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Ohio State football squeaks by California, 35-28

California threatened to make Ohio State football the Pac-12 Conference’s latest Big Ten Conference victim, but the Buckeyes wouldn’t allow it.

It was wild one, a true shootout, but one week after Pac-12 teams posted three wins against Big Ten opposition, the No. 12-ranked Buckeyes denied the unranked Cal Golden Bears, 35-28, Saturday at Ohio Stadium. OSU won despite being outgained in total yardage by Cal, 512-412. 

With the score tied at 28, OSU sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller found sophomore receiver Devin Smith with 3:26 remaining in the game and wide-open space in front of him. Smith scampered into Ohio Stadium’s raucous south end zone for a 72-yard touchdown to put his team up, 35-28. It was his second touchdown of the game.

Driving to attempt to pull level with OSU again, Cal senior quarterback Zach Maynard was intercepted by OSU junior safety Christian Bryant. Maynard had thrown for 280 yards on 26-of-37 passing with a touchdown, and OSU’s defense, which allowed  but the pick by Bryant put the game out of reach.

Fans began to head for the exits after Bryant’s interception and OSU lined up in the victory formation. You could almost hear the collective exhale from Buckeye Nation.

“Cal is a good team. They came in here and really gave us their best shot,” OSU redshirt senior Etienne Sabino said after the game. “They know how to fight. We have to get better at tackling. At the same time you need to give Cal credit, they are a good football team.”

Smith’s fourth-quarter score gave the Buckeyes (3-0) their third lead of the game. Miller, who finished the game 16-of-30 for 239 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, opened the game’s scoring with a 55-yard highlight-reel touchdown run. The Buckeyes eventually took a 20-7 lead into halftime, but fell behind, 21-20, after a 1-yard quarterback keeper touchdown run by Maynard to help put his team on top.

Prior to that, it was Cal sophomore running back Brendan Bigelow’s historic, 81-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that tightened the gap at 20-14 with 9:34 to play in the third. It was the third-longest rushing play ever against the Buckeyes.

OSU fired back immediately following Maynard’s go-ahead score when Miller threw a jump-pass two yards to redshirt senior receiver Jake Stoneburner to retake the lead. Miller also dove headlong for a successful two-point conversion to extend the lead to 28-21 with 8:31 to play in the game.

“That was a jump pass,” Meyer said. “Really good execution by Jake Stoneburner – blocking and releasing to the back of the end zone.” 

Stoneburner agreed.

“We’ve been working on that play since coach Meyer got here and he said he was going to use it this week,” Stoneburner said. “It’s obviously a great play and it came at the perfect time.”

Bigelow tore through OSU’s defense on a 51-yard run to tie the game on Cal’s next possession. The game, as it had been for most of the second half, remained in doubt.

Both teams might have been looking at a different situation were it not for Cal junior kicker Vincenzo D’Amato, who left nine points on the field as he was 0-3 on field goal tries, missing one from 40 yards out and two 42-yard attempts. The last of D’Amato’s misses would have put Cal ahead late in the game.

OSU took advantage of the miss and, on the very next possession, Miller found Smith for the vital score. That late touchdown was a return to an efficient OSU attack that existed in the first half.

OSU and Cal combined for 57 total yards with less than 5:30 to play in the first quarter, but that didn’t last long.

Miller broke the defensive stalemate at the 5:11 mark of the first quarter with a 55-yard touchdown run to put OSU up, 6-0. The Ohio Stadium crowd gasped as Miller juked his way to the hash marks on the west side of the field. Junior kick Drew Basil’s extra point attempt was unsuccessful.

By the end of Cal’s next drive, the defense seemed to have gone out the window for both teams.

The Buckeyes’ defense cracked on Cal’s third possession of the game, a six-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 19-yard touchdown reception by Golden Bears’ freshman receiver Chris Harper.

The Buckeyes went back on the offensive on their next possession, which lasted just 1:25 and ended in a 25-yard touchdown catch by Smith, who outmuscled his defender for position and hauled in the catch in the front, left-hand corner of the north end zone to restore OSU’s lead at 13-7.

Now, OSU’s offense was in business.

Ninety seconds into the second quarter, Miller completed a touchdown pass to Stoneburner that put OSU up, 20-7. Stoneburner’s 1-yard reception was set up by a 35-yard completion from Miller to a diving Smith.

Stoneburner finished the game with 3 catches for 44 yards to go along with the two scores. 

First-year OSU coach Urban Meyer has repeatedly said he wants his team to “play angry” and the Buckeyes did so – angry to the tune of seven first half penalties a week after committing 10 against Central Florida. Some penalties were nullified but three on a single Cal drive helped move the Golden Bears into scoring position. OSU’s defense held, though, as D’Amato missed a 40-yard field goal attempt with 5:21 to play in the first half.

The 20-7 score line held until half.

OSU outgained Cal 234-181 in the first half. The Silver Bullets’ defense, which was slow to pressure UCF one week earlier, tallied four sacks and six tackles for loss in total in the opening 30 minutes. Redshirt sophomore defensive back Bradley Roby, sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier, senior nose tackle Garrett Goebel and Sabino each tallied a sack in the half.

By game’s end, OSU had tallied two additional sacks and and nine tackles for loss. 

Offensively, Miller was 10-of-14 in the half for 129 yards, and three of the four incompletions were drops.

Buckeyes senior running back Jordan Hall made his 2012 debut after missing OSU’s first two games recovering from surgery on a torn ligament. Hall finished the game with 87 yards on 17 carries.

OSU linebacker Storm Klein also made his 2012 debut in the first half. Klein was arrested late on July 6 after allegedly striking the mother of his child. A day later, Meyer dismissed the linebacker from the team and said in a released statement that the charges against Klein “violate the core values of the Ohio State football program.” The player was then reinstated Aug. 24 after charges against him were dropped.

Cal came out of half and announced it wasn’t done yet – a Bigelow touchdown run of historic proportions served as the rallying cry.

Bigelow spun, and spun again, to elude OSU tacklers before escaping to the hash marks in front of the Golden Bears bench and raced to an 81-yard score in the south end zone at 9:34 in the third quarter.

“I initially took the handoff and thought don’t slow down. I spun off a few people and just tried to stay on my feet, keep pumping and keep running,” Bigelow said. “My eyes got big when I turned the corner. I just try to take what I learn in practice and apply it to the game.”

Bigelow’s run, in addition to being the third-longest rushing play any team had ever made against the Buckeyes defense, was a career long and brought Cal to within six points at 20-14.

Bigelow would, of course, be heard from again as Cal fans began to make noise, perhaps sensing an impending upset. 

The Cal rally was delayed temporarily by D’Amato, who pulled his third-quarter, 42-yard attempt field goal try left of the goal posts as time would dow
n in the third quarter.

Cal kept coming, though, entering the red zone early in the fourth quarter and finally taking a lead OSU could no longer hold back. 

The Golden Bears drove 46 yards on eight plays and scored on Maynard’s quarterback keeper from a 1-yard line. D’Amato made good on the extra point attempt to put Cal up, 21-20, with 12:26 to play.

Then came Miller’s second touchdown pass of the game to Stoneburner, which gave the quarterback his first three-touchdown game of his career.

Bigelow had a response to OSU’s response – the 51 yard touchdown scamper that allowed the Golden Bears to pull even with the Buckeyes.

Bigelow finished the game with two scores and 160 yards rushing on just four carries. 

With the teams back on level terms, Miller threw an interception to Cal junior corner Steve Williams, which gave the Golden Bears the ball in OSU territory. All the ensuing Cal drive held for the Golden Bears fans in attendance was D’Amato’s third field goal miss of the game, this one coming from 42 yards out.

Two plays later, Miller found Smith for the eventual game-winning score. Bryant’s interception polished off the victory. 

“The best part about 3-0 is the chance to go 4-0,” Meyer said after the game, “and that’s about it. We’ve enjoyed a win against a very quality opponent.”

OSU will continue the non-conference portion of its schedule next Saturday at noon in the Horseshoe against the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

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