|Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller runs for a 55-yard score in the Buckeyes 35-28 win over California Saturday in Columbus. (TBT/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)|
(updated) COLUMBUS — Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller had another Heisman Trophy-like performance on Saturday afternoon, in the Buckeyes 35-28 victory over visiting California.
Although Miller had some rough times against the Bears — most notably in the third quarter where he totaled minus-1 yard of offense — he came up huge when it mattered most, leading his team on two momentous scoring drives in the final quarter to move the Buckeyes to 3-0 on the season.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said a win is a win, no matter how difficult it was to achieve.
"The best thing about 3-0 is you get a chance to go 4-0," Meyer said. "We'll enjoy a win against a very quality opponent, who has very good athletes and are well-coached.
"Our guys found a way to win."
Miller, who finished the victory with 324 yards and five total touchdowns — 249 and a career-high four TDs through the air — led the Buckeyes on two late scoring drives, including a deep game-winning touchdown pass in the waning moments.
After falling behind 21-20 with 12:26 to play in the game, Miller drove the Buckeyes on an 11-play, 75-yard scoring drive that was capped off with a Tim Tebow-ish, play-action touchdown pass to Jake Stoneburner.
"It was a jump pass," Meyer said. "They had to stop Braxton, and they came up. Really good execution by Jake Stoneburner, blocking and releasing in the back of the end zone.
"If you're pounding the quarterback (like we were), that's a hard one to stop."
Cal would come off the ropes with a haymaker on the ensuing drive, as tailback Brendan Bigelow — who gashed the Buckeyes on an 81-yard touchdown run earlier in the game — sprinted for a game-tying 59-yard score to tie it up, 28-28, with 8:10 to play in the contest.
Then it was time for Miller to deliver the knockout blow.
Facing a third-and-7 at their own 28, Miller escaped the Bears' pass rush, rolled right and fired a shot deep down the sideline to receiver Devin Smith, who coasted the rest of the way for the 72-yard game-winning score.
Meyer said that play was essentially Miller being ... well ... Miller.
"That was a scramble," Meyer said. "That was a scramble drill: short go deep, deep go short. That's what he did. That's one thing that you hear people in the NFL say, 'need a quarterback who can extend the play.'
"He extended the play and made one."
It was a day chocked full of Miller theatrics.
Even though Miller ran for season-lows in yardage (75) and carries (12), it didn't prevent him from dazzling on the ground. In fact, he made a highlight reel play on the Buckeyes' first score of the day.
Looking at a third-and-4 at their own 45, Miller took the snap off the left end, put his foot in the ground as if he was going to cut it back up field, then immediately bounced to the outside — freezing Cal safety Alex Logan in the process — and raced 55 yards untouched to the end zone for his fifth rushing touchdown of the season.
The point after would be missed by Drew Basil, making the score 6-0 with 5:11 to play in the opening quarter.
Cal head coach Jeff Tedford said after the game that Miller proved he is one of college football's finest.
"Braxton is one of the best in the game and he came through for his team," Tedford said. "All of our eyes were on Braxton. We wanted other players to make something happen for them."
Cal answered the Miller juke-and-jaunt quickly, taking the ensuing drive 75 yards on just six plays. The up-tempo series culminated in a 19-yard scoring toss from quarterback Zach Maynard to receiver Chris Harper, giving the Bears a 7-6 lead late in the first quarter.
Continuing with the Buckeyes' defensive theme of allowing big-yardage plays this season, the Bears compiled three for more than 18 yards on the opening scoring drive.
The Buckeyes wouldn't trail long, though, as Miller decided to attack the Bears' defense through the air. After connecting with Smith for nine yards on first down, Miller hit senior receiver Jake Stoneburner down the middle of the field for 40 yards to the Cal 25.
One play later, Miller hooked up with the athletic Smith again in the end zone — on a back-shoulder toss — for the 13-7 lead with 1:27 to go in the first.
"We ran back-to-back deep balls, one to Jake and one to Devin," Meyer said. "(Braxton) back shouldered it. It was a big league throw and catch."
The aerial assault continued on the Buckeyes' opening drive of the second quarter.
On second-and-five from the Cal 45, Miller fired a beautiful deep pass down the left sideline to Smith, who hauled it in at the Cal 10. Two plays later, Miller connected with Stoneburner from one yard out for the 20-7 advantage.
Tedford — who has a reputation around the country as a quarterback guru — gushed about Miller's ability to throw the football.
"Braxton is a hard guy to contain because he is so big and physical," Tedford said. "For most of the day he made great decisions and threw some great passes.
"When he threw that long ball down the left sideline (to Smith), it was a perfect pass. He is fast, accurate and a great athlete."
Defensively for the Buckeyes it was all about preventing the big play and getting a pass rush — something that's been severely lacking in the opening two weeks of the season.
The Buckeyes accomplished the latter. In fact, they surpassed their season total for sacks in just one half, wrestling down Maynard four times in the opening 30 minutes of play.
OSU would finish with six sacks on the day.
However, the big play continued to be a thorn in the side of the Buckeyes — none bigger than the second offensive series of the third quarter when Bigelow acrobatically eluded an array of would-be tackles en route to an 81-yard touchdown dash, to pull the Bears to within six of the lead at 20-14.
The run by Bigelow was the third longest against the Buckeyes in school history.
It was missed tackles that plagued the Buckeyes throughout the day. The poor execution by the OSU defense resulted in 512 yards for the Bears — a season-high against the Buckeyes.
"Terrible, terrible," Meyer said of the tackling.
California hit on seven plays of more than 20 yards, including five of more than 30.
Senior defensive end Nathan Williams vows the Buckeyes will correct their woes.
"Our defense is disappointed in our effort," Williams said. "We're going to get it corrected. It won't happen again next week."
California out-gained Ohio State by 100 yards Saturday, but in the end, the Buckeyes came away with the win because of their rising star quarterback Miller, who continues to keep his name in the Heisman discussion.
"I love coaching Braxton," Meyer said. "Just his maturation as a quarterback ...
"It's happening right in front of Ohio State's eyes."
HALL RETURNS ... Buckeyes senior tailback Jordan Hall saw his first action of the season on Saturday after missing all of camp with a foot injury.
Hall toted the football 17 times for 87 yards in the win.
"I think he was rusty," Meyer said of Hall. "I think there were more yards there.
"But I love Jordan Hall. He's given a lot to us and our staff. So we've got to give back to him. He had a good day. That was the first time he went hard since he got hurt."
SMITH HAS CAREER DAY ... Ohio State sophomore wide receiver Devin Smith had a huge game for the Buckeyes in the win, racking up a career-high 145 yards and two touchdowns on five receptions.
"Devin Smith had a hell of a day," Meyer said. "Made a couple of great plays."
BRYANT PUTS NAIL IN COFFIN ... With 1:09 to play in the game and California desperately trying to mount another late comeback, Buckeyes junior safety Christian Bryant picked off a Maynard pass and returned it 38 yards deep into Bears territory.
Bryant said the pick was a total team-effort.
"(Bradley) Roby communicated to me before the play they were going to run the seam route and (Ryan) Shazier did a great job of re-routing their receiver and forcing the quarterback to overthrow it."
SHAZIER SHINED ... Sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier recorded a game-high 13 tackles — two for losses — and a sack in the win.
He also made the hit of the day in the first half, stopping Maynard in his tracks with a de-cleating blast that sent the Cal signal caller flying out of bounds.
"I was kind of the designated blitzer today," Shazier said. "They sent me after the quarterback more than usual and it felt good to get him on the ground and disrupt what they wanted to do on offense."