Miller scored his third touchdown to give Ohio State a 31-10 advantage.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Knights were still in the ballgame trailing 31-16, and they had driven to the Ohio State 9-yard line. But on a third-and-5 play, Johnson stepped in front of a Bortles’ pass to snuff out the scoring threat.
Ohio State finished the game with 411 total yards to 352 for the Knights. The Buckeyes had 256 yards on the ground, most of it coming from Miller. Wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown was the team’s second-leading rusher with 33 yards on two carries, while freshman tailback Bri’onte Dunn finished with 29 yards on five carries. Hyde was limited to 27 yards on seven carries before exiting.
Devin Smith and Brown each had six receptions to lead the Buckeyes. Smith turned his 57 yards while Brown collected 48. The lone OSU touchdown reception belonged to tight end-turned-wide receiver Jake Stoneburner, who gathered in a 12-yard scoring toss from Miller early in the third quarter.
Ohio State drew first blood by moving 71 yards in seven plays on its first possession for the game’s initial touchdown. Miller took a shotgun snap and turned a simple quarterback draw into a 37-yard scoring romp, giving the Buckeyes a 7-0 advantage at the 9:35 mark of the opening period.
UCF responded with a 28-yard field goal from kicker Shawn Moffitt with 12 seconds remaining in the first quarter, a three-pointer matched by Ohio State’s Drew Basil, who popped through a 24-yarder at the 9:58 mark of the second period to make it 10-3.
The Knights tied the game when tight end Justin Tukes gathered in a 1-yard touchdown pass from Bortles with 6:54 remaining until halftime. But Miller tallied a 6-yard run with only 15 seconds to go in the second quarter to give his team a 17-10 lead heading into the locker room.
As they had done in the first half, the Buckeyes turned their initial possession of the second half into a touchdown. Miller marched the team 76 yards in 12 plays culminating in the 12-yard scoring pass to Stoneburner.
That made it 24-10 in favor of Ohio State with 10:25 left in the third quarter, and when Bortles was intercepted by Sabino three plays later, it set up Miller’s third touchdown run. This one covered 8 yards and pushed the Buckeyes’ lead to 31-10 with 8:08 remaining in the third period.
UCF made it a two-score game at the 1:37 mark of the third when fullback Billy Giovanetti made a diving stab of a 2-yard touchdown pass from Bortles. But after a review of Giovanetti’s catch, Moffitt’s PAT attempt was blocked by OSU freshman Adolphus Washington, leaving the score at 31-16.
The Knights had three more fourth-quarter possessions to further cut into Ohio State’s lead, but the Buckeyes thwarted each of them. Johnson’s interception ended the first, Roby broke up a fourth-and-2 pass play to end the second, and Bortles threw incomplete under a heavy rush from the OSU 9 on the final play of the game.