The Ohio State defense wasn’t exactly flawless, but given that nine players were making their debuts as full-time starters, the unit at least earned a passing grade in its first outing.
Buffalo managed two first downs on its opening possession and one on each of the next two. But the Buckeyes allowed only 13 offensive points and 258 total yards in a 40-20 victory Saturday.
“I walk out of this thing a little bit disappointed. You always want to hang a zero up there,” co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “But the reality is, as I collected my thoughts last night, I said, ‘I hope we have some adversity. I want to see what type of guys we’ve got.’ “
The Buckeyes faced plenty of adverse situations. Offensive mistakes gave the Bulls some short fields, and star linebacker Ryan Shazier missed much of the game with muscle cramps.
Shazier still ended up with seven tackles, tying linebacker Curtis Grant and safety Christian Bryant for the team high. Defensive end Noah Spence had two tackles for loss.
“I wanted to see what was inside these guys when things didn’t go well, and I saw something,” Fickell said. “I saw something out of Christian Bryant that he may not have add a year ago.”
The Buckeyes lost seven first-stringers on defense from last year. C.J. Barnett, a senior starting safety from Northmont, didn’t play because of an ankle sprain, and All-American cornerback Bradley Roby was serving a one-game suspension.
The Buckeyes had trouble matching up with 6-foot-3 receiver Alex Neutz, who had nine catches for 98 yards and a TD. But they had a goal-line stand early in the fourth quarter, although the Bulls gave them a helping hand by fumbling the snap on fourth-and-1.
“We talked about, ‘We’re not going to allow guys to get across the goal line,’ ” said Shazier. “Last year, we felt we were one of the best red-zone teams and goal-line teams in the nation, and this year we feel like it’s going to be the same thing.”
No letup: The Buckeyes followed the Oregon script and tallied two-point conversions after their first two touchdowns.
They lined up both times with back-up QB Kenny Guiton on one side of the field behind long-snapper George Makridis and beside kicker Drew Basil, while the remaining eight players set up near the other hashmark.
Guiton took a direct snap and scored on the first one. He passed across the field to running back Jordan Hall for the second.
After the third first-quarter TD, OSU went with a conventional extra point kick.
“It’s a pain in the rear (for opponents to prepare for),” coach Urban Meyer said. “I just think as many ways as you can (find) to get cheap points and make people work — they looked good today.”
Negative plays: Braxton Miller was sacked four times, and that’s been a point of emphasis during the preseason after the Buckeyes surrendered 29 last season, the third most in the Big Ten.
The lone new starter on the line, right tackle Taylor Decker, gave up two sacks after getting beat around the edge, although he was matched up against a linebacker each time.
“We didn’t sustain a consistent effort and intensity,” Meyer said. “Our offensive line is something we really rely on. After watching the film, I might say they played OK, but our expectation is not ‘OK.’ “
Local flavor: Fairborn native Lee Skinner, a starting linebacker, finished with five tackles for Buffalo. Back-up running back Anthone Taylor, a sophomore from Wayne, had three rushes for eight yards.