Sunday, September 4, 2011

UPDATED: BAUSERMAN GREAT START, MILLER STRONG FINISH; DEF. NASTY

Joe Bauserman
TBT/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell
COLUMBUS — Ohio State quarterback Joe Bauserman's start to Saturday's opener against Akron couldn't have begun any better for the fifth-year senior, as he led the 18th-ranked Buckeyes on an eight-play, 74-yard scoring drive during the team's opening series.

Bauserman completed both of his passes for 37 yards on the opening drive and capped it off with a Terrelle Pryor-like touchdown scamper from 15 yards out to give the Buckeyes a 7-0 lead. Ok ... the run was maybe more Craig Krenzel-like, but it had the crowd buzzing nonetheless.

"I'm not going to lie, I was laughing when I saw him run it in," junior tight end Jake Stoneburner smiled. "It was pretty funny to see him move like that."

Bauserman would go onto to have an outstanding game, going 12-of-16 passing for 163 yards and three touchdown tosses — all to Stoneburner — in the Buckeyes' 42-0 victory over Akron at Ohio Stadium.

Braxton Miller (TBT/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell
The Buckeyes' other starting quarterback, Braxton Miller, didn't have such fortune on his opening series. The true-freshman signal caller entered the game with 14:49 to play in the second quarter, ran for two yards on a keeper, had his first pass attempt flat out dropped by tight end Reid Fragel, and then had to fall on a snap in shotgun that was rolled to him on the ground by senior all-American center Michael Brewster.

It almost appeared as if Ohio State interim head coach Luke Fickell deliberately intended to test his freshman star with a little adversity on his first go round. Well, if that's what he intended, the coach will certainly give Mr. Miller a passing grade.

"I think that was kind of fitting for him," Fickell said of Miller's first series under center Saturday. "I told him on the sideline that might be the best thing that happened to you. You got to run the ball right off the bat and you got hit, so you forgot about that. You had a bad play (on the drop) and a senior guy snapped the ball to you on the ground, and the most important thing to me, is you didn't bat an eye at it. You didn't throw your helmet or get mad and upset. You handled everything extremely well.

"I think to me that's one of the biggest tests we've got to be able to do is see how we can handle it. How we can handle different things. We've told them nothing goes unnoticed. To me, those are the things we're watching. We want to see guys handle it, their body language, how they come to the sideline and work together. I was impressed.

"I haven't watched it completely yet, but I think he did a really good job of handling himself, and he'll continue to grow in that area.

Miller said it's all about putting in work when things don't go your way.

"I just got to keep working, things like that happen," Miller said. "You just have to come back with a different attitude and just come back stronger when your number's called."

Miller did come back strong when he re-entered the game again with 9:52 to play in the third quarter. The ultra-athletic quarterback dazzled, leading the Buckeyes on two second-half scoring drives, while combining for 160 yards of offense and a touchdown pass in about a quarter-and-a-half of work.

"I felt comfortable coming back in after the first (half). I just felt good." Miller said. "Throwing my first touchdown was exciting, man."

Bauserman played by far his best game as a collegiate passer. He was poised when rushed, showed to be impressive when on the run, and his passes were mostly on the mark. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound native of Virginia did nothing on Saturday to lose his standing as the starting quarterback.

"It felt good to get out there and get good timing and get comfortable with the seniors and offensive line," Bauserman said. "I tried to lead the best I could. It's something I've always dreamed about. It felt good but now I'll watch film, critique it and move on."

As for how Fickell will move on at quarterback?

"We know we need them both, and I  think that's the most important thing," Fickell said. "Those guys work great together. They're not going to be distracted by the things that are outside and all the outside influences.

"We know we're going to need them both. We're just going to give them all the ability to put them in situations and see how they handle it, and still continue to let them compete. They know we have confidence in them, but they're willing to work together and we'll see how it grows."

DEFENSE WAS NASTY ... As expected by this writer, the Buckeyes' defensive unit were not very gracious hosts on Saturday.

Ohio State held the visiting Zips to just 90 yards of total offense and only five first downs, sacked Akron quarterbacks Clayton Moore and Patrick Nicely five times, picked off a pass and posted a shutout — and did it with tenacity ... and speed, speed, speed.

Senior outside linebacker Andrew Sweat was the catalyst for the Buckeyes' defensive dominance Saturday, recording a team-high six tackles (two for losses) in the win, while forcing a fumble and hauling in an acrobatic interception off a tipped pass from OSU cornerback Dominic Clarke.

The senior linebacker from western Pennsylvania said it didn't matter who was in the game, the Buckeyes coaching staff had them ready to play.

"The coaches put us in a great position to perform well," Sweat said. "We don't have a lot of big names like past years, but we have a lot of younger guys that are ready to step up. It came down to base fundamentals and we executed."

Five different players recorded sacks on Saturday, including two true freshman — Ryan Shazier and Michael Bennett — who were able to corral Zip passers in the victory.

IT WAS A YOUTH MOVEMENT AT RECEIVER ... Bauserman and Miller combined for 293 yards on 20-of-28 passing Saturday, and freshman receivers hauled in 10 of those completions for 190 yards and a score.

Red-shirt freshman Verlon Reed recorded three receptions for 66 yards and true freshman Devin Smith grabbed three passes for 52 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown strike from Miller.

Red-shirt freshman T.Y. Williams also got into the act with two catches for 34 yards.

However, it was true freshman Evan Spencer who stole the show Saturday. Sure, he only recorded one snag in the win for 33 yards, but it was one of the most sensational grabs you will ever see.

On first down at the Akron 38-yard line, Miller dropped back and tosses the football deep down the sideline on the back-shoulder of Spencer, who reversed his body in mid-air, reached out with one hand, snared the pass and was able to somehow get his feet inbounds before coming down at the 5.

Spencer insisted he didn't have stick 'em on his gloves during the unbelievable grab.

"No, I sure didn't," Spencer laughed.  "We had a go-route and Braxton threw it back-shoulder and I just 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 in the ball."

Spencer and Smith looked greatly in tune with Miller on the field, giving Buckeye fans a lot to look forward to in the very near future.

"We knew each other from recruitment even before we committed," Smith said of the freshman trio. "We've all hung out throughout camp and in the hotel. We've built a good friendship and learned together in camp. Our friendship definitely helps us work well together on the field."

STONEBURNER HAS RECORD-SETTING DAY ... Junior tight end Jake Stoneburner displayed Saturday why many experts have him pegged as a future NFL first-round pick. The native of Dublin (OH) caught a team-high four passes for 50 yards in the win Saturday, including three touchdown receptions — an OSU school record for a tight end.

Stoneburner was a major mismatch for the Akron defense, especially near the end zone, as he snagged scores of 28, 11 and 2 — all from Bauserman — in the game.

Fickell joked after the game about Stoneburner's record-setting performance.

"I didn't play tight end here or maybe that would have happened here before," Fickell laughed. "No, obviously Jake had a great day. All in all, we were put in situations that he had the ability and the opportunities, and I think he did a great job of taking them.

"He's had a great camp. He's been an integral part of this offense all through camp. You know, so I kind of expected it, to be honest with you. I expected him to have a great day.

"Did I expect three touchdowns? I don't know. But it's great to see."

RUNNING GAME EFFECTIVE ... With Dan Herron and Jordan Hall out with suspensions, and Jaamal Berry out with an injury, the Buckeyes had just two backs available for Saturday's game against Akron.

Sophomore Carlos Hyde and red-shirt freshman Rod Smith carried load admirably, combining for 167 yards on 37 carries (4.5 avg.) and a score. Hyde led all runners on the day with 93 yards on 19 totes, and did it with a bullish style that wore on the Zips defense throughout the first half.

Smith added 74 yards on 18 carries, including a 2-yard scoring plunge to cap off the win.

"I was impressed with how hard they ran, with their demeanor, with their body language," Fickell said. "If they got tired, the other guy was willing to go run it in there."