Today, the Ohio State Buckeyes hosted the California Golden Bears. It was just the seventh time the two teams have met, and the first time since 1972. The Buckeyes narrowly escaped with a 35-28 victory, improving to 6-1 all time over Cal.
By all rights, Ohio State should have lost this game. There were several factors in their victory, but there were two that stuck out the most. First, Vincenzo D’Amato missed three field goals today, which would have given Cal the victory by 2. Second, the sheer yardage Ohio State gave up in penalties, most of which occurred at the worst possible time for the Buckeyes.
Initially, it seemed as if this game was going to be a real defensive struggle. Ohio State scored with just over five minutes left in the first quarter. The extra point was missed, though, and fans wondered if that would come back to bite them. And in a way it did. With 2:38 left in the first quarter, Cal orchestrated a fast counter to the Buckeye touchdown and put 7 on the board. Not to be outdone, Braxton Miller hit Devin Smith with a 25 yard pass for a second score before the quarter ended. The first quarter ended with a 13-7 Buckeye lead.
The Buckeyes started the second quarter fast with a four play drive that ended with a one yard pass from Miller to Jake Stoneburner in the end zone. Unfortunately, that was the end of scoring for the half as that’s when the penalty trouble started. Through the remainder of the quarter, the Buckeyes had three penalties totaling 27 yards. The half ended with Ohio State in a comfortable 20-7 lead.
The second half is where things got ugly. Ohio State’s first drive held two penalties for 15 more yards. The punt was fair caught, but on the first play of Cal’s second drive, Brendan Bigelow ran for 81 yards and a touchdown. There were no more penalties and no more scoring during the third quarter, so the Buckeyes were still in a good position with a 20-14 lead.
Then came the fourth quarter. Cal just wasn’t going anywhere and it was clear they wanted to win this game. The Ohio State defense appeared to forget how to play for awhile as Cal marched down the field on the first drive of the quarter and took a 21-20 lead. Enter the missed extra point from the first touchdown. The Buckeyes trailed for the second time in the game because of that miss. But Braxton Miller wasn’t having it. On Ohio State’s next drive, Miller pushed the offense down th field and hit Stoneburner again for a touchdown. It was 26-21, Buckeyes. Head coach Urban Meyer decided to try for two to make sure Cal had to score a touchdown. Miller converted on a quarterback keeper and made the score 28-21.
The Buckeyes kicked off and two plays later the Golder Bears struck again, tying the game at 28. Three plays later, Miller threw an interception. The Golden Bears following drive resulted in one of their failed field goal attempts. When the Buckeyes got the ball back, Miller had had enough. It seems that he and Devin Smith are going to connect on one big play at least once in every game and this drive was where they did it today. Miller hit Smith for a 72 yard touchdown. Bucks lead 35-28 with 3:26 left. And finally, after intermittent moments of brilliance in the second half, Christian Bryant intercepted Cal quarterback Zach Maynard. Rather than take any chances, Meyer instructed Miller to take a knee and run the clock out.
It was a hard-fought victory. Cal had more yards overall by 100. They had fewer penalties (4-40 to Ohio States 11-101). They possessed the ball more by ten minutes. So they definitely had more opportunity to score, but those three missed field goals are what ultimately cost them the game.
Next week, Ohio State takes on the University of Alabama at Birmingham. It’s their final home game before traveling to East Lansing to face Michigan State in their first road game of the season. They get one more shot to work out the rest of these kinks before starting conference play. Because Meyer will tell you this as surely as anyone else, if the Buckeyes incur 11 penalties for 101 yards against the Spartans, there is no way they come out on top. They got lucky today with a few big plays and some missed field goals. It won’t happen again. Especially not in the Big Ten.
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