Coming off of an imperfect win over UCF, Urban Meyer‘s Ohio State football team faced another non-conference opponent on Saturday. This week, the California Golden Bears came to Columbus to play on a cool, crisp Saturday afternoon in front of 105,232 at Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes escaped with a 35-28 victory.
Though the Buckeyes’ offense again sputtered early (a troubling trend), the defense performed spectacularly in the early going. On the Bears’ first drive, Ohio State recorded two sacks. On their second, the Buckeyes came up with a decisive fourth down stop that set up the Buckeyes for an offensive revival.
Braxton Miller started the scoring with a 55-yard, knee-bending touchdown run that perfectly encapsulated everything we’ve come to expect from his sophomore campaign to date. What we didn’t see coming was the air show he’d put on for the next several series.
On the Buckeyes’ second scoring drive, he followed up a 40-yard touch pass into Cal territory to Jake Stoneburner with a 25-yard, back-shoulder bullet to Devin Smith in the end zone. Minutes later, at the beginning of the second quarter, he dropped a perfect touch pass into Devin Smith’s arms (Smith made a hell of a catch to bring it in). One play later, he hit Stoneburner on a tight end release for his second passing touchdown (and third overall) of the day.
While Miller was putting on a show, the Buckeyes’ defense was (mostly) holding the Bears in check on the other side of the ball. Cal quarterback Zach Maynard had an effective day throwing the ball, completing a 19-yard touchdown pass to Chris Harper late in the first quarter. But even when it looked like the Buckeyes were primed to give up another score, like it did late in the second quarter after a long Cal touchdown pass called back for holding. That drive ended with the Buckeyes forcing a stop in the red zone.
Ohio State sacked Maynard four times in the first half alone, using a combination of improved defensive line play and some well-timed blitz packages to more than double their sack total for the season to date.
The second quarter was marked by scrappy play, a generous amount of penalties, and little scoring. After the offensive explosion by Ohio State earlier in the half, the offense eased its foot off of the gas and the Buckeyes took a 20-7 lead into halftime.
Both teams came out of halftime looking sluggish on offense. Cal started with the ball, but failed to convert yet another fourth down try. The Buckeyes responded with an equally anemic drive, marred by more penalties and a good-but-not-great running game.
That’s when Cal made it a game.
Due to great effort from Cal running back Brendan Bigelow and lousy effort from most of Ohio State’s defense, Cal ripped off an 81-yard touchdown run destined for the Sportscenter Top 10. Missed tackles were an issue for Ohio State’s defense all day on Saturday, but nowhere was that more true than on this play.
The Buckeyes’ offense failed to respond in the third quarter. After a good-and-sometimes-great first half, the offense collapsed after halftime. The offensive line failed to open holes The team gained only one first down during the third quarter. The natural result of an offense that can’t gain earn a first down is a defense that has trouble getting off the field. The natural result of a defense that can’t get off the field is a touchdown.
To start the fourth quarter, the two teams traded touchdowns. The Bears charged down the field and scored a second consecutive touchdown on the Buckeyes, the result of which was Ohio State’s first fourth quarter deficit of the season. But the Buckeyes, in a gut-check moment, fought back with an 11-play, 75-yard drive culminating in a sorta-jump-pass touchdown from Miller to Stoneburner. A successful two-point conversion allowed the Buckeyes to take a 7-point lead.
The scoring wasn’t done. Brendan Bigelow answered the Buckeyes with his second breakaway touchdown of the day, knotting the score at 28, capping an inconsistent and frustrating day for the Ohio State defense. On the Buckeyes’ next possession, Miller threw a bad interception and, for the first time on Saturday, the possibility of losing felt real.
Three possessions later, Braxton Miller hit a wide-open Devin Smith for their second touchdown on the day (Braxton’s fourth overall), putting the Buckeyes ahead 35-28. It was a play that reminded Ohio State and Wisconsin fans alike of the game-winning touchdown the two connected for on Homecoming night last year. And it proved to be one hit too many for Cal to take.
The Bears took over with 3:26 left in the game, but Zach Maynard threw his first interception of the day to Christian Bryant two minutes later, guaranteeing an Ohio State victory.
On balance, it was a good day for the Buckeyes. A win against a quality opponent is always satisfying and the team has already matched half of its win total from 2011. Braxton Miller was excellent, particularly when it counted. The defense got consistent pressure on the quarterback, which was an issue for the past two weeks.
But the offense is clearly going through growing pains. Outside of Miller and (sometimes) Smith, there’s a distinct lack of playmakers. Jordan Hall was effective in his first game back, but it doesn’t look like he’s ready to because the dynamic player many envisioned coming into the season. The defense has its share of problems, too. Giving up 512 yards (for perspective, the Buckeyes only gained 412), even in a win, is troublesome. Missed tackles and blown coverage plagued the Buckeyes all day.
But it’s important to keep things in perspective. Ohio State won and they’re undefeated through week three. On to the next one.
Final Score | Ohio State Buckeyes 35, California Golden Bears 28
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Key Ohio State Stats:
- Braxton Miller: 16/30, 249 yards passing, 12 carries, 75 yards rushing, 5 total touchdowns
- Jordan Hall: 17 rushes, 87 yards, 5.1 ypc
- Devin Smith: 5 catches, 145 yards, 2 touchdowns
- Jake Stoneburner: 3 catches, 44 yards, 2 touchdowns
- Ohio State Defense: 512 yards allowed, 6 sacks
- Team Overall: 11 penalties for 101 yards
Home versus UAB. Noon on Saturday, September 22nd.