COLUMBUS: Doran Grant waited more than a year for his big opportunity. When it finally arrived on Saturday, he didn’t disappoint.
Grant (St. Vincent-St. Mary) had a fumble recovery, sack and an interception in his first career start at cornerback during the Buckeyes’ 29-15 victory Saturday against Alabama-Birmingham. He learned on Wednesday he would be starting following a shoulder injury to Bradley Roby, but coach Urban Meyer has consistently said he has three starting corners. Grant, a sophomore, showed why with his big day.
“There really wasn’t any pressure,” he said. “I prepared the same way I always do.”
Grant’s fumble recovery occurred late in the first half, two plays after a Buckeyes touchdown gave them a 14-12 lead. Christian Bryant flipped UAB receiver Kennar Backman following a short gain, and Backman fumbled when his arms hit the ground. Grant fell on the ball on the 32-yard line, and the Buckeyes quickly scored again to take a 21-12 lead into the half.
“We had a lot of confidence putting him in the game,” co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said of Grant. “He’s had good weeks of practice, we just haven’t had many opportunities to throw a second-team guy in the game. This week gave us an opportunity to see if we have depth at that position and we feel like we do now.”
When the outcome was already decided, Grant intercepted UAB quarterback Austin Brown late in the fourth quarter.
“Hopefully this will build confidence for him,” Withers said, “and he’ll continue to get better and play better.”
Meyer has long hailed the importance of special teams and coaches the units himself, but the Buckeyes had two critical breakdowns on separate units.
Ben Buchanan’s first punt of the game was blocked when the line let a slew of Blazers through right up the middle, resulting in their only touchdown of the game. Then the Blazers began the second half by perfectly executing an onside kick that caught the Buckeyes off-guard.
UAB was unable to move the ball to start the third quarter, however, and had to quickly punt.
“It’s nonsense,” Meyer said of the blocked punt, calling it a missed assignment. The Buckeyes were without C.J. Barnett and Roby, who are both key contributors on special teams.
Meyer said the coaches warned the players to expect the unexpected, but no one was paying attention for the second-half kickoff.
“We can’t have obvious mistakes like that,” Meyer said. “You have to react, watch the ball kicked and go.”
Braxton Miller completed 12-of-20 passes for 143 yards, but again did the majority of his damage with his feet. Miller carried 11 times for 64 yards and two touchdowns, including a nifty twisting, diving score to put the Buckeyes ahead 14-12 late in the second quarter.
Meyer is starting to put more control of the offense in Miller’s hands.
“We gave him the keys to the offense a little bit,” Meyer said. “It was very minimal, but it was a great first step for him. We’re developing a quarterback as we speak. It takes time.”
Running back Jordan Hall had the first 100-yard game of his career, finishing with 105 yards on 17 carries. But he failed to score, giving way to Miller and Rod Smith (one touchdown) at the goal line.
“I’m happy about it,” Hall said. “But Michigan State is where my focus is.”
The Buckeyes play the Spartans next week in East Lansing, Mich.
As for Smith, he has struggled with fumbles previously, but Meyer showed great faith by handing him the ball at the goal line.
“He’s earned it,” Meyer said. “There’s no reluctancy at all to put him there.”
The victory was the 400th in Ohio Stadium. … Orhian Johnson’s blocked extra point in the first quarter was the Buckeyes’ second of the season. … UAB kicker Ty Long’s 54-yard field goal in the second quarter was the third longest by an opponent in the Horseshoe. … Ryan Shazier led the defense with 13 tackles.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com.