COLUMBUS, Ohio – Urban Meyer is a perfectionist.
His second-ranked Ohio State team was less than perfect.
Braxton Miller threw two touchdown passes before fighting leg cramps and Jordan Hall ran for two more scores to lead the Buckeyes to a 40-20 victory over Buffalo on Saturday in the season opener for both teams.
“I preached all week about coming out fast and playing hard, and they did it. Two quick scores, the first quarter (went by the) script. You can’t play much better than our guys did,” Meyer said. “And then we rough a punter, and we have a fourth down (play) we don’t make and then we throw a screen and it goes the other way. In a tight game, you’re going to lose.”
The Buckeyes, striving for a crisper start after a lethargic outing in Meyer’s debut in 2012, led 23-0 after the first quarter before the Bulls made things interesting. Joe Licata threw two TD passes and linebacker Kahlil Mack returned a Miller interception 45 yards to make it 30-20 in the third quarter.
A crowd of 103,980 didn’t know what to think.
But after Miller was sidelined a second time with cramps, sub Kenny Guiton promptly tossed a 21-yard touchdown pass to Chris Fields and the Buckeyes were never threatened again.
“After we created a little momentum going our way, then all of a sudden – BAM! – they’re right back in the end zone,” Bulls coach Jeff Quinn said. “That’s the mark of a good football team.”
Licata completed 19 of 32 passes for 185 yards and two scores with one interception, with Branden Oliver gaining 73 yards on 26 carries for the Bulls, who were playing Ohio State for the first time.
“If you’re looking for a moral victory, that means you lost the game,” Licata said. “No, we don’t feel good about losing.”
Ohio State was in control after its first three possessions. Miller, who was 15-of-22 passing for 178 yards and also ran for 77 yards on 17 attempts, hit Devin Smith on a 47-yard scoring pass on the fourth offensive play of the season. Then he found Fields on a 7-yard scoring pass.
NORTHERN ILLINOIS 30, IOWA 27: In Iowa City, Iowa, Mathew Sims hit a 36-yard field goal with four seconds left as the Huskies (1-0) rallied for the win.
Jordan Lynch threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns for the Huskies, who scored 10 points in the final 5:05 to record their first win over the Hawkeyes (0-1).
The Hawkeyes also lost their first opener since 2000.
No. 17 MICHIGAN 59, C. MICHIGAN 9: In Ann Arbor, Mich., Devin Gardner ran for two touchdowns and threw for another in the first half as the Wolverines (1-0) had their highest-scoring opener since 1905.
They will face a tougher test against No. 14 Notre Dame this week at home in a prime-time game.
The Chippewas (0-1) fell behind 35-6 at halftime
No. 23 WISCONSIN 45, MASSACHUSETTS 0: In Madison, Wis., Melvin Gordon ran for 144 yards, James White added 143 and the Badgers’ revamped defense pitched a shutout in coach Gary Andersen’s debut.
Gordon and White padded their totals by each running for touchdowns of at least 51 yards for the Badgers (0-1).
UMass (0-1) was simply overmatched against the Big Ten’s three-time defending champion.
ILLINOIS 42, SOUTHERN ILLINOIS 34: In Champaign, Ill., Nathan Scheelhaase threw for career-best 416 yards and two touchdowns but the Illini (1-0) had to hang on late to beat the Football Championship Subdivision school.
Trailing with 44 seconds to play and fourth down at the Illini 3-yard line, Saluki quarterback Kory Faulkner threw too high for leaping wideout Adam Fuehne.
No. 22 NORTHWESTERN 44, CALIFORNIA 30: In Berkeley, Calif. – Collin Ellis returned two interceptions after deflected passes for touchdowns for Northwestern, spoiling Sonny Dykes' debut as California coach.
Ellis had a 56-yard return in the third quarter and then put the Wildcats (0-1) in control when he took another one back 40 yards midway through the fourth to take a 10-point lead.
PENN STATE 23, SYRACUSE 17: In East Rutherford, N.J., Christian Hackenberg threw two touchdown passes in his first college game to lead the Nittany Lions (1-0).
Hackenberg went 22 for 31 for 278 yards with two interceptions and became the second freshman to start a Penn State opener at quarterback since 1910.
Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen got the start at quarterback for Syracuse (0-1).