Ohio State’s 31-16 win over Central Florida was far from a command performance.
But quarterback Braxton Miller made more than enough plays on offense and the Buckeyes intercepted UCF quarterback Blake Bortles on the other side three times. All of it added up for a nonconference win for the 14th-ranked Buckeyes before a crowd of 104,745 on what turned out to be a sunny Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
The Buckeyes moved to 2-0, but it was far from easy. They overcame three turnovers of their own as well as a handful of broken plays and mental mistakes on offense. And the defense surrendered 253 yards passing and as many as six plays of 20 yards or more. And the Buckeyes were also penalized 10 times for 79 yards.
“You can’t win with turnovers and penalties,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said. “That's not a good team. Right now we're not I don't want to say we're not a good team. But we're not. We're just mushing around out there. And we've got to be much better than we are.
“I don't want to be a downer around here. We won a frickin' game. Won by two touchdowns against a quality opponent. Time to move on, get ready to go play.”
After last week’s opening game win over Miami (Ohio), Meyer said Miller’s 17 carries were probably too many.
Meyer was probably not happy to pick up the box score after this game and see that his quarterback carried it 27 times. He netted 141 yards and scored three touchdowns for the Buckeyes.
“That's too much,” Meyer said. “Twenty-seven hits. He's blown out right now. We have to be smart. Someone's gotta run the ball. And right now he's our best answer. You could tell he was kind of blown in that fourth quarter.”
Miller also hit on 18 of 24 passes for 155 yards and a score with an interception.
Orhian Johnson had an interception for OSU
“I feel all right,” Miller said. “Carlos (Hyde) went down so I had to help out with the running game. I’ve never had 27 in my life. That’s a lot. We have to get the young guys prepared for this week. For me to not have all those carries, that would be better for me.”
Starting tailback Carlos Hyde left the game late in the first half with a knee sprain. He had gained 27 yards on seven carries. Freshman Brionte Dunn filled in after that and ended up with 29 yards on five carries. Third-stringer Rod Smith also got in late, but he and Miller mishandled a handoff for a fumble as OSU was trying to run out the clock.
“Offensively, we're down to our third tailback, and it looked like it,” Meyer said. “We have to get better. The guys carrying the ball are talented, just terrible mistakes.
Devin Smith and Philly Brown led the receiving corps with six catches each. Jake Stoneburner had a touchdown grab as well.
OSU’s pass rush struggled to get after UCF quarterback Blake Bortles. He was able to complete 25 of 41 passes for 253 yards with two touchdowns for the Knights (1-1). But OSU’s Travis Howard, Etienne Sabino and Orhian Johnson all had interceptions for the Buckeyes.
UCF coach George O’Leary was complimentary of the Buckeyes afterwards.
“We played sporadically and didn’t tackle as well as we needed to,” O’Leary said. “We tried to make too many arm tackles and you can’t do that against a team as good as Ohio State. They have athletes that can make you miss, especially Braxton Miller. He is a good player, who can make you look bad.”
UCF had the ball to open the game and went three-and-out. The Buckeyes took over after the punt on their own 29-yard line. OSU moved 71 yards in a brisk seven plays to the game’s first touchdown. Miller started it with an 11-yard toss to Brown. Zach Boren then had tough runs of 8 and 2 yards for a first down. Miller then went to Brown for 6 yards before scrambling for 5 yards and a first down on a broken play. After Hyde picked up 2 yards, Miller kept it on a quarterback draw up the middle for the 37-yard touchdown. He was virtually untouched on the play as OSU went up 7-0 with 9:35 left in the first quarter.
“We came out fast,” Miller said. “That was better than last week.” (OSU went scoreless on its first possessions in the opener against Miami.)
As It Happened
The OSU defense forced another three-and-out. The Buckeyes then drove from their own 12 to the 47. But on fourth-and-1 there, Miller was submarined by UCF’s Jonathan Davis for no gain. Last week, Hyde was stopped for no gain at the Miami 1 on the final play of the first half.
“It's just I'm trying to push the buttons to make us a good team,” Meyer said of the gutsy call. “Midfield you should be able to, on fourth and one, get a first down. We did it twice, and I think our offense knows we're going to do it again. At some point you have to do that. When you're a very good team which right now we're not but we're working our tails off to become that very good team.”
Central Florida took advantage of this opening and drove as far as the OSU 7. But on third-and-goal from the 11, OSU’s Orhian Johnson broke up a pass. UCF settled for Shawn Moffitt’s 28-yard field goal to trim the gap to 7-3 with 12 seconds left in the first half.
OSU then embarked on a 13-play, 67-yard scoring march. A 19-yard reverse by Brown gave the Buckeyes a first down at the UCF 12. But on third-and-5 at the 7, Miller scrambled and tried to throw to Hyde at the goal line. But UCF’s A.J. Bouye hit Hyde and caused an incompletion. The hit knocked Hyde out of the game. OSU settled for Drew Basil’s 24-yard field goal and a 10-3 lead with 9:58 left in the first half.
Central Florida answered with a five-play, 78-yard scoring march to tie it at 10-10. Bortles hit Johnson for a 20-yard gain as he escaped a tackle attempt by OSU’s Bradley Roby. Even worse, Johnson got loose for a 48-yard gain. On third-and-goal from the 1, Bortles executed a play fake and threw to wide open tight end Justin Tukes in the back of the end zone for the touchdown that tied it at 10-10 with 6:54 left in the half.
The teams then exchanged turnovers. OSU’s Boren lost a fumble, which UCF’s Kemal Ishamel recovered. But two plays later, Bortles had a pass to the right flat deflected by OSU’s Johnson and intercepted by teammate Travis Howard. He returned the pick – his third of the young season – 9 yards and the Buckeyes were in business at the UCF 48 with 3:18 left in the half.
“We were in man coverage,” Howard said. “I knew exactly what route they were running. I jumped my man on the slant route. He threw it to No. 2. I used great eye control. It tipped off (Johnson) and I caught it.”
The Buckeyes needed eight plays to cover that distance and break the tie. Miller hit Brown for 14 yards on a screen. He then found Devin Smith for a 10-yard gain. Miller scrambled for 1 yard on third-and-1 and got a first down at the UCF 24 with 1:42 left. Facing third-and-16 at the 30, Miller dropped to throw but took off under heavy pressure. He scampered for 24 yards and a first down at the UCF 6 with 30 seconds left.
On first down there, Miller rolled left and beat the contain man to the edge. He turned the corner and got into the end zone at the pylon for the 6-yard touchdown that put the Buckeyes up 17-10 with 15 seconds left in the half.
In one half, Miller was 9 of 11 passing for 70 yards and had 14 carries for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
Ohio State then had the ball to start the second half and tacked on two touchdowns in the first seven minutes of the half to grab a commanding 21-point lead.
On the first possession of the half, OSU moved 76 yards in a methodical 12 plays. Miller hit Brown and Boren for 11 yards each. He then found Smith for 9 yards and a first down at the UCF 14. After a 2-yard run by Boren, Miller looked right and came back left. He threw into the back of the end zone to Jake Stoneburner, who got behind UCF’s Jordan Ozerities, for the 12-yard touchdown that made it 24-10 with 10:25 left in the third quarter.
“It was a great opportunity for me,” Stoneburner said. “I always love scoring. It’s like the 10th touchdown I’ve had here. I will never take any one for granted. To be able to get back on the field after (being suspended) this past summer, that’s a great feeling.”
Disaster struck again for Bortles and UCF. Facing a third down deep in his own territory, Bortles rolled right. He was pressured by OSU’s John Simon and blitzing linebacker Ryan Shazier. He threw late back to the middle. OSU’s Bradley Roby tipped it and linebacker Etienne Sabino intercepted it. He returned it to the UCF 32 with 8:54 left in the third.
“Our D-line and our linebacker, Ryan Shazier, got some great pressure there,” Sabino said. “The ball kind of bounced up into my hands. I give credit to the line for that pressure on that one.”
It took three plays to put the ball into the end zone. Miller ran for 9 yards on first down. He then hit Smith in the left flat for 15 more down to the 8. On first down there, Miller took the snap and followed Boren on the quarterback draw for the 8-yard touchdown and a 31-10 lead with 8:08 left in the third quarter.
“When you have a guy like that in front of you, why wouldn’t you follow him,” Miller said of Boren. “He’s a head hunter. I just went straight ahead into the end zone.”
Central Florida, undaunted, came back with an impressive 14-play, 84-yard scoring drive. The Knights converted three third downs on the drive. Bortles found Quincy McDuffie behind Roby down the right sideline for a 35-yard gain down to the OSU 37. On third-and-21 from the 36, Bortles calmly hit a wide open Johnson for 27 more yards down to the OSU 9. He got behind OSU’s Johnson and C.J. Barnett on that play.
Finally on fourth-and-goal at the 2, Bortles rolled right and hit fullback Billy Giovanetti wide open at the goal line for the touchdown. OSU’s Adolphus Washington blocked the PAT kick, but UCF had cut the lead to 35-16 with 1:37 left in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes opened the door farther for UCF late in the third. On third-and-17 from the OSU 18, Miller and Brown appeared to miscommunicate on a route. Miller threw it up for grabs behind Brown and UCF’s A.J. Bouye made the easy interception. He returned it 3 yards to the OSU 36 with 46 seconds left in the third.
UCF drove inside the OSU 10. On third-and-5 from the 9, Bortles dropped and looked right. He tried to throw short of the goal line, but OSU’s Johnson stepped in front of the pass for UCF’s McDuffie and intercepted it, averting the threat with 13:55 left in the game.
UCF drove to midfield late in the game, but Bortles’ fourth-down pass was deflected incomplete by Doran Grant with 1:32 left.
OSU could have run out the remaining time, but Miller and Rod Smith mishandled a handoff and lost a fumble with 41 seconds left. UCF drove inside the OSU 10, but Steve Miller sacked Bortles on the last play to (finally) end it.
“Take care of the ball and we're out of here, go do what you gotta do, enjoy your families, and get ready to go face Pac 12 opponent next week,” Meyer lamented.
Sabino added, “Any time you get a win, you’re happy. It’s hard to win a college football game. But we can play better and get better, definitely.”
* Miller is the first OSU quarterback since Art Schlichter against Illinois in 1979 to rush for three touchdowns. His 18 completions tied a career high originally set against Florida in the 2012 Gator Bowl.
The last Buckeye with three rushing touchdowns in a game was Chris Wells against Wisconsin in 2007.
* Stoneburner’s 12-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter marked the 10th touchdown reception of his career.
* Freshman defensive tackle Tommy Schutt made his first career start. The Buckeyes played without two of their top defensive linemen in Michael Bennett and Nathan Williams.
“Coming in (from high school) starting wasn’t something I was worried about,” Schutt said. “I’ve been focused on improving my game and playing to the best of my abilities. If I keep doing that the starts will come.”
Freshmen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington also played quite a bit with those players out. Meyer said Williams was sore after playing quite a bit last week.
“He was all sore all week,” Meyer said. “He didn't practice. It’s frustrating for him, frustrating for us because is he in, not in? And it's a tough injury. He's got a micro fracture injury.”
Corner Travis Howard also left the game due to a shoulder injury.
“He had some stingers,” Meyer said. “My understanding he'll be fine for next week.”
* Hyde’s status is unclear. It was initially reported as a strained MCL in his knee, which could rule him out of next week’s game against California. Meyer talked about OSU’s options if Hyde can’t play.
“When we jog the first unit out there, someone will jog out at tailback,” he said. “The choices are Zach Boren, Bri'onte or Rod Smith. Those are the choices. And maybe some situations Philly Brown. That's the only thing you can do.”
* Sabino collected his first career interception at 8:54 in the third quarter following a tip pass.
* Nineteen Buckeyes notched tackles vs. the Knights, with Christian Bryant leading the way with seven stops.
* Johnson tallied his fifth career interception in the fourth quarter
* This was the first meeting ever between Ohio State and Central Florida.
Ohio State is now 13-1-1 all-time against teams currently in C-USA. The Buckeyes have posted a 7-1-1 record against SMU, two wins each over Marshall and Rice and one win over Houston.
OSU has never played Southern Miss, East Carolina, UAB, Memphis, Tulsa, UTEP and Tulane. OSU will play UAB on Sept. 22 and is scheduled to face Tulsa for the first time in 2016.
* Since moving to the I-A level in 1996, UCF is now a combined 4-46 against teams from BCS conferences. Those four wins came over Alabama in 2000, N.C. State in 2007, Georgia in the 2010 Liberty Bowl and Boston College last year (30-3).
UCF is now 0-7 all-time against teams currently in the Big Ten. That includes two losses to Penn State and Purdue and one loss each to Nebraska and Wisconsin.
* Meyer is now 2-0 all-time against Central Florida as a head coach. His 2006 Florida team defeated UCF 42-0 in Gainesville.
Meyer also improved to 36-4 in September.
* OSU has won 62 straight regular season nonconference home games against unranked teams. That string dates to a 1982 loss to Florida State.
* The Buckeyes continue with the third game of a four-game homestand to open the season next week against California (0-1). The Bears opened the season with a 31-24 loss to Nevada. They hosted I-AA Southern Utah on Saturday. The game is slated for a noon start and will be televised by ABC.
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