Wednesday, September 19

Buckeyes survive scare from Cal

The California Golden Bears took their best shot at Ohio St last Saturday, but ultimately were done in by three missed field goals and the stellar play of Braxton Miller to fall just short. The Buckeyes improved in some areas but continued to make mistakes and were able to just slip past Cal, 35-28.

Miller put together his most complete game of the season, torching Cal in both the running and passing game to lead the Bucks. Carlos Hyde was out but Jordan Hall was in the lineup for the first time all season and did a fine job, gaining 87 yards on 17 carries. Devin Smith continued his great season by catching five balls for 145 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with three-and-a-half minutes to play when he beat his man with total ease and walked into the endzone for the 72-yard score.

One of the biggest positives from this game came from a pass rush that was virtually nonexistent the first two weeks of the season. John Simon was finally the force we expected him to be, Garrett Goebel and Jonathon Hankins were getting pressure up the middle, and the line was bolstered even further by the return of Nathan Williams, who missed the UCF game with an injury. Ohio St’s defense really relies on getting after the quarterback, and Cal signal-caller Zach Maynard finally felt the heat in this one.

But considering the Buckeyes needed a last-minute TD to outdo a team they were favored to beat by 18, it certainly wasn’t all positive. The receivers dropped some easy passes early in this game, something that you simply can’t have when your QB is struggling to throw the ball. Other than that and the fact that the secondary continued to have some miscommunications, I really only saw one chink in the Buckeye armor this week, but it was a very important one - missed tackles.

OSU players were missing Cal runners time and time again, and it almost cost them the game. Bear RB Brendan Bigelow ripped off 160 yards on only 4 carries. His 81-yarder early in the third and 59-yarder in the fourth both went for scores, the latter tying the game at 28. Several Buckeyes had shots to take Bigelow out on each play, the most embarrassing miss coming from Christian Bryant on the second TD. Bryant had him dead to rights in the open field, squared him up, then just put his head too low and didn’t bother to wrap up as Bigelow easily escaped and was off to the races. Usually-sure tackler Ryan Shazier missed Bigelow right before Bryant’s gaffe. This issue doesn’t concern me too much because we’re typically an above-average tackling team, but it’ll definitely be something to keep an eye on to make sure it gets corrected immediately.

So for the third consecutive week Ohio St, made a lot of mistakes and showed that they have a long way to go to becoming an elite team, but escaped The Horseshoe with a win, and that’s really all that matters. That and the fact that we’re still not michigan fans.

Game Recap
After both teams punted on each of their first two possessions, the last six minutes of the first quarter provided plenty of excitement. The first big play came when Miller broke one to the outside and went 55 yards to paydirt. Drew Basil just missed the point-after, and the Bucks’ lead stayed at 6-0. Maynard led the Bears right back, and his 19-yard scoring strike to Chris Harper, followed by a successful PAT, put Cal on top. Not to be outdone, Brax completed passes of 40 yards to Jake Stoneburner and 25 to Devin Smith, the latter resulting in a touchdown to give OSU the 13-6 advantage after one.

After a Cal three-and-out, Miller and Smith picked up right where they left off by hooking up for a 35-yard conversion on third-and-ten. On second-and-goal from the one, Meyer brought out his famous “jump pass” call, only Braxton isn’t five feet tall like Tim Tebow so he was able to just throw it over the line normally. But it was a great play-call, as Miller faked a QB draw, planted his feet right behind his o-line, and found a wide open Stoneburner in the end zone. The defenses controlled the rest of the half, with the only scoring opporunity coming on a Cal missed 40-yard FG. Ohio St went into the tunnel with a comfortable 20-7 lead.

It turns out that lead was anything but comfortable. The Buckeye offense managed a paltry 25 yards and 0 first downs in the third quarter. The defense wasn’t a whole lot better, giving up two 50+-yard drives that thankfully didn’t result in any California points. One drive stalled when WR Keenan Allen, brother and #1 target of Maynard, was tackled a yard short on 4th and 6, another when kicker Vincenzo D’Amato missed another field goal. Cal did get on the board once in this quarter, however, when freshman Brendan Bigelow got his first carry of the game and took it 81 yards to the house. Heading to the final frame, Ohio St’s lead was down to 20-14.

After Ben Buchannan was seemingly on the field just as much as Braxton Miller in the first three quarters, this exciting and fast-paced 4th didn’t see either punter once. Maynard took a short field and immediately turned it into points, running it in himself and giving Cal their second lead of the game. Miller responded by directing Ohio St’s best a drive of the game, an 11-play, 75-yarder that resulted in another TD pass to Stoneburner. Braxton easily ran in the two-point conversion on a draw play to put the Buckeyes up by a touchdown.

The lead was short-lived, when Bigelow came in on the next series and took a whole two plays this time before tying the game. He rushed for 16 yards on the first play before breaking one for 59 and the score on the next. Shazier had the first crack at Bigelow but took a bad angle and couldn’t bring him down, as Bigelow put his hand on the ground and spun 360-degrees before staying up and heading towards the sideline. Bryant was next up to look foolish, as his attempted tackle was just awful. Once Bigelow was free from that one it was all speed and there wasn’t a Buckeye inside the 20 by the time he hit the endzone.

So here we are, tied at 28 with eight minutes to play and Miller putting together the most complete game of his career. I feel confident he’s got an 80-yard drive in him to win the game. Then he reminds me that he’s still only 19 and still has a lot of work to do to before becoming an top-tier quarterback. Not only does he throw into double coverage, but the pass doesn’t even go anywhere near his receiver and is picked off by Steve Williams.

Now it’s up to a struggling defense to save the game with Cal already starting in possible game-winning field position. The D does its job, allowing only 9 yards on three plays. To the surprise of 110,000 people in The Shoe, Cal Coach Jeff Tedford sends out D’Amato for the third time instead of electing to go for it on 4th and 1 from the 25. And for the third time, D’Amato shanks it left.

So Braxton has another chance, now with just over four minutes remaining in a tie game. An incompletion and a short Jordan Hall run make it third-and-seven from their own 28. Miller rolls to his right and starts to scramble toward the sideline, which draws DB Alex Logan up and leaving Devin Smith wide open. "You see somebody open like that you at least have to put some air under it so they can run under it and get position. You have to be careful with those type of throws," said Miller after the game. He did just that, putting plenty of air under it and setting up Smith for an easy catch and run into the endzone.

The Buckeye defense stepped it up for the second straight drive and quickly ended any hopes of Cal coming down and tying the game back up. Big Jon Hankins had a sack and Christian Bryant, looking to make up for his missed tackle, sealed the Bears’ fate by intercepting Maynard and giving Ohio St a narrow 35-28 victory.

Game Ball
The past two weeks I overlooked Brax for this honor because of his inability to throw the ball downfield and awarded the GB to a DB instead, but not this time. Miller was his usual unstoppable self on the ground, although in a reduced role, rushing 12 times for 75 yards and a score, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Coach Meyer said he wanted to limit the amount of hits Braxton was taking and cap his rushing attempts around 15 (down from 27 the week prior) and I think this worked out perfectly. I think I only counted six or seven designed runs for Miller, plus the times he took off on his own after finding no one open. Teams are starting to load the box to stop Miller’s rushing game, but it really doesn’t matter what they do because there is no stopping it - the guy’s a freak.

We all know he can run, but I was most happy to see him throwing effectively in this game. They continued to give him safe, easy targets, and Brax responded by going 16/30 for 249 yards, 4 touchdowns and 1 interception. The completion percentage still isn’t quite where I’d like it to be and the one INT was a very poorly thrown ball, but he’s certainly progressing. While Smith was SO open on the game-winning score that Miller probably could have punted it to him, it was at least good to see him throw deep and put it right there instead of overthrowing his target by 10 yards. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I feel much more comfortable with Miller throwing after this game than I did after last week.
Game balls to date: Miller, Howard, Roby

Big Ten
Well, the Big Ten didn’t embarrass themselves this week, combining for a record of 10-2, so there’s that. On the other hand, they didn’t do anything to quiet the haters, as only one team faced a quality opponent and Michigan St was easily downed by Notre Dame. The Spartans were really the only thing the conference had going this year, and the Irish abruptly put an end to that.

Indiana was beat by Ball St (wow the Hoosiers are bad) and the other ten teams combined to beat four FCS schools, four non-AQ conference schools, Boston College and Cal. Next week looks like more of the same with only one big-time matchup on the schedule again involving Notre Dame, as the Irish host that school up north.

Quick Hits
- In addition to Jordan Hall and Nathan Williams returning from injury, CB Travis Howard was also back in action against Cal after leaving the UCF game in the 4th quarter. That leaves Carlos Hyde as the only injury of note heading into this week’s game against UAB. Hyde will most likely be held out of this one in attempt to get him ready for Michigan St in two weeks.

- With Devin Smith, Philly Brown and Evan Spencer all playing well and Jake Stoneburner converting to wide receiver, it’s not a total shock that we haven’t seen a lot of the Spring Game MVP, freshman Mike Thomas, but I am a little surprised that he hasn’t gotten on the field at all. He seemed to have a good rapport with Miller and I thought that Meyer would at least give him some chances sporadically.

- Bradley Roby had another promising game, in the first half in particular, other than a dropped interception in the first quarter that would have gone back for six. This secondary surely isn’t hurting for guys that can make big plays, but they continue to struggle to work together and are missing assignments, leaving guys wide open.

Up Next: vs. UAB (0-2), 12:00, Big Ten Network
Ohio St gets one more week to fix the problems that have slowed them down the first few games before they travel to East Lansing. UAB comes to The Shoe this Saturday for what should be an absolute massacre. The Blazers’ leading rusher has 18 carries for 58 yards on the year, so expect UAB to be throwing early and often, especially when they get down quickly. That should provide the Buckeyes with the opportunity to work on their pass rush, coverage mistakes, and missed tackles. I know I said this last week, but this time I mean it - I fully expect the Ohio St defense to finally put it all together for a game. Offensively, Braxton shouldn’t have trouble racking up 300+ yards and be sitting on the bench by halftime. It’ll be nice to see the Bucks carry some momentum into the Big Ten season.
Prediction: Ohio St 38 UAB 0


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