The 2012 iteration of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team is nothing if not consistent. They start slow but eventually pick up the pace and distance themselves from their opponent. They have holes on offense that are filled by athletic ability and skill. The defense has issues tackling but makes enough big hits and creates enough turnovers to mask the ill effects of such play. The team has yet to reach its potential, but got out of the Horseshoe with another win.
Saturday afternoon's tilt against the University of Alabama-Birmingham wasn't the cake walk that most pundits (and LGHL writers) thought it would be. The Buckeyes had to deal with a Blazer passing attack that dinked and dunked the Silver Bullets all afternoon, and an offense that continued to show signs of brilliance among long stretches of ineptitude. But when all was said and done, the Scarlet and Gray walked out of their non conference schedule a two touchdown winner.
But for a few fleeting seconds throughout the day, nothing seemed all that certain.
If you were to ask Urban Meyer or Luke Fickell, or Braxton Miller or Travis Howard, to a man, they would likely tell you that in no way whatsoever were the Ohio State Buckeyes looking past the UAB Blazers to next week's first B1G game against Michigan State. The focus all week was on UAB - losers last week against South Carolina - and their young offense, first year head coach and sieve-like defense. In fact, after a surprising nail biter last week against California, most would think the Buckeyes would welcome a less stout opponent, if for no other reason than to flex their muscles and up their confidence before the slog of conference play begins.
To be sure, Ohio State was not necessarily bringing their A-team to the tilt today. Defenders C.J. Barnett and Bradley Roby were in their sweats before the game began, and a defense with a lot of question marks would have a few more to begin the game, as Storm Klein, Nathan Williams, and Orhian Johnson would get their first starts of the year.
Even with two starters out on defense, and Carlos Hyde still missing on offense, the Blazers were still most definitely looking more like a David to Ohio State's Goliath. But after the first two series of the game, some Buckeye fans might have been thinking about the biblical upset in the making.
If the biggest issue against California was poor tackling, then one of the biggest issue against the Blazers was an inability to defend the short and screen passes (the latter of which was effective against the Bucks during the Cal game as well). After two screen passes and a UAB first down on their first drive, the Buckeye defense forced a punt. All well and good until Ohio State was hit with a running into the kicker penalty that extended the UAB drive. This was a theme for the Buckeyes that would rear its ugly head in a few situations.
The defense would, however, hold again and force a turnover on downs, giving Miller and Jordan Hall their first licks at a UAB defense giving up an average of 44 points and 447 yards each game. After a seven yard pass and two incompletions, it was Ohio State's turn to bring out the punt team.
It was said that the Buckeyes were trying out a new punt formation for this game. Whomever came up with that idea should probably keep quiet in meetings, as Ben Buchanan's punt was blocked almost before the ball hit his foot and Nick Adams was there for the scoop and score, putting the Blazers up 6-0. That score would hold after the Ohio State special teams blocked the point after try.
First quarter, defensive miscues, offensive struggles, and the visitor with the lead in Ohio Stadium. They were smiling down in Oxford, Ohio after this start.
The first quarter would come to an end with non-scoring possessions by both squads, and UAB would open the second quarter of play with a 47-yard Ty Long field goal, putting the Blazers ahead 9-0. To that point, Ohio State had managed only 42 yards of offense and the locals, despite the beautiful fall day in Columbus, were getting a tad restless. The home team must've sensed this, as Miller and Hall lead the Buckeyes on easily their best drive of the game, 75 yards to paydirt on a Rod Smith one yard dive that was upheld after a review. A reboot seemed afoot in Columbus as the Buckeyes pulled within two, 9-7.
UAB would answer right back, taking the ensuing kickoff all the way to their own 40, eventually getting to the Ohio State 37 yard line and calling on Ty Long once again to try and hit a long distance field goal. The 54-yard attempt would be Long's career long and after a good snap and good hold, the kick itself was also true as UAB padded their lead, 12-7 with 3:44 to go in the half.
Change would need to come, and the next 224 seconds would prove that this Buckeye team can not only hit hard, but they can hit fast, too.
After a touchback, Ohio State would begin with the ball on the 25 yard line and under four minutes to play. Enter Braxton Miller: quarterback. Miller would lead perhaps the best drive of his young season, connecting on four consecutive passes of 12 yards, five yards, 21 yards, and 25 yards, the latter two passes to Corey "Philly" Brown to put the Buckeyes in great scoring position on the UAB 12 yard line. From there, Miller used his feet, breaking one tackle at the line and using the "B-button" to spin out of another tackle, diving into the end zone and putting the Buckeyes in the lead for the first time, 14-12 after a Drew Basil PAT, with only 2:41 to play in the half.
But the offense wasn't done yet.
After a kickoff return, UAB would settle in for second down from their own 25. Austin Brown, the capable backup turned feature quarterback for the Blazers, was content to gain some yards and run some clock, sending a screen pass to his tight end, Kennard Backman. In a weird series of events that followed, Backman was flipped while being tackled, the hit jarring the ball loose only for it to be recovered by Doran Grant for the Buckeyes.
With every bit of momentum firmly in the Buckeyes' corner, Miller showed the same versatility he had previously against Miami, UCF, and Cal leading a three play scoring drive for Ohio State, on a 19 yard rush, an 11 yard pass ,and a two yard give to Zach Boren. In just 5:29, the Buckeyes went from possible upset victims to rulers of their roost, scoring three touchdowns in nine plays. The 21-12 score would hold going into the locker rooms for halftime.
With the Alumni and School Marching Bands putting on quad-Script Ohio formations for halftime, perhaps the team was in as much awe as the fans to start the third quarter of play. It must have been something, as UAB opened the second quarter with a pooch kick off that they recovered, an effective onside kick against a Buckeye team that never saw it coming.
All of the sudden instead of getting the ball back ready to put the game out of reach, Ohio State would be on it's heels with its defense starting the half on the field. Luckily, the defense was hip to the task, forcing a Blazer three-and-out. The Buckeye offense would take over after a Hunter Mullins punt and would end up...punting themselves. That Ohio State punt would give UAB the ball back to start a drive where the Blazers would all but shoot themselves in the foot. Two separate 15-yard chop block penalties would force Mullins back to the field to give the ball back to Ohio State.
Hall and Miller would once again platoon in the backfield, sharing carries on zone reads before once again coming up short on third down, forcing yet another Buchanan punt, this one pinning the Blazers at their own four yard line with just over six minutes to go in the quarter. From there, however, it was a showcase of what Brown could do for UAB, as the redshirt freshman carved up the Ohio State secondary with passes of three, six, six, eight, 10, and 32 yards, taking the Blazers to the Buckeye 16 yard line before the over 6:30 drive finally stalled on a big stop by Ohio State's Nathan Williams. The result was another another long Ty Long field goal, bringing the Blazers back to within a score at 21-15. The 84 yard Blazer drive was impressive, and even more so considering 58 of those yards came on third down.
Ohio State would do no favors for itself on their next possession, going three-and-out and giving the Blazers new life. Christian Bryant also shot Ohio State in the foot, when, after breaking up a potential first down pass, decided to gloat a little too much, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, giving the Blazers another shot. After getting to the Ohio State 29 yard line, Ty Long's day got even longer, as he was asked to try another field goal, this one of 46 yards. A good snap and hold would not be enough, however, as Long hooked the attempt left, turning the ball back over to the Buckeyes.
With the ball in hand, and a game on the line late once again, Braxton Miller would have to be at his best once again. Passing for 35 yards and running for another 26, Miller would dive into the end zone from a yard out for his second score of the game. Miller would put the cherry on top one play later, stiff-arming a UAB defender en route to a successful two-point conversion, the Buckeyes ahead 29-15. UAB would have another chance to lead a comeback, but a Doran Grant interception would cement the final score.
The Buckeyes were plagued with another slow start, and another slow third quarter. The defense had issues getting off the field on third down. The offense sputtered and looked Bollman-ish far too often. But in the end, the result is another win, and an undefeated record heading into conference play. There is work to be done, but the biggest takeaway must be that there will always be work to do after games, whether its beating Miami University by 46 or Alabama-Birmingham by 14.
Ohio State takes its undefeated record on the road to East Lansing for their first B1G game of the year, taking on the Michigan State Spartans. We'll see where this incarnation of Buckeyes is at come the 3:30 pm kick.