"The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" was a 1966 Clint Eastwood movie, consistently rated as one of the best Western films of all time. It is also a phrase that perfectly sums up the first game in Urban Meyer's second season as Ohio State Head Football Coach. In many ways, the Buckeyes (1-0) were all three things today against the upstart Buffalo Bulls in Ohio Stadium, en route to a 40-20 win to kick off the season. Where there were flashes of brilliance, there were displays of ineptitude. Where there was great skill on display, there was youth being a bit too youthful. And where there were moments where things looked completely in control, there were moments of doubt and concern.
All in all, an eventful beginning to Ohio State's "Chase" for their eighth national championship in school history.
The game opened in the muggy Columbus heat, with temperatures reaching into the mid-80s, and the humidity turning the on-the-field conditions somewhat soupy. The Buckeyes began their season on defense, deferring their coin toss win to the second half. That would mean that the first action the Scarlet and Gray faithful would see cane courtesy of the Buckeye defense, a unit that opened with many a question mark, along with several new players stepping into key starting roles.
The Bulls started quickly, as Buffalo QB Joe Licata connected with WR Alex Neutz, a combination that wound up being prolific all day. But the Silver Bullets eventually slowed things down for the Bulls, and after barely making midfield, Buffalo's first drive stalled, forcing a punt, and ushering in the beginning of Buckeye QB Braxton Miller's supposed Heisman campaign.
If the temperature was hot, then the Buckeyes first quarter on offense stayed right with the mercury in Ohio Stadium to begin the day. After senior RB Jordan Hall opened the drive with three straight runs, Miller opened the scoring with a 47-yard bomb to Devin Smith, who beat his defender and made a nifty basket catch while scooting to the back of the end zone. 6-0 Buckeyes became 8-0, after Meyer opted to have holder Kenny Guiton run in the two-point conversion try.
Buffalo once again came up empty-handed in their second drive of the game, giving the ball right back to the Buckeye offense, and back into the hands of Miller. After showing his skills with the deep ball, the junior quarterback showed his off-season work in the mid-range passing game as well, hitting three different receivers, and finishing the drive with a seven-yard pass to WR Chris Fields in the end zone. Meyer, still discontented with the possibility of only scoring one point, again dialed up a two-point conversion, with Guiton finding Hall for the extra-extra point.
Another stalled Buffalo drive put the ball back into the effortlessly capable hands of the Buckeye offense, and into the hands of Hall. After missing time last year due to injury, many were questioning what a running back of Hall's abilities would be able to do in the "Percy Harvin role" that many envisioned Meyer would use him in for the Buckeyes. Hall did not disappoint, hitting runs of nine, six and five yards, before going 49 yards untouched to the house, and giving the Buckeyes a 23-0 lead as the first quarter came to a close.
That was the good. The second quarter was another story.
While the Buckeyes looked to keep the momentum going through the next fifteen minutes, they hurt themselves more than helped, and allowed the Bulls to get back into the game. After freshman Dontre Wilson coughed up his first carry as a Buckeye, the Bulls recovered on the Ohio State side of the 50. Licata took advantage, finding Neutz on the sideline to pickup a first down. But the excited Ohio State defense added 15 yards to that play, taking a personal foul for a late hit out of bounds. Licata found Matt Weiser in coverage on the next play to put Buffalo's first points on the board, and draw the score to 23-7.
Much of the pregame focus was spent on Buffalo's stud LB Khalil Mack, a likely first-round pick destined for the NFL. Mack was a non-factor for the first 20 minutes of the game, but made his presence felt soon thereafter, intercepting Miller's short screen pass and taking it 47 yards to the house, the pick-six bringing Buffalo to only 10 points down, after a failed two-point conversion by the Bulls.
That was the bad.
With the score tightened, and the fans getting antsy, Wilson would take the ensuing kickoff back 51 yards, giving the Buckeyes excellent starting field position, and setting up the Buckeyes to strike back quickly. Once again, Jordan Hall did not disappoint, going 37 yards for the score, and putting Ohio State up by a much more comfortable 30-13 mark. More of the good for the Buckeyes, who may have been a little too complacent after scoring 23 unanswered to begin the game.
But that's when the ugly began to rear its head.
Ryan Shazier, last year's defensive MVP was carted back to the locker room before the half, suffering from cramps that could not be fixed on the field. He was sorely missed by an already thin Ohio State defensive corps, and his absence allowed Licata and the Bulls to control the clock, and run it down, leading to halftime, and a 17-point deficit that seemed much closer that it was.
The ugly would continue on Ohio State's first drive of the second half, as Miller took a sack on third down, and lost the football in the process. Luckily, Taylor Decker would find the ball before a swarm of Bulls defenders, but the result would be a fourth and long, and a punt for the Buckeyes. The change of possession allowed Licata to operate on the depleted Buckeye defense, finding his favorite target, Neutz, for a 10-yard score, shrinking the deficit to just 10 points.
Then, more ugly for the Buckeyes. Shazier's cramps apparently shifted to the Buckeye quarterback, as Miller was forced to the sidelines after cramping up on a 14 yard keeper. But the ugly would not extend much further on the drive, as Kenny Guiton hit Fields on a 21 yard score to put the Buckeyes up 37-20.
The Bulls needed to score on their next drive to keep pace with the Buckeyes and keep things interesting, and would almost accomplish that feat, driving 69 yards, from their own 29 all the way to the Buckeye goal line. But the final yard eluded the Bulls, as Licata fumbled the snap on fourth and goal from the one, giving the ball back to Ohio State.
From there it was all but academic for the Buckeyes. Miller rush for 56 yards on impressive 40- and 16-yard carries, ending the day with 77 yards on the ground. Hall, easily the best Buckeye on the field, netted 159 yards on the day, a career high for the senior. A Drew Basil field goal put the Buckeyes up 40-20, and after unimpressive fourth quarter drives by both teams, the game would end at that same scoreline.
Losing to North Dakota State or Towson it wasn't – but don't try and tell Ohio State partisans that. Perhaps the worst thing Urban Meyer's 2013 Buckeyes did in their debut was set expectations too high by explosively (and seemingly almost effortlessly) starting the game off with a 23-0 lead. The second and third quarters devolved into an uneven demonstration of a combination of inadequate hydration and inconsistency before OSU regained their collective footing.
Buffalo is notAlabama, which is the understatement of the decade. But they showed up in the 'Shoe on a mission to prove they belonged on the same field. For much of the game, they looked like they did, whether it was because of uneven play by Ohio State or not. There are obvious holes on this Buckeye team, and most will be filled when injuries are healed and suspensions are over.
Despite the unbelievable high expectations, there are plenty of great takeaways for these Buckeyes. The defense held the Bulls to 3-14 on third down, and only 240 yards on the day, a good portion of that while the injury bug was biting. Jordan Hall could end up being the most important cog in the offense, after his impressive display of between-the-tackles and open-field running. And Miller has certainly improved his arm, and still has an incredibly high ceiling.
At the end of the day, a win is a win, impressive or not. The Buckeyes have now run off 13 straight.