Buckeyes a work in progress

Slow start, sloppy special teams show up in win over UAB

Updated: September 22, 2012, 6:06 PM ET
By Austin Ward | BuckeyeNation

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There's a winning streak, but perhaps not momentum.

There's an offense capable of scoring points in bunches, but one that is also capable of disappearing for stretches of the game.

Darrin Reaves, Etienne Sabino
Greg Bartram/US PresswireUAB's Darrin Reaves eludes Ohio State linebacker Etienne Sabino on Saturday. Ohio State's defense had some trouble with the Blazers but kept them out of the end zone in a 29-15 win.
The defense didn't allow a touchdown, but it missed tackles and gave up a pile of yards and is struggling to develop depth.

Even Ohio State's special teams have struggled to find consistency, trading punts downed deep in the opponent's territory with blocked kicks that produce touchdowns against them.

The Buckeyes have no complaints about their record as they close the door on a perfect run through the nonconference slate. But their ongoing balancing act between the positives and the negatives was again on display in a 29-15 win over UAB at Ohio Stadium on Saturday, a performance that left plenty of conflicting emotions about where they are and where they wanted to be with Big Ten play now waiting for them.

"It's glaringly obvious that we've got to get a lot better or we won't win next week," coach Urban Meyer said. "It's Big Ten season, and I might be new to the Big Ten, but I'm not new to big-time atmospheres in college football. We have to be ready for this one.

"They were ready to play (today), they just didn't play very good. I really had confidence this was going to be an Ohio State-looking team, and it wasn't."

There have been glimpses at the kind of team Meyer wants to roll out for his program, but it hasn't really shown up for any extended periods of time through the first four weeks.

The offense picked apart Miami (Ohio) in the opener, but only after struggling to find its footing in a scoreless first quarter -- a lull it has mimicked at different stages of every game so far and did twice against UAB.

The defense delivered a pair of timely turnovers against the Blazers and didn't give up a touchdown, but its emphasis on fundamental tackling didn't quite yield instant results in giving up 403 yards.

And as much interest as Meyer takes in his kicking units, he had plenty to be troubled with after a handful of Blazers took advantage of a clear path to the punter for a block that led to a touchdown and an early deficit for the Buckeyes. Meyer, however, also had efforts like the one long-snapper Bryce Haynes turned in midway through the third quarter, hustling to bat down the ball and down it at the UAB 4-yard line, swinging the field position and giving an example of the kind of play Meyer is expecting once the level of competition goes up next week.

"He has high expectations for us, which he should," defensive end John Simon said. "This is Ohio State, and right now I don't think we're matching those expectations. But we're 4-0, so that's the best thing. We haven't lost a game yet, we have a tough opponent next week and hopefully we can carry it on.

"Every time you come out you want to have a dominating performance. But fortunately we were able to get the win today, and that's the most important thing if you walk out of there with a win."

The Buckeyes have strolled out of Ohio Stadium with a victory four times in as many tries, which still puts them right on schedule for the type of season they're aiming for.

But they go on the road for the first time next week and have a conference opponent waiting for them. There is no shortage of issues that have their attention between now and when they arrive at Michigan State.

"You've got to think about where this team was now," Meyer said. "This is not a finely tuned machine right now, and it hasn't been for a while. We've got to develop a finely tuned machine. Obviously there's some growing pains and it's not as easy. I thought we'd be further ahead.

"It is what it is, and we've got to get better and get better fast."

The record actually couldn't get any better. But it's about to get much harder to keep it that way.

Austin Ward | email

Ohio State/Big Ten reporter