COLUMBUS, Ohio – When the Colorado Buffaloes learn to not let football games begin without them, success might not be far behind. And under lessons-still-to-be-learned, better put checks beside special teams play and field position.
As the Buffs had done on three previous weekends – only one of them not turning out badly – they fell behind early. And on this Saturday in the sunny and mild Heartland, determined Ohio State wouldn’t let them up.
Rebounding from a 24-6 loss at Miami (Fla.) that dropped them out of the Top 25 for the first time in seven years, the Buckeyes routed the Buffs 37-17 at Ohio Stadium before 105,096. The victory improved Ohio State’s home record to 55-5 since 2002; the loss was CU’s 20th straight away from Boulder since 2007.
CU, which begins Pac-12 Conference play next Saturday at home against Washington State, fell to 1-3 while Ohio State waltzed out of “The Horseshoe” at 3-1.
For only the third time in modern history, the Buckeyes started a true freshman quarterback – Braxton Miller. The others were Art Schlichter in 1978 and Terrelle Pryor in 2008. Schlichter debuted with five interceptions in a 19-0 loss to Penn State, while Pryor threw four touchdown passes and just one interception in a 28-10 victory against Troy.
Miller was more successful, mostly using his legs to baffle the Buffs. In the first half, when the Buckeyes were opening a 17-0 lead, Miller ran 14 times for 83 yards and finished with that total after only three second-half carries. He went 5-of-13 passing for 83 yards and two touchdowns.
CU quarterback Tyler Hansen completed 22 of his 39 passing attempts for 238 yards and a pair of touchdowns, giving him nine TD passes for the season. The Buffs rushed for just 76 yards, the Buckeyes for 226.
Ohio State has allowed just one 100-yard rusher in its past 25 home games, and CU didn’t have a back that came close. However, tailback Rodney “Speedy” Stewart, one of three Ohioans on the CU roster, gained 55 yards – enough to push him over 3,000 for his career and past Bobby Purify into third place on the school’s career rushing list. Stewart trails Eric Bieniemy and Rashaan Salaam.
CU had committed just one turnover in its first three games, but the Buffs lost a pair of first-half fumbles Saturday and the Buckeyes got points from both. CU also was flagged eight times, now totaling 37 in four games.
The Buffs had targeted a fast start but they were well off that mark. Not close, in fact. They trailed 10-0 after one quarter, and here’s how they came by that zero: No first downs, one yard rushing, 18 yards in total offense.
It was another non-start eventually compounded by a series of special teams nightmares that contributed to Ohio State opening seven of 12 drives in CU territory and three others at its own 40, 40 and 43. The Buckeyes’ average starting field position was the Buffs’ 47-yard line.
After forcing the Buckeyes to punt on the game’s opening series, the Buffs also went three-and-out. Whether called or done impromptu, CU’s Darragh O’Neill attempted a left-footed rugby style punt that traveled only 20 yards.
But in its herky-jerky bouncing up field, it appeared to hit an Ohio State player. O’Neill thought it did, but teammate Makiri Pugh – the nearest Buffs player to the ball – didn’t make a move for it.
The Buckeyes took possession at the Buffs’ 43-yard line and quickly used seven plays to take a 7-0 lead. Tailback Jordan Hall, suspended for the first two games, scored on a 1-yard run and Drew Basil’s extra point pushed the Buckeyes in front 7-0. Hall finished with 84 yards rushing.
On CU’s next series, Hansen and Stewart botched a handoff and Ohio State defensive tackle Adam Bellamy pounced on it at the Buffs’ 22. The Buffs’ defense would be congratulated for letting it only come to this, but six plays later Basil’s 28-yard field goal gave Ohio State a 10-0 lead that held up through the rest of the first quarter.
Midway through the second quarter, the Buckeyes pulled ahead 17-0 after being given prime field position when Stewart signaled for a fair catch at his 5-yard line and put the Buffs offense in another precarious position.
Three plays later, O’Neill had to punt out of his end zone. Hall returned the punt 12 yards to the CU 46, and from there Miller capped a six-play scoring drive with a 32-yard TD pass to freshman receiver Devin Smith, who got behind Buffs corner Ayodeji Olatoye.
With Basil’s PAT, the Buckeyes were up 17-0 and the Buffs were gasping.
CU showed its only offensive spark of the first half on the following possession, with Hansen driving the Buffs 83 yards and hitting receiver Toney Clemons – he had lost to Ohio State twice while at Michigan – with an 11-yard scoring pass. It was Clemons’ second TD reception in two games.
After Will Oliver’s extra point, CU trailed by 10 (17-7) and appeared to possibly be finding itself. Then came Justin Castor’s kickoff, which sailed out of bounds and gave Ohio State possession at its own 40. The Buffs defense looked like it had worked out of that jam, forcing the Buckeyes to punt.
But Stewart, signaling for a fair catch, was jostled and bobbled the ball. Ohio State recovered at the CU 10-yard line with 15 seconds left before intermission, and 9 seconds later Basil’s 18-yard field goal sent his team to the locker room with a 20-7 halftime lead.
In addition to his 83 rushing yards in the first half, Miller completed two of his six passes for 40 yards – one the 32-yard scoring pass. Hansen’s 91 passing yards (10-of-18) was essentially CU’s only first-half offense; the Buffs rushed only five times and gained 15 ground yards.
CU started the second half as unsteadily as the first, getting whistled for holding on the kickoff and taking possession at its own 9-yard line. That ultimately led to another O’Neill rugby punt – this one right-footed – that traveled 33 yards and set up the Buckeyes at midfield.
Over the next six plays, Hall – Clemons’ cousin – carried five times and moved Ohio State to the CU 17. On Play No. 6, with the Buffs possibly expecting another dose of Hall, Miller and Smith hooked up for their second TD – this one a 17-yarder. Following Basil’s PAT, CU was looking at 27-7 deficit with 9:04 left in the third quarter.
Another holding penalty on the ensuing kickoff put the Buffs at their own 10 to open their second second-half series. Still, Hansen and his offense strung together a 60-yard drive, positioning Oliver for his sixth field goal of his freshman season – this one a 47-yarder that brought the Buffs to within 27-10.
So much for momentum . . .
Hall returned CU’s kickoff 90 yards to the Buffs’ 5-yard line, and on the next play tailback Carlos Hyde scored. After Basil kicked the Buckeyes up 34-10, the visitors had one quarter to either spin a miracle or make the afternoon respectable.
They weren’t up for either. Basil booted a 47-yard field goal with 11:42 to play, increasing the Buckeyes’ advantage to 37-10. The Buffs scored on a 14-yard Hansen-to-Tyler McCulloch pass with 3:31 remaining, and Oliver’s PAT accounted for their final points of the afternoon.