The Buckeyes knew it had to replace eight starters from its unbeaten 2012 squad. Then late in the week leading up to the opener against the Bulls, news broke that they would in fact have to add a ninth newcomer when senior safety C.J. Barnett was ruled out because of a reported ankle sprain.
Then came the cramps that kept junior weakside linebacker Ryan Shazier off the field for much of the game. Ohio State played many snaps with 10 players on the field in new, more important roles.
After the Buckeyes emerged with a 40-20 victory at a sweltering Ohio Stadium, the defense reflected on its performance.
"We responded well," junior defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. "I think the guys really stepped up. I think we've created some leaders on defense. We have nine new starters or 10 new starters and all that stuff, but we've been playing football since the spring. We've really started to gel well and know each other's ways.
"We respect the guy next to us and know he's going to do the job."
In all, it was a solid day for the defense. The unit only allowed two touchdowns – Buffalo also scored against Ohio State's offense on Khalil Mack's interception return for a score in the second quarter – and permitted 258 yards of offense.
Perhaps more important than the total offense figure was 73 – the number of yards Buffalo managed on the ground against a predominately new front seven for Ohio State.
"Our D-line and our linebackers did a great job today," junior middle linebacker Curtis Grant said. "We stopped the run."
In all, Grant gave the defense high marks despite allowing the pair of touchdowns.
"A lot of us really haven't played that much, so the whole defense surprised me today," he said. "I'm glad we stuck together and came out with a ‘W.' "
Tanner Gets Moment: Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata threw for 185 yards and two scores against a secondary that had to replace suspended standout cornerback Bradley Roby and Barnett, but the Buckeyes still managed to intercept one pass.
The man who picked off Licata was Columbus Eastmoor product Ron Tanner. The sophomore safety made three tackles in addition to his interception and was happy to have made his biggest impact as a Buckeye.
"It was exciting," he said. "I've been looking forward to playing at Ohio State probably ever since I was born. I was born and raised a Buckeye.
"To make a big play in the stadium for my teammates was awesome."
Slamming The Door: The best part of the day for the OSU defense was arguably its goal-line stand in the second half. Ohio State had extended its lead to 37-20 with a 21-yard touchdown pass from backup QB Kenny Guiton to Chris Fields, and Buffalo had attempted to answer by driving deep into Buckeye territory as the third quarter ended and the fourth began.
The drive's biggest play came on a 25-yard pass from Licata to Devin Campbell that advanced the ball to the Ohio State 3-yard line.
The Bulls only gained 2 more yards before losing the ball on downs. On first-and-goal, Buffalo's Branden Oliver rushed for a yard. Licata threw an incomplete pass intended for Alex Neutz on second down, and on third down – following a Buffalo timeout – Oliver gained another yard on the ground to set up fourth-and-goal from the 1.
The fourth down play was a bust for Buffalo. A botched snap forced Licata to simply fall on the ball, ending the drive on downs.
Bennett said the mindset during the final plays of the drive was short and simple.
"They're not going to get in," he said. "We just kept saying they weren't going to get in the end zone. … You can't just let a team go through your red zone like it's nothing."
Losing Your Head: Grant was flagged for a personal foul for playing without his helmet late in the third quarter. After losing his helmet, Grant continued toward the quarterback, who was sacked on the play by Noah Spence. The penalty negated the sack – and confused Grant at first.
Grant said he didn't know playing without his helmet was a penalty.
"I just wanted to make a play," he said. "I didn't know what the flag was for. I just wanted to keep playing."