COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Devin Smith made the catch of his life to finally light the fuse for Urban Meyer’s shiny new offense.
Then Braxton Miller took over and Ohio State’s first game with its new coach turned into one long party for the Buckeyes.
Miller rushed for 161 yards, a record for an Ohio State quarterback, running for one touchdown and throwing for two more on Saturday to lead the way to a 56-10 victory over Miami (Ohio).
But it was Smith’s leaping, twisting one-handed grab in the end zone that jump-started the Buckeyes.
“That was a moment that ignited the stadium,” Meyer said. “The stadium got quiet, our sideline got quiet — we were waiting for a play to happen. And he went up and made a play.”
With the Buckeyes trailing 3-0 early in the second quarter, Smith’s spectacular reception turned the game around.
Taking over at their own 17 after a punt, the Buckeyes needed just four plays to cover the distance and take the lead for good. Miller used a play-action fake to freeze the defense before hitting Corey Brown for a 38-yard gain to the Miami 23. Miller then threw high and hard into the right corner of the end zone where Smith leaped in front of defender Dayonne Nunley, snagged the ball with his right hand and pulled it in as he crashed to the ground.
“It looked like it was going out of bounds. I just stuck my hand up there and caught it,” Smith said. “When we lined up, Braxton looked at me and shook his head like, ‘Let’s go!’ And then we made the play.”
If the highlight-reel reception ignited the Buckeyes, Miller took it from there. After the offense mustered only 48 yards in the first quarter it rolled to 297 in the second and then never slowed down.
Miller transformed the game into a rout.
He stutter-stepped a defender for a 65-yard score just 17 seconds into the second half. In addition to his 161 yards on 17 carries, he ended up 14-of-24 passing for 207 yards. He also had a 5-yard scoring pass to Corey Brown.
“One of the things about Braxton Miller that I really had to see and that I did see today is that (he went from) an athlete playing quarterback to a quarterback who manages (the game),” Meyer said. “He has to manage basically the entire offense, he’s got to stay positive, he has to be a leader — and he showed that.”
Miller scored just 17 seconds into the second half, juking and then speeding past the Redhawks’ D.J. Brown down the left sideline.
“I was just trying to get away from a guy,” Miller said.
Miami coach Don Treadwell was impressed by what he saw.
“He’s an exceptional athlete,” he said. “Most of the times you can get a guy like that in space one on one, you’re probably going to take those chances.”
Moments after Miller’s long run, a high snap tipped off the fingertips of Miami punter Zac Murphy, with Bradley Roby winning a scrum in the end zone for the touchdown and a 35-3 lead.
That wasn’t the end of the Buckeyes’ big performers. Travis Howard had two interceptions and Carlos Hyde scored on 4- and 8-yard runs for Ohio State. Miller and Hyde, who had 82 yards on 17 carries, helped the Buckeyes roll up 294 yards on the ground and 244 through the air.
The first quarter — four punts in as many possessions — seemed like a rewind of spring practice, when Meyer said the offense’s fits and starts looked like “a clown show.”
“We came out slow, but once we got on a roll we got going,” Hyde said. “It was exciting once we started to put it all together.”
The RedHawks also bumbled their way through the early going.
Zac Dysert, who completed 31 of 53 passes for 303 yards and one touchdown with the two interceptions, was victimized by dropped throws again and again. Three times it appeared the RedHawks had a first down after a catch when the ball abruptly came loose.
“We should have scored a couple of touchdowns early but it didn’t happen,” said Dysert, whom Meyer called a future NFL quarterback. “Those are plays you’ve got to make.”
Once Smith helped the Buckeyes break the ice, they kept scoring.
Miller’s rushing total eclipsed the previous record of 146 yards set by Cornelius Greene against Wisconsin in 1974.
“This is a different type of offense,” Miller said. “You expect big yards in this type of offense.”
Meyer, who won two national titles at Florida, is unbeaten in 11 season openers. He had worked as a TV analyst a year ago after stepping down from the Gators job due to health and family considerations.
Meyer took over a battered program that was nailed by suspensions and NCAA investigations last year while going 6-7 last year, the program’s first losing record since 1988. As a result of NCAA violations committed under the Jim Tressel regime, the Buckeyes are banned from playing in a bowl game after the season.
After all the program had been through, Meyer was hoping for the best. It just took a little longer than he might have expected.
“I just wanted it to be a good day for Ohio State football,” he said. “And I believe it was.”