COLUMBUS, Ohio -- At times Ohio State looked like a contender. At others it seemed to be just trying to survive the heat and injuries that made it even more shorthanded than planned.
The Buckeyes were far from perfect as they opened the season on Saturday afternoon at Ohio Stadium, but for starters, they still got the result they needed as they coasted after a big first quarter and worked out some kinks in a 40-20 win over Buffalo.
Braxton Miller again was a handful as a rusher and a passer, Jordan Hall was plugged in to supply the punch on the ground and a rebuilding defense made do with Ryan Shazier fighting cramps and star cornerback Bradley Roby on the sideline because of a suspension.
And while Urban Meyer will have no shortage of teaching points in practice this week, the Ohio State coach stayed undefeated with the program with his 13th consecutive victory since taking over last season.
It was over when: Braxton Miller threw his first pass of the game, sparking an early onslaught and supplying a lead the Buckeyes would never give up.
The junior quarterback showed off his improved mechanics, accuracy and arm on the opening drive of the game for the Buckeyes, hitting Devin Smith on a gorgeous 47-yard strike to get his Heisman Trophy campaign off to a flying start.
The Bulls didn’t back down even after falling behind by 23 points in the first quarter, climbing back within 10 thanks to a couple of careless turnovers by Ohio State. But even shorthanded, the Buckeyes had far too much talent for the Bulls and were never seriously challenged despite some inconsistency and a few scary moments.
Game ball goes to: With both the projected starter and the top backup on the shelf with suspensions, a limited backfield needed somebody to fill the void and become a workhorse to take some pressure off Miller. The Buckeyes didn’t need to look further than Jordan Hall, who turned in the finest rushing performance of a star-crossed career to help the offense survive muggy conditions and early-season rust.
Hall was a handful for the Bulls between the tackles, and twice he burst through holes in the middle untouched for long touchdowns on the way to 159 yards on 21 carries. Rod Smith will be eligible to return next week and Carlos Hyde will be back after the third game, but Hall made his case to stay in the lineup with a performance the Buckeyes needed more than they might have thought.
Stat of the game: The goal was to get closer to an even split, but the run-to-pass ratio still leaned heavily toward the rush as the Buckeyes opened the season. That can be partially attributed to the early lead Ohio State jumped out to, but the Buckeyes still were about twice as likely to keep the ball on the ground in the opener than to air it out and show off Miller’s arm. The final count was almost exactly 2-to-1, with Ohio State carrying 45 times and throwing 23, mirroring the approach of the 2012 season.
What it means: The opener was always going to be a tuneup for the Buckeyes, given the discrepancy in talent, and a few sloppy moments along the way should be expected at this stage of the season. Meyer might actually be thankful for them as a way to stay on his team, picking out the early flaws and ensuring he has the attention of a team with a lot of youth and inexperience on the defensive side of the ball.
In the big picture, the Buckeyes probably didn’t find out all that much they didn’t already know, and with key starters such as C.J. Barnett, Roby and Hyde all on the sideline, they weren’t even at full strength to begin with on Saturday. But a much stiffer test is coming next weekend with San Diego State set to visit, and Ohio State will surely find out more about itself then.