First-year Ohio State coach Urban Meyer predicted the game against Central Florida would be “a war” and it certainly seemed that way at times Saturday.
Meyer’s team won the war in the end.
“We’re going to enjoy the win. Winning major college football games is a tough duty, especially when you face a quality opponent,” Meyer said at a postgame press conference.
In the first-ever meeting between the schools, the Buckeyes and the Knights traded punches over the course of the first half before OSU pulled away in the third quarter for a 31-16 victory in Meyer’s second game in Columbus.
OSU sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller again led the way for the No. 14 Buckeyes (2-0). Miller had 27 carries for 141 yards and tied a program record with three rushing touchdowns against unranked UCF (1-1).
For Meyer, though, Miller’s 27 touches were far too many.
“That’s too much. 27 hits. He’s blown out right now,” Meyer said. “We have to be smart. Someone’s gotta run the ball. And right now he’s our best answer.”
Miller was 18-of-24 passing with a touchdown pass to redshirt senior wide receiver Jake Stoneburner and finished the day with 155 passing yards, as well as his first interception of the season.
The sophomore still might be the Buckeyes’ answer on the ground next week, too, as junior running back Carlos Hyde left Saturday’s game with an apparent knee injury.
“We’ve got to have a good week of practice,” he said. “We might lose Carlos Hyde for a week or two, I don’t know, MCL sprain. I’m not sure how long he’ll be out. Obviously I thought he was running the ball good.”
The Buckeyes drew first blood in the contest after Miller exploded for a 37-yard touchdown run on a quarterback keeper with 9:35 to play in the first quarter. The seven-play 71-yard drive put OSU up 7-0 early, but that lead wouldn’t last long.
In the final minutes of the quarter, UCF seemed to finally hit its stride on offense, marching the ball down the field before a stingy Buckeyes defense forced the Knights to settle for a 28-yard field goal.
OSU answered with another score of their own, after junior kicker Drew Basil knocked in a 24-yard chip shot, which once more pushed the Buckeyes’ lead to a touchdown.
In front of a crowd of 104,745, though, the Knights again rallied – this for a game-tying touchdown.
Thanks to back-to-back bursts of 20 and 48 rushing yards from UCF running back Storm Johnson, the Knights rocketed themselves into OSU territory before redshirt sophomore Blake Bortles carefully lobbed a 1-yard touchdown pass to freshman Justin Tukes.
Johnson finished the game with 75 yards on 12 carries while Bortles was 25-of-41 passing for two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Deadlocked at 10-10 with 6:45 left in the half to play, a once-raucous crowd appeared to fall quiet as they watched the Buckeyes’ lead – and momentum – slip away.
On the ensuing Buckeyes drive, OSU senior fullback Zach Boren then fumbled the ball into the hands of a surging Knights team.
With a Buckeyes squad now on its heels, it seemed UCF had the tools and the time to mount another drive for another score before the end of the half.
Almost as quickly as OSU gave the ball away, though, they took it right back when redshirt senior Travis Howard intercepted an errant ball from Bortles with 3:18 remaining in the half.
Howard’s third pick of the season was enough to ignite a late, eight-play, 48-yard drive for the Buckeyes that finished with Miller in the end zone for the second time in a half.
It might have been just what OSU needed, too.
Including Miller’s 6-yard touchdown scurry with 15 seconds left before halftime, the Buckeyes exploded for 21 unanswered points as OSU’s defense tightened things up and forced mistakes and turnovers from the Knights’ offense.
Bortles was again intercepted by the Buckeyes after another poorly placed pass was tipped and picked off by redshirt linebacker Etienne Sabino.
Miller and OSU’s offense made UCF pay for the mistake as the sophomore quarterback found Stoneburner in the back of the south end zone for his first passing touchdown of the day. Miller then rushed for another score a little more than two minutes later.
UCF wasn’t done yet and responded with a 14-play, 84-yard scoring drive of their own, netting the Knights a touchdown on fourth down after Bortles’ pass was hauled in by redshirt senior full back Billy Giovanetti.
Down 31-16, UCF capitalized on the score and picked off Miller late in third quarter. Like before, though, the Knights gave their latest takeaway back to the Buckeyes as Bortles was intercepted by senior safety Orhian Johnson at the start of the fourth quarter.
UCF came knocking again in the final seconds of the game, but OSU turned Bortles away to secure the 15-point victory.
With the loss, UCF moved to 0-7 all time against Big Ten teams and 0-1 against OSU.
Meyer, though, said OSU isn’t as far along as he hoped they would be two games into the season.
“Not where I thought we’d be. Not where I thought we’d be. I thought we’d be a little more explosive on offense and thought we’d get some pressure on the quarterback,” he said. “Offensive line I think is doing a decent job moving the ball. Receivers are starting to build up a little bit but there’s other areas where I thought we’d be a little more explosive on offense.”
The Buckeyes improved to 2-0 on the season and are scheduled to play California next Saturday at noon in Ohio Stadium.