Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
If Ohio State football plays like it did against Alabama-Birmingham, it won’t have a chance against Michigan State. That’s how Buckeyes players and coaches said they felt after defeating UAB.
“We have to play better,” said senior linebacker Etienne Sabino following OSU’s 29-15 win against the Blazers Saturday.
The Buckeyes, who were favored by more than 35 points coming into the game, trailed the Blazers until late in the second quarter and were only up by a single score with less than six minutes to play in the fourth.
The performance “disappointed” coach Urban Meyer.
“I really had confidence this was going to be a Ohio State-looking team,” Meyer said after the game. “And it wasn’t.”
Thanks to a 21-point scoring outburst during a six-minute span in the second quarter, OSU won the game to bring its record to 4-0, but the Buckeyes said their performances haven’t been as unblemished as their record.
OSU escaped California in week three thanks to a 72-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller to sophomore receiver Devin Smith and three missed field goals from the Bears.
The previous week Central Florida gave OSU all it could handle before OSU eventually pulled away for a 15-point win.
But now the non-conference schedule is over, and with Big Ten season starting next week, OSU likely will not face another team it’s predicted to beat by five scores.
“It’s glaringly obvious we’ve got to get a lot better or we won’t win next week,” Meyer said. “I think we seem like a very passive team.”
Fans can look the other way when one game turns out to be closer than is expected, but the UAB game makes for three straight weeks that the Buckeyes have had to battle for the victory against teams they were expected to easily handle.
After a three-and-out early in the fourth quarter Saturday, audible boos descended onto the field from the Buckeye faithful.
“I don’t think anybody’s pleased right now,” said wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown. “I mean we’re winning games right now, but we’re not winning like we’re supposed to.”
What’s the problem? Meyer said a lot of it comes down to inexperience.
“It’s not lack of talent, it’s maybe lack of some experience,” Meyer said. “But we have a depth issue here at Ohio State right now. Severe.”
That problem was perhaps never more apparent than Saturday when senior Ben Buchanan’s punt was blocked in the first quarter and returned to give UAB a 6-0 lead. Meyer said injuries forced him to shuffle his punt personnel and a true freshman missed his blocking assignment.
The situation is nothing new to Meyer, though. OSU’s first-year coach said despite the disappointments, he still thinks the team can reach its potential.
“I have a very clear understanding of where we’re at,” Meyer said. “Disappointed, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love the guys. I think they’re working their tails off. We’ve just gotta keep grinding. No, absolutely I’ve been through some teams that you thought would be better at this point of the season.”
The Buckeyes will get a test against the Spartans Saturday in East Lansing, Mich., and said the next week of practice will go a long way in determining the outcome.
“We know that we’re not playing up to our potential yet,” Brown said. “We realize that especially after a wake-up call like (the UAB game) we got to come in on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and practice harder than we ever have.”