RUSTY MILLER, AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS: Second-ranked Ohio State got off to a quick start. After that, it was a bit scary.
Braxton Miller threw two touchdown passes before fighting leg cramps and Jordan Hall ran for two more scores to lead the Buckeyes to a 40-20 victory over Buffalo on Saturday in the season opener for both teams.
The Buckeyes, striving for a crisper start from coach Urban Meyer's debut in 2012, led 23-0 after the first quarter before the Bulls made things interesting. Joe Licata threw two TD passes and linebacker Kahlil Mack returned a Miller interception 45 yards to make it 30-20 in the third quarter.
Miller was sidelined a second time with cramps and sub Kenny Guiton promptly tossed a 21-yard TD pass to Chris Fields.
Hall had a career-high 159 yards rushing, scoring on runs of 37 and 49 yards.
Miller was 15 of 22 passing for 178 yards with TDs of 47 yards to Devin Smith and 7 yards to Chris Fields. He also ran for 77 yards on 17 attempts, although he twice went to the sideline with cramps.
Licata completed 19 of 32 passes for 185 yards and two scores with one interception, with Branden Oliver gaining 73 yards on 26 carries for the Bulls, who were playing Ohio State for the first time ever.
Meyer had stressed all week that he wanted his team to get off to a better start than they did a year ago when they trailed 7-0 in the first quarter against Miami (Ohio).
Ohio State was in control after its first three possessions. Miller hit Devin Smith on a 47-yard scoring pass on the fourth offensive play of the season. Then Miller found Fields on a 7-yard scoring pass.
The only surprise was that the Buckeyes lined up in an unbalanced line on both conversion tries, with only three players close to the ball. Guiton, the holder, kept on the first two-point try and then hit Hall for the second conversion behind a mass of blockers at left end.
An audible groan could be heard from the crowd of 103,980 when Meyer elected to have Drew Basil score on a more conventional point-after kick after Hall burst untouched through a gaping hole off left tackle.
As good as that first 15 minutes was — 216 yards of offense, a big lead and Buffalo looking thoroughly defeated — the next two quarters showed that the Bulls were far from dead.
The Buckeyes failed on a Hall run on fourth and 1 near midfield, with Meyer chewing out his offensive line when they returned to the bench.
After Ron Tanner picked off a tipped Licata pass for Ohio State, speedy freshman tailback Dontre Wilson gave it right back on the next play when he was hit by linebacker Blake Bean and Buffalo's Derek Brim recovered.
The always expressive Meyer hung his head on the sideline.
Licata needed just three plays to cover the 44 yards, hitting three consecutive passes with help on a late hit against Ohio State cornerback Armani Reeves. Reeves was starting in place of All-Big Ten standout Bradley Roby, suspended for the opener after a bar skirmish in Bloomington, Ind., in July. The Buckeyes were also without starting tailback and 2012 leading scorer Carlos Hyde (listed as a person of interest in an alleged assault against a female) and his backup, Rod Smith (who sat out due to an unspecified violation of team rules).
Licata flipped a pass over the middle to tight end Matt Weiser, who rumbled into the end zone from 16 yards out.
Four plays later, Buffalo quieted the crowd when Miller tossed a short pass directly to the Bulls' Mack, considered one of the top linebackers in the nation, and he outran intended receiver Wilson into the end zone. Two cracks at the two-point conversion, thanks to a defensive interference penalty, failed and the Bulls had cut the gap to 23-13.
But just as quickly, the Buckeyes regrouped and took control.
Wilson redeemed himself for the turnover by taking the kickoff back 51 yards. On first down, Hall bolted through another massive hole at left tackle and there was nobody on the second level to stop him as he raced 37 yards.
Buffalo threatened again in the third quarter, with Licata hitting Alex Neutz on a 10-yard scoring pass, cutting the lead to 30-20.
The next series was almost a disaster for the Buckeyes.
Miller went down without being tackled and left the field, causing some concern before it was determined he had cramps. He returned a play later only to be sacked by Mack and then fumbling at his own 1. But Mack was called for a hands-to-the-facemask penalty which nullified the turnover and instead gave the Buckeyes a first down at their 37.
Miller went to the sideline again and Guiton tossed the scoring pass to Fields to push the lead to 17 points. Basil had a field goal for the only points of the fourth quarter.
Hall, making just the seventh start of his five years at Ohio State, rushed for 126 yards on 12 carries in the opening half.
The game was played in high humidity and temperatures in the mid-80s. Ryan Shazier, the only returning starter among the front seven on defense for Ohio State, also missed more than a quarter with leg cramps.
Under somewhat similar conditions two years earlier, dozens of fans were overcome by the heat and Ohio Stadium's medical services were overwhelmed. This time, water stations were set up at several locations and there was an increase in medical personnel.
Ohio State stretched the nation's longest win streak to 13 in a row.