COLUMBUS — After one half of football Saturday, Braxton Miller looked poised to break Ohio State’s single game rushing record at the quarterback position for the second straight week.
The Buckeyes clung to a seven-point lead and Miller, already having netted 100 yards in the first 30 minutes, was sure to touch the ball a lot more with running back Carlos Hyde sidelined after sustaining a sprained medial collateral ligament in the second quarter.
When the final seconds dwindled, Miller had fallen 21 yards short of the mark, but there was no need to feel sorry for the sophomore.
As a consolation prize, he became the university’s first quarterback in 34 years to rush for three touchdowns as the Buckeyes topped Central Florida, 31-16.
Miller finished with 141 yards on a career-high 27 carries and added a passing score, one week after racking up 161 yards on 17 carries against Miami (Ohio). Though coach Urban Meyer certainly is not upset that his quarterback has rushed for 302 yards through two games, it is not what he prefers.
“That’s too much,” Meyer said, of his quarterback carrying the ball 27 times. “He’s blown out right now. We have to be smart, but somebody’s got to run the ball. Right now he’s our best answer.”
Finding a featured back is one of a litany of concerns Meyer has with his Buckeyes (2-0), who turned the the ball over three times and incurred 10 penalties against the Knights, after two games.
The Knights’ offensive line bought quarterback Blake Bortles enough time to throw for 253 yards and two scores. Bortles completed passes of 35 and 27 yards during the Knights’ final scoring drive in the third quarter, with the UCF receiver sneaking behind Ohio State’s secondary each time.
The Buckeyes allowed 313 yards through the air against the RedHawks last weekend.
“We’re giving up a ton of passing yards,” Meyer said. “I don’t see the quarterback getting hit, and that’s something that has to be addressed.”
“(We’re) not where I thought we’d be,” he added. “I thought we’d be a little more explosive on offense and thought we’d get some pressure on the quarterback. … I don’t want to say we’re not a good team. But we’re not. We’re just mushing around out there.”
The Buckeyes kept the scoring to a minimum by thrice picking off Bortles. Travis Howard caught his third interception of the season to set up Miller’s second touchdown run late in the first half, and Etienne Sabino and Orhian Johnson recorded the other two after intermission.
“Turnovers, we had a couple down in there that changed the game, that were kind of checkmate plays,” Meyer said.
The Buckeyes stretched a 17-10 halftime lead to 24-10 to open the third quarter. Miller scrambled to his left before lofting the ball just over the fingertips of a lunging Jordan Ozerities to Jake Stoneburner for a 12-yard touchdown completion.
“I’ve learned every time Braxton scrambles to just go deep,” said Stoneburner, eliciting shades of the Wisconsin game last season when Miller found Devin Smith on a 40-yard Hail Mary to beat the Badgers. “He has a tendency to throw it deep to the guys back (in the end zone), and he happened to find an open void. He saw me and he made a great touch pass.”
It was Stoneburner’s 10th career touchdown reception.
Miller scored on an 8-yard delayed quarterback draw 2:17 later for a 31-10 Ohio State advantage. The sophomore skittered through the line and crossed the plane immediately after finding Smith on the left sideline for a 15-yard pickup, Miller’s longest completion of the afternoon. Ohio State started the drive at the Knights’ 32-yard line proceeding Sabino’s interception.
After a 2-yard touchdown pass from Bortles to Billy Giovanetti, the Knights drove down to Ohio State’s 9-yard line looking to pull within a possession.
On third and 5, Bortles dropped back to pass with his eyes locked on Quincie McDuffie, who was running a curl route. When Bortles let it fly, Johnson contorted his body to the left to make the grab with 13:55 remaining in the game.
“I read his eyes and just trusted myself,” Johnson said.
Miller picked up right where he left off last week, putting Ohio State on the scoreboard 5:25 in. He shot through a hole in the line and flitted 37 yards, slithering past a block from Stoneburner along the way, into the end zone for a 7-0 advantage. Miller scored again 15 seconds before halftime by sprinting around end and beating UCF linebacker Terrence Plummer to the pylon.
Meyer rolled the dice twice on fourth and 1 in the first half near midfield.
On the Buckeyes’ second possession, UCF’s Jonathan Davis upended Miller for no gain to set up the Knights’ first points of the game, a 28-yard field goal from Shawn Moffitt.
The Buckeyes found themselves in the same dilemma on the ensuing possession, but this time Hyde lumbered up the gut for a 6-yard gain to move the chains.
“It’s just I’m trying to push the buttons to make us a good team. Midfield you should be able to, on fourth and 1, get a first down. We did it twice, and I think our offense knows we’re going to do it again,” Meyer said.
With Hyde expected to miss at least a week and Jordan Hall (foot) still out, Meyer said the Buckeyes’ choices at tailback are down to Zach Boren, Rod Smith and true freshman Bri’onte Dunn. He said the coaches may give receiver Corey Brown, who had two carries for 33 yards, more opportunities to tote the football as well.
By NICK MARLOW