The Buffalo Bulls of the MAC stormed Ohio Stadium this afternoon to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes for the first game of the season. The amazingly game Bulls weathered a few early shots, going down 23-0 through OSU’s first three possessions, before fighting back and making a contest of it. Braxton Miller ended the game 15/22 for 178 yards with 2 touchdowns and a pick, while Joe Licata matched him with 19/32 for 187 yards 2 touchdowns and an interception. OSU’s leading Running back was Jordan Hall with a very impressive 19 carries for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns. Miller added another 16 carries for 71 yards.
Buffalo started the game with the ball and began dinking and dunking their way to a handful of first downs. The short passes, designed to build confidence in the quarterback found success early against the soft coverage OSU was playing on the edge. Surprisingly, the drive ended on a 4th down attempt that suffered a delay of game penalty, forcing the Bulls to punt.
After an incredible shank, the Buckeyes began work with good field position. Jordan Hall got to see the field first at RB, carrying the ball on a few QB zone reads. In what seemed as if the offense said, “Aw, to hell with this”, Braxton took a shot down field on a play-action pass. Devin Smith hauled in the well placed 47 yard toss for a touchdown over a lost and confused defender. Shockingly, the Bucks chose to go for two and Kenny Guiton successfully ran it in.
While the Buffalo Bulls found success against the young defense, it wasn’t enough for much more than a few first downs before they were shut down and forced to punt. Shazier in particular, the only veteren starter in the middle, made a few critical plays to help make up for the youth to either side of him. Ohio State’s young defense continued to slowly grow into their roles as the game progressed. Pressure on the quarterback improved, and the run defense began to bog the RBs down in the backfield. They also tended to stiffen on third down, allowing Buffalo only a single first down in six attempts.
The Buckeyes offense simply made things look too easy in the first quarter. The Bulls defense simply didn’t have the speed to deal with the multitude of options available to OSU. That only lasted until Buffalo began to bring the pressure with OSU deep in their own territory. Braxton struggled a little in the face of the sudden intense onslaught, but regrouped the offense well enough to preserve the drive – which ended with a long Jordan Hall touchdown up the gut.
Buffalo’s best chance for points in the first half occured when the Buckeyes failed on a 4th and one attempt at the 50. Buffalo promptly lost 15 yards on a chop-block on first down, and then gave the ball back with a tipped ball interception by Ron Tanner. Unfortunately, Dontre Wilson tried to do too much on the very next play and fumbled it back to Buffalo inside OSU territory. A late hit from Armani Reeves out of bounds helped out even more, and allowed Buffalo to score on a 16 yard pass to TE Matt Weiser for a touchdown.
It didn’t take long for Buffalo to do it again. On the next possession Braxton Miller tried to hit Wilson on a screen pass that stand-out linebacker Khalil Mack jumped. Mack carted the ball, outrunning both Wilson and Miller, straight to the endzone, diving across the goalline for the score. The subsequent attempt for two failed, leaving the score at 23-13. But the sudden momentum change wasn’t to last. Dontre Wilson made up for his earlier fumble with the ensuing kickoff, taking it 50 yards down to the Buffalo 37 yard line. On the following play, Jordan Hall broke another run up the middle for his second touchdown of the day.
With Buffalo bringing pressure, and the Buckeyes offense getting cute, OSU’s offense started to bog down after scoring on their first three straight possessions. Be it known – Outside Linebacker Khalil Mack is a monster. If he isn’t drafted in the first or second round, it’s a crime. That kid is amazingly good. Mack was all over the field and made things difficult for both Miller and the runningbacks throughout the first half. In particular, Taylor Decker struggled with the edge rush on the right side of the line, which burned Miller on a couple occasions.
Second half adjustments for Buffalo were particularly effective. The Bulls focused on getting the ball to Alex Neutz on the edge against Armani Reeves. Reeves turned out to be the weak link in the defensive secondary, eventually allowing the Bulls to score an early touchdown in the third quarter. It did not help that Reeves is only 5’10″ compared to Neutz’s 6’3″, creating an obviously favorable matchup for the offense.
Amazingly, Buffalo went away from that matchup on their next drive, and subsequently struggled to move their offense through the air. RB Brandon Oliver made it work for them on fourth and 1, gaining 7 yards and the first down. They were further helped by a stupid play from Curtis Grant, who continued to pursue a play after losing his helmet. The Bulls managed an excellent play tossing a pass over Shazier on the left side to get the ball deep into the redzone. The Buckeye defense rose to the challenge, and managed to stop Buffalo, taking advantage of a fumbled snap on 4th and goal from the one to eliminate the scoring threat.
The Buckeyes continued to struggle with the Buffalo pass rush through the second half, but got excellent running from Jordan Hall and Braxton Miller to make up for it. Miller kept a drive alive with his feet alone, converting two third downs with the scramble on broken passing plays. That drive ended with the only field goal of the game when Miller sailed a pass over Ezekiel Elliott’s head on third down.
The Buckeyes suffered from some injury concerns today. Ryan Shazier left the game with cramps in the first half, but returned in the second. Braxton Miller cramped up twice, but was reliably relieved by Smooth Kenny G to finish a touchdown scoring drive. Corey Brown landed on the football during a catch and may have had the wind knocked out of him, he returned in the 4th quarter. Lastly, new starting linebacker Joshua Perry went down with an unknown ailment and did not return.
This team is still clearly a work in progress. The offense is clicking (mostly) but needs to learn to live with the ups-and-downs of a typical football game. They also need to learn to direct plays away from key defenders to try to minimize their impact. The defense has a lot of growing up to do, but show flashes of promise here and there. They will be an excellent unit in the future. Ultimately, it shouldn’t be surprising that the Buckeyes struggled a little today. This will be an excellent opportunity to learn from their mistakes and improve going into next week’s game.
The Buckeyes will next face the San Diego State Aztecs on Saturday, September 7th. You’ll be able to see that game on ABC or ESPN2 at 3:30 PM Eastern Time.