It wasn’t pretty – in fact, far from it – but No. 16 Ohio State did what it needed to move to 4-0 on the season with a lackluster 29-15 victory Saturday afternoon over a game-but-outmanned University of Alabama at Birmingham in front of 105,019 largely unimpressed fans at Ohio Stadium.
To say it was an uneven performance by the Buckeyes would be an understatement. While the defense did not allow a touchdown, it surrendered 403 total yards to the Blazers, who entered the game ranked 81st in the nation in total offense. OSU again struggled with missed tackles and UAB enjoyed 14 plays that gained 10 yards or more.
Meanwhile, the Ohio State offense produced 347 yards, but was shut out in the first and third quarters against the Blazers, who were ranked 114th in the nation in total defense. Still, the Buckeyes got 204 yards and all four of their touchdowns on the ground.
Senior tailback Jordan Hall led the way for Ohio State with 105 yards on 17 carries. It marked the first time this season an OSU tailback had cracked the century mark. Meanwhile, sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller added 64 yards and two scores on 11 carries, while sophomore tailback Rod Smith and senior fullback Zach Boren had one touchdown each. Smith finished with 24 yards on six carries while Boren carried twice for 7 yards.
Miller had a pedestrian day in the passing department, completing 12 of 20 attempts for 143 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. OSU receivers Corey “Philly” Brown and Devin Smith caught four balls apiece, Brown turning his into 67 yards and Smith totaling 39 yards.
UAB was led by freshman quarterback Austin Brown, who entered the game in the second quarter and wound up completing 21 of 35 passes for 196 yards with one interception. The completions, attempts and yardage figure all established career-highs for Brown.
The Blazers rushed for a season-best 144 yards, led by tailback Darrin Reaves, who gained 72 yards on 16 carries. Reaves was also his team’s top receiver with seven catches for 42 yards.
Defensively, Ohio State was led by linebackers Ryan Shazier and Etienne Sabino. Shazier had a game-high 13 tackles while Sabino registered a career-high 11. Defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins also established tied a career-high with 10 tackles. Cornerback Doran Grant also had a career day, totaling seven tackles, registering a sack, recovering a fumble and grabbing the game’s only interception.
At the beginning of the game, the upset-minded Blazers looked nothing like an 0-2 team that resided at the bottom of most NCAA statistical categories. After forcing a three-and-out on Ohio State’s first offensive series, UAB came with a jailbreak punt block and safety Calvin Jones smothered the kick almost before OSU’s Ben Buchanan was able to raise his leg.
Wideout Nick Adams scooped up the loose ball at the 20-yard line and raced untouched into the end zone for the game’s first touchdown.
OSU safety Ohrian Johnson blocked the extra point kick, but the Blazers still had a 6-0 lead at the 9:21 mark of the first quarter.
UAB held that advantage through the remainder of the first quarter and then padded its lead to 9-0 with 10:27 left until halftime when kicker Ty Long converted a 47-yard field goal.
The Buckeyes finally got on the board when Miller engineered a 10-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown run by Smith. Junior kicker Drew Basil added the PAT to make it 9-7 with 6:31 remaining in the second period.
The Blazers got another field goal from Long – this one from 54 yards out – at the 3:44 mark to increase their lead to 12-7. The three-pointer was the longest in UAB history and the third-longest by an Ohio State opponent in Ohio Stadium.
But Long’s kick represented the high-water mark in the game for the Blazers. Less than two minutes later, Miller had the Buckeyes in the end zone again after a 75-yard march that took only five plays. The final play was a turning, twisting 12-yard scoring run by Miller, and when Basil followed with the PAT, Ohio State had its first lead of the game, 14-12, with 1:50 remaining until halftime.
Disaster then struck UAB on its next possession when tight end Kennard Backman fumbled following a 7-yard reception. Grant recovered the loose ball at the Blazers 32, and three plays later, Boren bulled his way into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown at the 1:02 mark.
Basil’s PAT gave the Buckeyes a 21-12 lead heading into the locker room – not bad for a team whose offense had been outgained for much of the first half, whose defense had missed at least a dozen tackles and dropped a sure interception, and whose special teams had given up a touchdown.
The second half wasn’t much better. While the OSU offense took most of the third quarter off for the second week in a row – just 43 yards in 10 plays during the period – the defense allowed the Blazers to string together a 16-play drive that covered 80 yards and lasted more than seven minutes. Thankfully for the Buckeyes, UAB couldn’t convert that long march into anything more than a 34-yard field goal from Long, making it 21-15 with 13:44 to go in the fourth quarter.
The Blazers got a chance to draw even closer, thanks in part to a 15-yard taunting penalty against OSU safety Christian Bryant on a third-and-5 play. UAB continued to drive into Ohio State territory, but eventually bogged down and were forced to settle for a 47-yard field goal try from Long. But the UAB kicker pulled the attempt wide to the left, leaving the Buckeyes with their six-point advantage at the 10:03 mark of the final period.
Ohio State took over at its own 29, and Miller guided the offense 71 yards over the next 5:00 for the clinching score. The OSU quarterback finished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run and then added a nifty scamper for the two-point conversion to give the Buckeyes a 29-15 cushion with 5:03 remaining in the game.
UAB had two more possessions, but the first ended with Grant’s first career interception at the 4:51 mark while the second ended with an incomplete pass on the game’s final play.
“Our guys were ready to play and I thought we were ready to play Ohio State football, but obviously it wasn’t,” OSU head coach Urban Meyer said. “We seem like a very passive team. I sit there and I’m pained watching it. Our explosiveness (on offense) was obviously nonexistent for much of the game. If it was one thing, we’d fix it. But it’s more than one thing. We’re a bend-but-(don’t-)break defense, which is painful to watch. We’re not a methodically dominating offense. We’re not a very good offense and we have to get better fast because we’re playing a great defense next week.”
The Leaders Division member Buckeyes begin Big Ten play next Saturday at Legends Division defending champion Michigan State.
“It’s glaringly obvious we have to play better or we won’t win next week,” Meyer said. “I might be new to the Big Ten but not new to the big time and we need to be ready next week.”
When asked if his team had improved from the beginning the season to his satisfaction, the coach quickly replied, “Nope.” When pressed for particulars, Meyer said, “Offense, defense, kicking game – we’re not where we thought we’d be. … I’m disappointed, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love those guys and they’re not working their butts off. We just need to get better.”