|Joe Bauserman (14) celebrates after his 15-yard scoring run in the first quarter Saturday against Akron. (TBT/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)|
The 18th-ranked Buckeyes opened its 2011 season with a sharp 42-0 victory over Akron at Ohio Stadium, as Ohio State manhandled the Zips for 48 minutes in front of 105,001 fans on Saturday. After an offseason of internal turmoil that included suspensions and resignations, the Buckeyes returned to do what they do best.
Sweat led a defensive unit that gave up 90 yards and five first downs, and senior quarterback Joe Bauserman accounted for Ohio State's first four touchdowns on the day.
"We know what our expectations are," Head Coach Luke Fickell said. "We're not going to be satisfied; that's the biggest thing. But we were definitely excited about having a great day out there."
The story that Buckeye Nation will likely be talking about is the supposed timeshare at quarterback between Bauserman and true freshman Braxton Miller. Luke Fickell proclaimed the quarterbacks will see their share of playing time against the Zips, but the first-year head coach favored Bauserman throughout the first half.
Fickell said afterward that he thought both quarterbacks did a good job of running the offense and getting their feet wet, but clearly Fickell had to be impressed by how Bauserman performed. He said the playing time isn't going to be etched in stone, but the timeshare just played itself out today.
"We know we're going to need (both quarterbacks)," Fickell said. "They know we have confidence in them, but they're going to work together and we'll see how it goes."
It's not as if Bauserman didn't deserve to stay on the field, though. The fifth-year quarterback tossed three scores (28, 11, 2) to tight end Jake Stoneburner and ran for a 15-yard touchdown. Stoneburner put together quite a day as the senior caught four passes for 50 yards and became the first tight end in Ohio State history to record three touchdown receptions in a game.
"He had a great camp and he's been an integral part of this offense," Fickell said about Stoneburner. "I kind of expected it. I expected him to have a great day. Now, did I expect him to have three touchdowns? I don't know. But it's great to see."
Fickell's first game as head coach saw the team earn its first season opening shutout since 2008 when the Buckeyes romped Youngstown State 43-0. Sweat, who had Fickell as his linebacker coach for the last three seasons, said his head coach was the same intense man as year's past.
"He's a great leader, he's a great motivator and he's a great coach," Sweat said. "I think he's a quality guy on the offensive side as well as the defensive side. We've all known coach Fickell was going to be a head coach somewhere. We've always talked about it in the first couple years and I think he's doing a great job leading us."
On Ohio State's opening drive, Bauserman led a steady 8-play, 74-yard drive that was capped in a rather unconventional way. On the Akron 15-yard line, Bauserman took the snap under center, quickly realized the play was busted and zig-zagged his way — Craig Krenzel-esque — into the end zone.
"It was really good to see Joe show that leadership and that confidence," Fickell said.
After a quick three-and-out for Akron, Bauserman returned for the second drive, and again, marched the offense down the field. But running back Rod Smith turned what looked to be an impressive drive for the redshirt freshman very sour as Smith fumbled the ball away at the Zips' three-yard line.
Ohio State's third series officially introduced Miller at the 14:49 mark in the second quarter, but the rest of the offense didn't help the youngster impress. Miller picked up two yards on a QB draw, threw a strike to tight end Reid Fragel that was promptly dropped and senior center Mike Brewster rolled the shotgun snap that Miller fell on to kill the drive. Miller wouldn't see the field again until the third quarter.
Fickell said it was a blessing in disguise that the freshman dealt with a detour in his first collegiate drive.
"I told (Miller) on the sidelines 'It might be the best thing for you. The most important thing was you didn't bat an eye, didn't throw a helmet or get mad or upset. You handled everything extremely well,' " Fickel said. "And I think to me that is the biggest test there is is to see how they can handle different things."
The Buckeyes pushed their lead to 14-0 after a 13-play, 64-yard drive was topped with a touchdown toss from Bauserman to senior tight end Jake Stoneburner. Bauserman and Stoneburner hooked up again with 1:21 left in the first half on an 11-yard pass that gave the Bucks a 21-0 advantage.
At halftime, Miller accumulated a total of three snaps compared with 38 for Bauserman.
Bauserman opened the second half and again lead a touchdown drive that ended with a 2-yard pass to Stoneburner for a 28-0 lead. Bauserman went 12-for-16 for 163 yards.
Miller returned for his second series with 9:52 in the third quarter and played through the second half. Miller tossed his first career touchdown pass to fellow true freshman receiver Devin Smith with 14:46 left in the fourth. The 14-yard toss was fit perfectly between three defenders and had plenty of burn on the ball. Miller put together a solid line going 8-for-12, 160 total yards of offense and one touchdown.
DEFENSE PITCHES SHUTOUT ... Akron's offense was simply overwhelmed by a fast and athletic Buckeye defense. Sweat put on a defensive workshop in the first half with six tackles, a forced fumble and an interception on a tipped ball from sophomore cornerback Dominic Clarke.
All told, the Ohio State defense registered five sacks and one turnover while pitching a shutout. Fickell said after the game that he wanted his team to look sharp and fast. Sweat and the rest of the defense looked the part on Saturday.
"We were ready to play today," Sweat said. "Our defensive staff got us prepared. We didn't know what to expect but I think we played our base fundamentals and I think we played well today."
RUNNING SHORT-HANDED ... The Buckeyes were without three running backs in their opener as sophomore Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith took the carries. Both showed good burst and the ability to run between the tackles.
Senior Dan Herron is suspended for the first five games, junior Jordan Hall was suspended for the opener earlier in the week and junior Jaamal Berry sat out with an injury.
"We only had two guys who were able to go today and (Hyde and Rod Smith) had to share the load," Fickell said. "I was impressed with how hard they ran, their demeanor, their body language."
Hyde carried the ball 19 times for 93 yards and Rod Smith had 18 carries for 74 yards and a touchdown.
PLAY OF THE DAY ... It was a good afternoon to be a true freshman for Ohio State. Receiver Evan Spencer made a spectacular catch on a fly route down the left sideline, Miller threw a dart over Spencer's left shoulder and the receiver turned his body toward the ball, snagging it with his right hand while staying in-bounds.
"We had a go-route and Braxton threw it back-shoulder," Spencer said. "And I adjusted kind of late because when I first came off he looked like he was going to throw it deep and then I realized it was back-shoulder and I just made a play on the ball."
The 33-yard circus grab lead to a 2-yard touchdown run by Rod Smith that pushed the Buckeyes lead to 42-0.