On a day of many firsts for Ohio State football, Luke Fickell earned the most important one: His first win as coach.
In his first start, redshirt senior quarterback Joe Bauserman was 12-for-16 passing for 163 yards and three touchdowns, and also ran for 32 yards and one touchdown in three quarters of work. Jake Stoneburner became the first OSU tight end to catch three touchdowns in a game and, along with a stingy OSU defense, the Buckeyes defeated the Akron Zips, 42-0, in front of 105,001 fans at Ohio Stadium.
Saturday’s game was the team’s first since former coach Jim Tressel was forced to resign as OSU coach on May 30 after failing to self-report NCAA violations committed by his players. No. 18-ranked OSU (1-0) also had nine players suspended for the game, including DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, Dan Herron and Solomon Thomas, who are suspended for the first five games of this season.
Jordan Whiting was also banned from Saturday’s game, as were Corey Brown, Travis Howard and Jordan Hall, whose suspensions were announced on Thursday.
“We’ll focus on what we have and not what we’ve lost,” Fickell said in his post game press conference. “We’ll continue to move forward. Even with everything that’s been outside and out and around us, the players have done a really good job of focusing.”
As Fickell promised during a Tuesday press conference, Bauserman took the first snap of the game, and then made the most of his first drive as an OSU starter.
Bauserman led the Buckeyes on an eight-play, 74-yard scoring drive. After eluding a tackle in the backfield, Bauserman scampered 15 yards into the end zone. The ensuing point-after attempt put OSU up, 7-0.
After forcing a punt on Akron’s second possession, Fickell endured the first missed opportunity in his short time as the Buckeyes’ coach.
Redshirt freshman tailback Rod Smith carried five times for 31 yards to help lead OSU into scoring position, but fumbled inside the 5-yard line.
OSU’s defense forced a three-and-out and a third consecutive punt by Akron (0-1), however.
Enter true freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, who stepped onto the Horseshoe’s turf to lead his first drive.
Miller kept the ball and ran for two yards on his opening play, however, his first pass attempt was bobbled and dropped by junior tight end Reid Fragel. Miller was then forced to smother the ball after an errant snap on his third play under center, and the Buckeyes punted.
After Akron’s fourth punt of the game, Bauserman retook the offensive reins on OSU’s next possession. That drive, which covered 64 yards and lasted 5:35, resulted in a 28-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jake Stoneburner and a 14-0 lead for OSU.
Kicker Drew Basil missed a 40-yard field goal with 2:52 remaining in the second quarter, but the OSU defense protected the team’s two scores by limiting Akron to a single first down to that point in the game.
Senior linebacker Andrew Sweat intercepted a pass by Zips’ sophomore quarterback Clayton Moore just moments later, however. Sweat stomped his feet in-bounds before falling into the OSU bench area on Akron’s 35-yard line.
“(Dominic Clarke) deflected it (the pass) and I just ran to the ball,” Sweat said. “I was just trying to assist on the tackle and it ended up deflecting upward and I was lucky enough to catch it.”
By game’s end, Sweat had also tallied a team-high six tackles, two of which were for losses totaling eight yards.
Moore, who completed only six of 16 passes 54 yards in the game, could only help guide the Zips to 90 total yards of offense.
Sweat’s interception gave OSU a chance to redeem itself — and it did.
Sophomore tailback Carlos Hyde opened the drive with a 24-yard run. Three plays later, Bauserman again connected with Stoneburner for an 11-yard touchdown pass to put the Buckeyes up 21-0.
On the ensuing Zips’ drive, kicker T.J. Marchese’s 41-yard field goal attempt sailed left of the uprights as time expired in the first half.
On the defensive side, the Buckeyes limited Akron to 100 total yards in the half. Sweat’s interception also marked the only drive on which the Zips didn’t punt.
The Buckeyes’ dominance continued at the outset of the second half.
Eight plays after sophomore kick returner Corey Brown returned the opening kick of the half to Akron’s 49-yard line, Bauserman threw his third touchdown pass of the day to Stoneburner — a 2-yard pass this time — and OSU led, 28-0.
Stoneburner had four catches for 50 yards on the play. He also became the first tight end in the 122-year history of Buckeyes’ football to score three touchdowns in a game, as well as the eighth player at any position to accomplish the feat.
Bauserman led the Buckeyes on six of their first seven drives before Miller took command of the offense for the duration of the game.
“It felt good to get out there and get good timing and get comfortable with the seniors and offensive line,” Bauserman said. “I’ll watch film and critique it (the game) and move on.”
On just his third drive as a collegian, Miller celebrated his inaugural touchdown pass.
Miller found wide receiver and fellow freshman Devin Smith for a 14-yard touchdown after leading OSU on a six-play, 59-yard drive. At that point, the Buckeyes led, 35-0, and both teams began to clear their benches.
Miller then guided a 38-yard scoring scoring drive that Smith capped with a two-yard touchdown run to put the Buckeyes up 42-0, and went on to win by the same score.
For the game, Miller and Bauserman combined to help the Buckeyes tally 517 total yards of offense.
“It was good for both Braxton and I to get out there,” Bauserman said. “Braxton came in and did well and moved the ball. We both were focused.”
Smith finished the game with 74 yards on 18 carries while Miller ended his afternoon 8-for-12 passing for 130 yard and one touchdown.
After notching his first victory on a day when the temperature on the field rose above 100-degrees, Fickell said that he had not spoken to Tressel prior to Saturday’s game and that he was solely focused on his players’ performance.
“No, I have not talked with (Tressel),” Fickell said. “I know he’s rooting for us and for these guys. We are definitely excited about having a great day out there and looking forward to getting better.”
OSU plays the Toledo Rockets (1-0) on Saturday at noon at the ‘Shoe.