By George M. Thomas
Beacon Journal sports writer
COLUMBUS: The Buffalo Bulls got out to roam, and they almost got a chance to run as the Ohio State Buckeyes beat them 40-20 in their season opener at Ohio Stadium where the weather melted players and crumpled a few with cramps.
Some thought Urban Meyer’s team would stampede the Bulls. Instead the Buckeyes got tested and had to come through to gain a win in the season opener.
“In a tight game, you’re going to lose that game,” Meyer said of a first half that featured two Buckeyes teams. “So we’ve got to learn to fight through those momentum shifts. I do want to give the team we played, Buffalo, a lot of credit and I have a lot of respect for that coach.”
The Bulls deserve a lot of respect because they looked as if they belonged on the field, however briefly, with the Buckeyes. It took some resolve for Ohio State to maintain control of the game.
They lost linebacker Ryan Shazier to cramps for a period of time and eventually quarterback Braxton Miller succumbed as well.
In that instance it was up to his backup, Kenny Guiton, to fill the void. Guiton completed a 14-play, 91-yard drive with a 21-yard TD pass to wide receiver Chris Fields.
But ultimately the game came down to a goal-line stand. The Buckeyes held a 37-20 lead and the Bulls drove inside the Ohio State 5-yard line. The Bulls had several pops from the 4-yard line only to get met by a stiff OSU defense. On fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line, OSU’s defense knocked Bulls quarterback Joe Licata back for a 1-yard loss, staunching any momentum they had.
“Last year we felt like we were one of the best goal-line teams in the nation and this year we’re going to try to be the same,” Shazier said.
The Buckeyes still weren’t free and clear. A score would help their situation. Enter Miller (16-of-23 passing for 172 yards and two TDs and 77 yards rushing), who after the defensive stop put the team on his shoulders and carried the Buckeyes down the field.
On a third-and-7 on their own 5-yard line, Miller raced 40 yards for a first down. Moments later on a third-and-13, he ran for 16 yards to keep the drive alive. It eventually culminated in a Drew Basil field goal.
Early on the Buckeyes looked as if they’d be doing the stampeding as they got off to a very fast 23-0 lead keyed by an aggressive Meyer offense.
Miller displayed why he’s been mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate in most preseason college football coverage, directing a nearly flawless attack.
At the 10:40 mark of the first quarter, he found Massillon’s Devin Smith for a 47-yard strike and the Buckeyes’ first score.
Almost four minutes later, he connected with Fields for a 7-yard touchdown. After each of those scores, Meyer’s offense successfully completed two-point conversions.
Were it not enough, the Buckeyes ended the quarter with running back Jordan Hall running the ball 49 yards for a score. The only person to touch him on the play: Miller when he handed the ball off.
However, as flawless as Ohio State played in the season’s opening quarter, the Buckeyes struggled in the second. Add the play of Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack and the specter of trouble loomed for Meyer’s team.
A Dontre Wilson fumble put the Bulls in business at the Ohio State 44-yard line. Moments later Bulls quarterback Licata found tight end Matt Weiser wide open for a 16-yard TD, cutting OSU’s lead to 23-7 after the extra point.
That’s when Mack (eight tackles, 2½ sacks), who’d made his presence already known in the game, showed why NFL scouts have taken note of the Mid-American Conference player. He jumped a short Miller pass and raced 45 yards for the score, cutting the Buckeyes’ lead to 23-13.
“It’s a sunny, clear screen pass to the outside receiver,” Meyer said. “Something’s in the way, you burn it and you live to see the next down.”
Mack said it’s his job.
“That’s part of leadership,” he said. “You have to calm down and get your team together, especially when the team has that kind of momentum.”
However, with the win it will be up to Ohio State players to show what kind of leadership they have. They won’t remember this as their best game and Meyer knows it.
“We’re very satisfied to win a game,” he said. “But we also know we have to get a lot better, which is good.”