COLUMBUS, Ohio - Another Saturday, another close call for enigmatic Ohio State.
Braxton Miller ran for two touchdowns and No. 16 Ohio State overcame a lethargic, mistake-filled effort to hold off UAB 29-15 on Saturday in the Buckeyes' final tuneup before Big Ten play.
UAB (0-3) more than held its own against the Buckeyes (4-0), who committed drive-killing penalties, had a punt blocked for a touchdown and had trouble scoring against a defense giving up 44 points and 477 yards a game.
The Blazers scored on special teams and started the second half by recovering an onside kick, but were undone by four chop-block penalties and a giveaway that led to a score.
Miller completed passes for 12, 14 and 18 yards and ran for 26 yards to set up his own clinching 1-yard TD run with 5:03 left.
It was yet another curious performance by the Buckeyes, who are coming off a 6-7 season but were considered on the rise under new coach Urban Meyer. They have struggled in all four of their nonconference games, having to come from behind last week before beating California 35-28 on a late defensive gaffe that led to a 72-yard touchdown completion.
They open Big Ten play next week at No. 21 Michigan State. Ohio State is still eligible to win the conference's Leaders Division, even though the program is facing NCAA sanctions including probation and a bowl ban.
Miller completed 12 of 20 passes for 143 yards and rushed for 64 yards on 11 carries. Jordan Hall gained 105 yards on 17 carries.
Ohio State was a 37-point favorite against UAB, which had lost at home to in-state rival Troy 39-29 in its opener and then been pounded 49-6 by No. 8 South Carolina a week ago.
UAB outgained the Buckeyes, 403-347 and had more first downs, 22-20.
Austin Brown completed 21 of 35 passes for 196 yards with one interception, while Jonathan Perry hit on 7 of 11 passes for 63 yards before leaving after the opening quarter for UAB. Darrin Reaves rushed for 72 yards on 16 carries.
The Blazers, down by nine points at the half, showed some moxie against a ranked opponent by kicking onside and recovering the ball easily.
They then dominated the statistics in a scoreless third quarter, running 25 plays to Ohio State's 12. The Buckeyes had an interception nullified by a defensive offside penalty.
Ty Long booted his third field goal of the afternoon for UAB to cut the gap to 21-15 early in the fourth quarter.
As it had all day, Ohio State's offense fizzled. The Buckeyes lost a yard on three plays and punted, UAB driving to the Ohio State 28 before Long finally misfired on a 47-yard attempt.
After foundering for the entire half, the Buckeyes finally got untracked to put the lead out of reach, embarking on a 71-yard drive that ended with Miller picking his spot and bulling in off left tackle on a 1-yard carry. Miller then raced around left end for the two-point conversion and a 29-15 lead.
Doran Grant's interception ended the next UAB possession and the Blazers' hopes.
UAB quickly grabbed a 9-0 lead, quieting a crowd of 105,019.
Meyer, who has taken over coaching Ohio State's special teams, was particularly miffed after the Blazers broke through easily and snuffed a punt before it got to the toe of Ben Buchanan. Linebacker Jesse Parrish was credited with the block, with receiver Nick Adams scooping up the loose ball and running 20 yards for the touchdown.
The Buckeyes were able to punt after each of their next two possessions -- a mark of how well UAB's defense was playing and how sporadic the offense looked with several dropped passes and missed assignments.
After Long's 47-yard field goal pushed the lead to nine points, the Buckeyes woke up and went 75 yards to score on a 1-yard plunge by Rod Smith, his second career touchdown. But the Blazers came right back to make it 12-7 with just 3:44 left in the half when Long converted a 54-yard field goal -- the longest in UAB history and the third longest by an Ohio State opponent at Ohio Stadium.
From there, however, everything unraveled for the Blazers.
It took just 2:42 for the Buckeyes to grab a 21-12 lead.
Miller completed four straight passes and then covered the last 12 yards himself -- pirouetting to leave linebacker Greg Irvin grasping at air at the 7 -- to give Ohio State its first lead of the day.
Two snaps later, Brown tossed a quick pass in the right flat to tight end Kennard Backman, who was upended by Christian Bryant and Grant -- Backman leaving the ball on the ground where Grant fell on it.
It took just three plays for the Buckeyes to cover the 32 yards, with Zach Boren going the last 2 for the score.
But the drama was just beginning as Ohio State couldn't put the underdogs away.