COLUMBUS — The coaches at San Diego State and Ohio State have two things in common.
First, their teams meet Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Second, neither was particularly thrilled with the way their teams played in the opener.
That’s about where the similarities end.
Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer repeatedly told everyone he saw that, although he was pleased to get out of the first game with a 40-20 victory over Buffalo, he still thought there was plenty of room for improvement.
“When you score 40 points and have 460 yards and you’re disappointed, that’s a good sign,” Meyer said. “And the bad sign is we’ve got a long way to go.”
The Buckeyes breezed to a 23-0 lead early then had a couple of touch-and-go moments before picking up their nation’s-best 13th win in a row.
Despite 10 new starters, the defense forced a turnover, made a goal-line stand and held the Bulls to only 258 yards. The veteran offense piled up almost twice that many yards and scored on four plays of at least 20 yards.
But there were still some troubling aspects to the win.
“It was good we came out fast, but obviously we let them back in the game,” said defensive back Corey Brown.
Meyer was upset by four plays in a span bridging the first and second quarters. He said the Buckeyes should have blocked a punt instead of roughing the kicker. Then they came up short on a fourth-and-1 at midfield. Third, freshman phenom Dontre Wilson fumbled the ball away and Buffalo turned it into a 16-yard touchdown pass from Joe Licata to Matt Weiser.
Seconds later, Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller threw a screen pass directly to Buffalo linebacker Kahlil Mack who returned it 45 yards for a score.
“In a tight game, you’re going to lose that game,” Meyer said. “So we’ve got to learn to fight through those momentum shifts.”
Neither line played particularly well for the Buckeyes. Ohio State surrendered four sacks and on defense there wasn’t a lot of pressure applied.
“We’re a little disappointed and we know we have plenty of things to work on,” defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. “We made a couple of mistakes but it’s the first game of the season. You don’t want mistakes. You want to go out and have everyone execute well. But at the end of the day, it’s about winning.”
In addition, Armani Reeves was continually picked on at cornerback in his first collegiate start. He’ll likely drop to second team with star corner Bradley Roby returning from a one-game suspension due to a summer legal problem.
San Diego State, which comes to Columbus for a 3:30 p.m. game Saturday, couldn’t be consoled by a win. The Aztecs were bludgeoned at home by Eastern Illinois, 40-19.
They turned the ball over five times — throwing four interceptions — while the defense was gouged for 361 yards passing and 533 total yards.
“That’s as bad a performance as I’ve ever been around,” Aztecs coach Rocky Long said. “We played poorly and made every mistake in the book.”
And that is no way to go into a road game against a national-title contender.
Long was asked about how devastating the loss was for a team that now has to take on Ohio State. His response was downright acidic.
“You wanted to talk about next weekend all along in fall camp,” he told reporters after the game. “I told you about it. I told you not to. I told you how good Eastern Illinois was. I told you. I told you a long time ago, but nobody wanted to listen. I mean, one game does not make a season.
“We’ll regroup. Competitors regroup after they’ve been embarrassed and beat up like that. Competitors regroup and they go back to work and they work on the next competition. Other people quit and say it’s over.”
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP.
WHO: No. 2 Ohio State vs. San Diego State
WHEN: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
WHERE: Ohio Stadium, Columbus
TV/RADIO: Channel 5; WEOL 930-AM, WKNR 850-AM