Special teams proved to be an important aspect for both teams in Saturday’s matchup between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 13 Miami (Fla.).
With an 88-yard kickoff return and a 79-yard punt return, the Hurricanes put 14 points on the board and embarrassment on the faces of the OSU coverage unit.
“Are we concerned? Of course,” said coach Jim Tressel of the special teams performance.
In fact, in OSU’s records, which date back to 1936, Saturday’s game marked the first time the Buckeye’s had ever given up a kick off return and punt return for touchdown.
But that wasn’t enough to spur Miami to victory; OSU came out on top 36-24.
“You don’t give up two long returns like that and usually survive,” Tressel said. “Our guys stepped up and overcame that.”
The Buckeyes’ special teams unit came through as well, with both Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry having long returns. Hall had a 47-yard return, while Berry had two long runs of 42 and 45 yards.
“When we were in the huddle we were like ‘Man, they just broke one, now we’ve got to break one,’” Berry said. “We just made it happen.”
Nathan Williams returns to play with a bang
Defensive end Nathan Williams missed the season-opener against Marshall last week due to a knee-injury, but after coming into the game halfway through the first quarter, he already had an interception to add to his rap sheet.
“It felt great, I was just anxious to get out there again,” Williams said. “Sitting out for three weeks was brutal.”
Williams, a junior, grabbed Jacory Harris’ pass and returned a few yards to the Miami seven-yard line, setting up a scoring drive that ended with a field goal by Devin Barclay.
“I just wanted to execute the plays and do what the defensive game plan wanted me to do,” he said.
Interceptions key in takedown of Miami
The Buckeye defense snatched four interceptions against Miami’s Harris, all of which led to scoring drives.
After Williams’ grab in the first quarter, cornerback Chimdi Chekwa got two of his own in the second quarter, setting up a touchdown and then a field goal for the last play of the first half, putting the score at 26-17 Buckeyes.
“We knew coming into the game that we were going to have to affect (Harris) to win this game,” said senior captain Ross Homan. “I think we did a good job with the D-line … we forced them into some bad situations.”
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor and his receiving corps allowed for no interceptions against the Buckeyes.
“When you can create four takeaways you’re going to have a chance,” Tressel said. “And when you have zero giveaways, you’re going to have a real good chance.”
Early in the third quarter, senior captain offensive lineman Cameron Heyward took his stab at the Hurricanes returning an interception 80 yards to the Miami 15, setting up for a Dan “Boom” Herron touchdown.
“I thought I had a chance, but you never know,” Heyward said of his reaction to seeing an open field in front of him. “I had some great blocks. I was just happy that I was in the right spot at the right time.”
Ground game goes unnoticed
Few of OSU’s big gains came on the run against Miami. Senior Brandon Saine had a net gain of only seven yards, while Herron had 66 yards over 14 carries. Both were out-run by quarterback Terrelle Pryor who had a total of 113 rushing yards.
“They were definitely keeping a lot of guys in the box,” Herron said. “So it was kind of hard for us to get our running game going at first.”
Barclay ties school record with five field goals
Failure to convert in the red zone gave Barclay plenty of opportunity to put points on the board, going 5-for-5 in field goals until early in the fourth quarter when he missed a 32-yard attempt. His five field goals tie an Ohio State record with Mike Nugent, Josh Huston and Bob Atha.
“It’s certainly something to be proud of,” Barclay said. “But if we would have lost, (tying) a school record wouldn’t have meant anything to me.”
Barclay’s longest field goal against Miami was 41 yards.
Bucks avert kickoff returns after 88-yard break away
Tressel did what he does best after giving up an early touchdown; he played conservatively. Tressel brought in Barclay for the kick off and had him drop it at the 25-yard line, which he did consistently for the rest of the first half.
“A kicker has to be able to do anything, and certainly enough we had to be ready for the pooch plays,” Barclay said. “For the most part we did well on the pooches.”
Barclay opened the second half with a kick to the 10-yard line, which Miami returned to the 20, but quickly returned to conservative play for the rest of the game.