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Ohio State football: Looking for perfection

For as much hype and excitement as there was for the beginning of Ohio State's season, the 40-20 win over Buffalo left plenty of things to be hopeful for...while leaving some doubt in the eyes of even the truest Buckeye fan.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

The long, tiring, dreadful wait for the start of football season ended at 12:01 p.m. on Saturday, to much fanfare and rejoicing by the fans, players and coaches of the Ohio State football team.  The stage was certainly set for what many were anticipating to be a huge year for the Buckeyes, maybe going as far as ending the almost decade-long reign of the SEC atop the pantheon of college football.

All of that seemed more than plausible after an opening quarter, where the Buckeyes looked like the point-per-minute offensive juggernaut playing their home games in Autzen Stadium.  Jordan Hall showed the ability to turn a game with his legs, and Braxton Miller showed the ability to do the same with his arm.  The offensive pieces were in place, even without suspended Carlos Hyde.

On the other side of the ball, despite letting Joe Licata look more than able as an FBS starting quarterback, the defense, despite filling multiple holes with new players to replace those departed in the off season (and some missing due to injury and suspension), had a nose for the ball, and for causing complete distractions for the Buffalo Bulls' offense.

All told, the first quarter was just about as perfect as one could hope for in this, the opening game of the Buckeyes' Chase for their eighth national championship.  The numbers don't lie, either.  Miller was 7-8 passing for 117 yards and two scores, the one incompletion a diving drop by his receiver.  Hall owned the running game, highlighted by his 49-yard, untouched run to the end zone. The Buckeye defense didn't let Buffalo past the 50.

And then the second quarter started.

Last year, Ohio State was often plagued by slow starts to games, typically playing their worst quarters of the day in the first and third quarters.  The popular opinion, based on everything we've heard and seen in the offseason, is that this year's version of the Ohio State Buckeyes would not have to worry about that, and the mental blocks and missteps would all be solved by Meyer and his staff's relentless approach to playing well in all phases, and in all quarters, of the game.

Three second quarter turnovers, on downs, a fumble, and an interception, hitting a pretty disgusting trifecta.

But such was not the case for the Buckeyes on Saturday.  The offense looked sluggish on their first possessions of the second quarter, first failing on a fourth down conversion, fumbling on their second possession, and then allowing proven NFL prospect Khalil Mack to take a Braxton Miller pass back for a pick-six touchdown.  The results of the first three drives for Ohio State were dismal: three turnovers (downs, fumble, interception, hitting a pretty disgusting trifecta) and 13 points for the underdog visitors while scoring none of their own.  Against a better team, with more to offer on offense, this could have spelled doom and gloom for the Buckeyes.  But because it was Buffalo, Ohio State was able to come back and maintain control of the game.

If there's one thing that Meyer has preached about this Buckeye team, it is their relentlessness.  He said he had a mad team last year, and this year, he and his staff are actually sleeping at night knowing that he had a much more established team.  That establishment gave out in the second quarter, just like the legs of Miller and linebacker Ryan Shazier due to cramping in the sweltering Columbus heat.  Against better teams, the second and third quarter efforts will cost the Buckeyes dearly.  But against Buffalo, it was more than enough to get a win.

And maybe it is just that the expectations were too tremendously high going into the game, and for good reason.  Or reasons, actually:

  • Urban Meyer's second year heroics everywhere he's coached
  • A joke of a schedule compared to the other national title favorites
  • Braxton Miller, a leading Heisman candidate, running the offense
  • Seriously, other than at Northwestern and at Michigan, dat schedule doe

But maybe we're all just making too much out of one game, two lousy quarters and a team that has been gnashing their teeth since November 24th, 2012, the last time it saw the field.  And maybe it is just that we fans, holding the team near and dear to our hearts, are too much like the head football coach – we're perfectionists, through and through.  The national media didn't seem to have a problem with the win, based on the headlines:

ESPN - "Ohio State rolls early to win opener against Buffalo"

BTN, NBCSN, Yahoo! Sports - "Buckeyes roll early, hang on to beat Bulls, 40-20"

Not too shabby a group of headlines for a game with so much to nitpick.

Perfection it wasn't, that can't be argued.  But promise, it certainly was.  One of the biggest questions marks going into the season concerned how Miller would be able to elevate his game from his fourth runner-up Heisman performance last year.  Clearly he has worked his arm and is turning into the pocket-passing threat the Buckeyes need him to be.  His decision-making still needs work (based on the pick-six, and the almost-was fumble deep in his own territory that was negated by a personal foul), but he has certainly come around in that department.

And the coaching staff certainly isn't afraid, either.  What other team goes for two not once, but twice in a game?  And to open the scoring, no less.  Clearly Meyer and his staff know that their national bread will only be buttered by high national perceptions, and blowing out the likes of Buffalo is a must.  And for one quarter, that's exactly what Ohio State did.

The key to this season is going to be navigating a dangerously easy schedule, and the pressure of having to win 25straight games in order to even qualify for the National Championship Game (and even then, that's no guarantee).  Meyer clearly wants perfection from his team, and is hellbent on getting it.  He didn't in week one against Buffalo.  But he has at least 12 more weeks to try and find it in his team.