Ohio State started its 2013 season as hot as the Ohio Stadium turf before coasting to a 40-20 victory Saturday afternoon against Mid-American Conference rival Buffalo. The Buckeyes raced out to a 23-0 lead after the first quarter and then fought the late August heat and humidity as much as the Bulls for the remainder of the game.
“You can’t play much better than we did in the first quarter,” OSU head coach Urban Meyer told reporters following the game. “But then we try to block a punt and rough the punter, go for a fourth down and don’t make it, throw an interception right to them on a screen and then fumble the ball right back to them after an interception.
“Obviously, we have to get some things fixed, and the good news is we can. When you score 40 points and are disappointed, that’s a good thing.”
OSU piled up 460 yards of total offense – 261 on the ground and 199 through the air. Senior running back Jordan Hall came back from missing almost all of last season with injuries to rush for a career-high 159 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Junior quarterback Braxton Miller added 77 yards rushing, and he completed 15 of 22 passes for 178 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Buffalo managed only 258 total yards against an Ohio State offense breaking in several new starters. Additionally, the Buckeyes were without star cornerback Bradley Roby, who was suspended for the game, while linebacker Ryan Shazier was forced out of much of the contest with leg cramps due to the oppressive heat.
Seven different receivers caught at least one pass for the Buckeyes, led by junior Devin Smith, senior Chris Fields and Hall, each of whom had three receptions in the game. Smith turned his catches into 61 yards and a touchdown while Fields totaled 53 yards and a pair of scores, doubling his TD total from all of last season.
Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata, a sophomore making only the fifth start of his college career, completed 19 of 32 pass attempts for 185 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Nine of those completions went to senior receiver Alex Nuetz, who totaled 98 yards and a touchdown. Senior running back Branden “Bo” Oliver was his team’s leading rusher with 73 yards on a game-high 26 carries.
Despite missing most of the second quarter, Shazier still tied for the team lead with seven tackles. Fellow junior linebacker Curtis Grant and senior safety Christian Bryant also had seven. Sophomore defensive lineman Noah Spence had the Buckeyes’ lone sack.
Senior linebacker Khalil Mack was the defensive star of the game for Buffalo. He had a game-high nine tackles, recorded 2½ sacks and took an interception 55 yards for a touchdown. Blake Bean, the son of former OSU defensive lineman Junior linebacker Mark Bean, added eight tackles for Buffalo.
The Bulls appeared poised to stay with the Buckeyes early in the contest, accepting the opening kickoff and immediately driving into OSU territory. But on fourth-and-2, Buffalo was whistled for two straight penalties and then got off only a 19-yard punt to set up Ohio State at its own 37.
After three consecutive runs by Hall, Miller launched a 47-yard touchdown pass to Smith for the game’s first score. On the point-after try, the Buckeyes showed an exotic formation with holder Kenny Guiton and kicker Drew Basil lined up near the right sideline. Guiton accepted the direct snap and twisted his way across the goal line for the two-point conversion, and Ohio State had an 8-0 lead at the 10:40 mark of the opening period.
The Buckeyes quickly doubled their lead when their second possession resulted in a 7-yard touchdown pass from Miller to Fields. OSU featured another unusual formation on the point-after try, and this time Guiton flipped quickly to Hall, who motored into the end zone for another two-pointer. That made it 16-0 with 7:05 remaining in the first quarter.
OSU seemed in total control when it converted its third possession into its third touchdown of the game. Hall took a handoff and split a seam created by center Corey Linsley and left guard Andrew Norwell and sped 49 yards to the end zone. The Buckeyes showed another confusing alignment during the conversion attempt, but this time shifted into kicking formation and Basil tacked on the PAT to make it 23-0 with 0:38 showing on the first-quarter clock.
After one quarter, the Buckeyes had 216 total yards to only 63 for the Bulls, and it appeared Ohio State was on its way to an easy rout.
But Buffalo took advantage of a pair of OSU turnovers to climb back within 10 points of the Buckeyes. Freshman running back Dontre Wilson’s fumble set up a 16-yard touchdown pass from Licata to tight end Matt Weiser to make it 23-7, and then Mack jumped a bubble screen pass meant for Wilson and raced 55 yards with the interception to make it 23-13. The Bulls were unsuccessful on their try for two points following Mack’s score, and they had to settle for being 10 points down with 7:10 left until halftime.
Ohio State wasted little time answering that touchdown, however. Wilson took the ensuing kickoff 52 yards to the Buffalo 37, and on the next play Hall exploded up the middle off a seal block from backup center Jacoby Boren and didn’t stop until he had reached the end zone. Basil’s point-after kick was good and the Buckeyes had moved their lead back to 30-13 with 6:53 remaining in the second quarter.
The Bulls made it a 10-point game again when Neutz fought off OSU cornerback Armani Reeves in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown catch at the 10:21 mark of the third quarter, and then had the Ohio Stadium crowd holding its collective breath just a few minutes later when the Bulls recovered a Miller fumble at the OSU 1-yard line. On the play, however, Mack was whistled for a hands-to-the-face penalty, negating the turnover and giving the Buckeyes an automatic first down at their own 37.
Ohio State took advantage, and even though Miller went to the sidelines with a leg cramp in the middle of the drive, Guiton stepped in to finish things off with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Fields. Basil booted the extra point to make it 37-20 at the 3:16 mark of the third quarter and the Buckeyes had weathered the potential storm.
Buffalo had one last chance to score midway through the fourth quarter, but the Bulls could not convert a first-and-goal at the OSU 3, Licata mishandling the fourth-down snap inside the 1-yard line.
Basil tacked on a 39-yard field goal with 7:05 remaining in the fourth quarter to set the final score at 40-20.
“The good thing I take away today is that we’re fighters,” Meyer said. “I liked the fact we jumped out early. The negative is you need to sustain effort and intensity. You know, I think Buffalo is a pretty good team, and after the film, I’m probably going to say we played OK. But the expectation for us is not just OK.”
Ohio State (1-0) returns to action next Saturday against Mountain West Conference member San Diego State. Game time at the Horseshoe is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Eastern.