With nine players suspended and Terrelle Pryor departed, the odds were as stacked against Ohio State as they could be entering week one of the 2011 season. That didn't matter to the Buckeyes defense, Joe Bauserman, and Jake Stoneburner, as they helped the Buckeyes take care of Akron 42-0 on a scorching Saturday afternoon in Ohio Stadium and gave Luke Fickell a victory in his head coaching debut.
The Buckeyes defense was first to see the field and didn't miss a beat throughout the opening half. They not only stopped the Zips on their first drive, but the six possessions that followed to start the game, including five "3-and-outs". The Silver Bullets allowed just 100 yards of total offense and three first downs, while also forcing a turnover in the form of an Andrew Sweat interception after Dominic Clarke tipped a Clayton Moore pass.
The offense didn't let the defense's solid play go to waste, as Joe Bauserman took full advantage of the opportunity given to him today in the first half. On the Buckeyes opening drive, Luke Fickell kept things fairly conservative and punched Akron in the mouth with a healthy dose of Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith. The two combined for 18 rushes and 108 yards to start the game and controlled the clock for OSU for most of the early going in the game.
It was Bauserman who stole the show on that first possession, though, as the senior completed passes to Verlon Reed and Jake Stoneburner on the drive and took a broken rushing play 15 yards for the first OSU touchdown of the season, giving the Bucks a 7-0 lead.
On OSU's next possession the Bucks moved the chains well once again. This time, it was Rod Smith shredding the Akron defense at will, and having the Buckeyes knocking on the door near the goal line as they tried to jump ahead of the Zips 14-0. Those hopes were quickly dashed as the talented redshirt freshman made a youthful mistake in not protecting the football when he fumbled the ball into the hands of Akron near the goal line.
After another 3-and-out, Braxton Miller finally got on the field, but it was the last time he would touch the football in the first half. The heralded freshman's first collegiate series could not have gone any worse as the Buckeyes went 3-and-out themselves after a 2-yard Miller run, a dropped pass by Reid Fragel, and a bad snap by Mike Brewster brought the defense back onto the field. It was a debut that Miller will certainly want to forget, but nonetheless a learning experience for Ohio State's future quarterback.
As was the story of the first half, the defense forced Akron to punt yet again and Joe Bauserman took over behind center for the remainder of the opening 30 minutes. There were plenty of Bauserbombs to go around in the second quarter as the Zips defense made the senior look like Peyton Manning, as he effortlessly tore apart their defense through the air.
Bauserman connected on 10-14 passes for 133 yards and hit Jake Stoneburner twice for scores of 28 and 11 yards. He also had 5 carries for 29 yards, including the 15 yards score previously mentioned, showing the ability to scramble away from trouble the few times Akron was able to break through the OSU offensive line. If one was judging the quarterback battle based on the first half, there is no question you'd pencil Joey B. in for the remainder of the season.
Speaking of Stoneburner, he was virtually unguardable in the first half recording 3 catches for 48 yards and 2 TDs. Jim Bollman may have set a record today for targeting the tight end the most times in a single half, as Reid Fragel was active as well, catching a pass for 14 yards after dropping Miller's lone first half attempt. It will certainly be nice to see the Bucks utilize all of their offensive weapons, something that could off-set some of the youth and inexperience of the personnel that lingers in the two-deep while Mike Adams, Boom Herron, and DeVier Posey serve their five game suspensions.
Overall the Buckeyes looked pretty solid in the first half, squandering some opportunities (Smith fumble and Basil missed FG), but they set the tone that they would not back down this season and carried the momentum of a 21-0 lead into a second half filled with more action.
Bauserman started the second half and didn't waste any time in increasing the Ohio State lead. In a drive that took just over 4 minutes, the Buckeyes moved the ball 51 yards and extended their hold on the Zips to 28-0 after Jake Stoneburner hauled in his third touchdown catch of the afternoon. it should be exciting to see how the staff continues to utilize Stoney's ability to create mismatch and how the other players on the offense get involved in future weeks once defenses start keying in on #11.
After another Buckeye defensive stop, Braxton Miller finally took the field again, and while his second drive wasn't successful, it was a bit better than the first. Miller completed his first two passes as a Buckeye, hitting Philly Brown on a 6-yard screen and Rod Smith on a 5-yard check down for a first down, but failed to move the chains again after two Smith zone reads and a Miller run only yielded 7 yards, forcing the Bucks to punt away. You can tell when Miller was in that Bollman was trying to play more of a zone-read/spread offense which didn't look nearly effective as the power-I/play-action calls that were made when Bauserman was in.
The Buckeye defense, lead by JT Moore, Darryl Baldwin, and Etienne Sabino sacks, got the ball back for the offense once again. It was then that Braxton started to get cooking. Miller hit his classmate Devin Smith on a 20 yard pass and the two plays later took a busted pass play across the other side of the field for a 12 yard gain. It was there that Miller showed what weapons his legs could be once he gets comfortable playing the quarterback position at the college level.
The drive continued with a few more rushes by Miller and Smith, as the Buckeyes just bullied Akron up front. It then closed with a bang, as Miller threw his first touchdown pass in Scarlet and Gray finding Devin Smith once again for a 14 yard strike to extend the lead to 35-0. Braxton clearly looked more comfortable in his third series of the game and it showed as he was able to go 2/2 passing for 34 yards and a score while adding 2 rushes for 16 yards on the ground during the drive.
From there on out it was cruise control for the Buckeyes, as they scored their final tally on a Rod Smith touchdown run from the 2-yard line. The defense continued to dominate the Akron offense in the second half, holding them to -10 yards of total offense, totaling 90 for the game. In addition to the Moore, Baldwin, and Sabino sacks earlier in the contest, Michael Bennett, Ryan Shazier, and Nate Ebner were able to bring the quarterback down for their first collegiate sacks, while Johnny Simon, Garrett Goebel, Andrew Sweat, CJ Barnett, Bradley Roby, and Dom Clarke all looked impressive throughout the day.
On offense, Stoneburner (4 rec 50 yds 3TD), Verlon Reed (3 rec 66 yds), Carlos Hyde (94 rushing yds, 11 rec yds), Rod Smith (73 rush yds TD, 5 rec yds), and Devin Smith (3 rec 52 yds TD) all looked impressive. Evan Spencer should get special note as well for notching a one-handed, acrobatic catch for his first reception as a Buckeye.
Joe Bauserman had a great day going 12/16 for 163 yards and 3 scores through the air while also accumulating 32 yards and a score on 6 carries on the ground. Once he got comfortable, Braxton wasn't too shabby either, finishing the day 8/12 for 130 yards and a score in the air and totaling 30 yards on 6 carries with his legs
Finally, on special teams, Drew Basil is not starting off on the right foot as he missed a 40 yard field goal (after missing the 45 yard attempt called off by an Akron penalty). Ben Buchanan on the other hand, had a very nice day with 3 punts for 126 yards (42.0 avg) with 2 of those pinning the Zips inside the 20-yard line.
Overall the opening game of the 2011 season can be viewed as a great success. The Buckeyes showed they have enough talent to win without some of their best players, making the outlook on the rest of the season even brighter once all suspended players return to action. Luke Fickell got his first game under his belt, the coaches got a good look at both quarterbacks, the fans could breath a little easier, and at least for three hours, the troubles of the off-season were put to bed.
That being said, this was Akron, a team ranked amongst the worst in FBS football. While winning 42-0 is always nice, there is definitely more evaluation and work left to do. The players and staff must now hit the film room and the practice field once again to prepare for a tougher opponent in Toledo next week.