|Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller (5) dives for a touchdown in the Buckeyes' 29-15 win over UAB in Columbus. (AP)|
COLUMBUS — Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer was expecting to see his team perform better than just average on Saturday against visiting Alabama-Birmingham.
Well, not only did the 14th-ranked Buckeyes (4-0) not accomplish their coach's mission, they actually took a step backward.
Sure, the Buckeyes defeated the Blazers (0-3) by two touchdowns, 29-15, but their play was far from inspiring and must be corrected very soon as they begin conference play next Saturday at Michigan State.
Meyer, who acknowledged that it would take a while turning the team around, said after the game that the Buckeyes are not where he thought they would be going into the Big Ten schedule.
"You've got to think about where this team was, now," Meyer said of the Buckeyes, who finished 6-7 last season. "This is not a finely tuned machine right now, and it hasn't been for a while. Obviously, there's some growing pains, but I thought we'd be further ahead."
The Blazers jumped to a 6-0 lead early in the game when they blocked a Ben Buchanan punt and returned it for a touchdown. UAB would use a 47-yard field goal by kicker Ty Long with 10:27 to play before the half to take a surprising 9-0 lead.
The Buckeyes offense, which looked lethargic and unnatural in the first quarter gaining just 37 yards, came out smoking after falling behind by nine, scoring three touchdowns in a span of less than six minutes.
Of course, the 21-point barrage was led by star quarterback Braxton Miller, who dominated three scoring drives by compiling 100 total yards, including a highlight-reel touchdown run from 12 yards out.
Miller had to play savior again in the fourth quarter.
Leading by just six points, Miller led the Buckeyes on a 71-yard scoring drive by connecting on passes of 11, 14 and 10, while also rushing for gains of 8, 17 and 1 — the final being for a touchdown. Miller would run in the two-point conversion, giving the Buckeyes a 29-15 lead and eventual win.
It was apparent all game long that the Buckeyes were searching for an explosive playmaker other than Miller. Although senior tailback Jordan Hall rushed for 105 yards in the win, his longest run of the day was only for 14 yards. Not exactly the explosion Meyer was hoping to see.
"On offense, our explosiveness, is obviously nonexistent for much of the game," Meyer said. "If it was one thing, we could make adjustments and fix it. But it's more than one thing right now.
"I mean, we're not a good offense right now. So we have to get a lot better and fast. We're facing a good defense this week (at Michigan State)."
It has become quite evident that if the Buckeyes are to be successful in Big Ten play, most of the load is going to come on the shoulders and legs of Miller, who once again shined on Saturday for 207 yards and two scores.
Meyer said that is a fact many are going to have to get used to going forward.
"I'm a little exhausted talking about it, how many hits (Miller) takes and all that," Meyer said. "He's going to play quarterback in a spread offense and we're going to do what we're going to do to win a game.
"We're not good enough to be worrying about that. He's one of our best players ... we have to do what we have to do."
Defensively, the Buckeyes looked anything but aggressive, allowing UAB to rack up over 400 yards of offense. Missed tackles and a blasé-style approach by the Buckeyes allowed the Blazers to generate big plays on mostly quick hitters to backs and receivers who were getting 12-yard cushions from the OSU defensive backs.
That has to change, according to Meyer.
"We seem like a very passive team," Meyer said. "We're on defense, we give up little screens, little bubbles. They didn't score a touchdown on our defense but we gave up a lot of yardage. That hurts. I sit there and I'm pained watching it.
"We've got to be more aggressive on defense and play a little snugger coverage. If our corners are as good as we think they are, we have to go play a little man coverage on people."
Buckeyes senior linebacker Etienne Sabino, who finished the win with 11 tackles and a forced fumble, agreed with his head coach.
"I can't tell you what is what, but it needs to change" Sabino said. "If we keep starting games like this we're going to be in trouble."
The Buckeyes will hit the road for the first time this season next Saturday, as they travel to East Lansing to take on 20th-ranked Michigan State (3-1)