Ohio State football squeaks by California, 35-28
Published: Saturday, September 15, 2012
Updated: Sunday, September 16, 2012 16:09
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."
“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.