'Engaged' Haubeil was ready to contribute
When the emergency call came to Blake Haubeil to be Ohio State’s kicker for the first time Saturday, he answered with a perfect right foot.
Stepping up in place of regular Sean Nuernberger, who was dealing with an unspecified strain suffered in pregame warmups, Haubeil made all three field-goal tries and all three extra-point attempts in a 30-14 victory over Minnesota.
“‘Just stick to my kickoff routine,’” Haubeil said of his first thought, leaning on the experience of having handled kickoffs for two seasons. His next thought was, “‘Obviously I haven’t hit field goals at all here yet, but just sort of see how it goes. Just try something. If it doesn’t work, adjust. If it does work, just keep on going with it.’”
The sophomore was a prized prospect from the Buffalo, New York, area when he signed with OSU in the 2017 class. On Saturday, he proved why, hitting field goals from 47, 27 and 21 yards. The longest was also his last of the game, which gave the Buckeyes breathing room with a 23-14 lead at 10:20 of the fourth quarter.
“It was great,” he said of the 47-yarder. “It was a point in the game where obviously we needed a field goal, and we just went out there and executed, just like everyone else.”
The key, he said, “was not being a spectator of the game, just staying engaged and ready for whenever my number is called.”
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Hilliard gets first start
With Ohio State outside linebacker Malik Harrison in concussion protocol from the week before, fourth-year junior Justin Hilliard gained his first start. Hilliard made five tackles and added two pass breakups.
“It meant a lot” to play significant time for the first time, Hilliard said. “As linebackers we always come together, especially when someone has to step up. Malik went down, so all week I was preparing for Minnesota.
“As far as performance, I think I have a lot to work on. … I know I can make plays, but I’ve got to focus on every play, doing my assignment, making sure no big plays get out.”
He was once a consensus five-star prospect before injuries more than anything else stunted his development. He has been a leader on special teams, especially kickoff coverage, but Saturday was his first full game at linebacker.
“My entire career here, that’s what I’ve always dreamed (of),” Hilliard said. “Coming out of high school, this was my dream school. … I’ve had some setbacks and injuries and some other things. It just felt super to get out there.”
Pryor with the pick
Isaiah Pryor has had his struggles in his first year as a starting safety, and he wasn’t immune to them Saturday. But the sophomore also made a key play when he intercepted a pass near the Ohio State goal line with the Buckeyes leading 23-14 with 9 1/2 minutes left.
Pryor played center field on the play and ranged over to help linebacker Pete Werner in coverage on Minnesota receiver Tyler Johnson.
“We knew we were going to put a linebacker in coverage, so I just made sure I leaned to his side. I was reading the quarterback and saw he was looking over there, and I picked it off.”
Johnson tackled Pryor into the end zone, but the ball was spotted at the 2.
“I wasn’t even sure where I was when I caught it,” Pryor said. “I thought it was the end zone, so I thought it was a touchback.”
It was Pryor’s first career interception.
“This year I feel I’ve had some good plays and bad plays,” he said. “I’m just trying to get better every game. I’m becoming more comfortable the more I play, so we’ll try to keep it going.”
Ohio State receiver Terry McLaurin has become known as much or more for his ferocious blocking as his catches.
He takes pride in sacrificing his body for his teammates, but he also wants to do what receivers prize most — make big catches. McLaurin made a key one for the Buckeyes’ first touchdown on a 41-yard reception. He got behind Coney Durr and then outwrestled the defensive back for the ball in the end zone.
“Going over somebody and catching the ball is big for me because I struggled with that last year,” McLaurin said. “I worked on that and my ball skills in the offseason. I went over to Keenan Bailey, our assistant (wide receivers coach) and I hugged him because he and I worked a lot on that.”