When They Needed it Most, Buckeyes Expected Play to be Made
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Staring at a scoreboard that blazed back a 28-28 tally, the Buckeyes found themselves in their first real dire situation of the football season.
In a game where they were once leading 20-7, complacency had set in and California had stolen the game's momentum. What once had the makings of a rout had now begun looking like the Buckeyes' first loss of the 2012 season.
To avoid that loss, however, somebody would need to step up and make a play.
Somewhere, someone would have to elevate themselves above the California defense and send the Bears back home knowing that they had come close to an upset, but just didn't have the means to complete their mission.
Following a missed field goal that would have given California a 31-28 lead with just 4:20 remaining, the Buckeyes got their chance.
"When they missed that field goal, it was like, 'Alright we've got to win this game right now'," said tight end Jake Stoneburner.
"And we took it upon ourselves. Braxton took it upon himself to make sure we were able to win that game and we did."
On third and seven from the 28-yard line, Braxton Miller dropped back, was flushed to the right side, saw Corey Brown near the sideline, and then hit Devin Smith breaking free downfield. Smith skated into the endzone with ten yards of cushion between him and the nearest defender.
A play had to be made, and it was. And it wasn't all that unexpected.
"Our guys found a way," said Urban Meyer.
"I have been in games before where I thought we were going to lose. I just kept waiting, I thought someone would make a play, I really did."
Miller's floater to Smith was not the first play the pair had made on the day, because they also hooked up on Ohio State's opening score as well. In fact, the two have had a knack for making the big play at the right time, as they showed last year against Wisconsin.
Perhaps it was that history, that knowledge that this wasn't foreign territory for the players in this offense, that instilled the confidence in the Buckeye players that somebody would make the necessary play.
"You practice things like that throughout the week," Miller said. "So we seized the moment, and it happened."
The moment was certainly seized, and it didn't really catch any of Miller's teammates off guard. After all, they've gotten a pretty good look at what the sophomore can do throughout the first 16 games of his Ohio State career.
Expecting a play to be made can be presumptuous, but that doesn't make it wishful thinking. Despite just being a couple of sophomores, both Miller and Smith have shown themselves to be purveyors of the big play.
"I heard somebody say that it was just like the Wisconsin game," Smith said. "But I had to run a little bit further, then I 'Teddy Ginned' down the field."
Even before Miller himself saw Smith, the crowd saw him. He had slipped through the secondary, who had bitten on an underneath receiver. All Miller had to do was see him, and then throw a catchable ball.
"When you see somebody open like that, you've got to at least put some air under it so they can run under it and get position under it," Miller said.
"It happened. I'm glad it happened. We work on it all the time in practice."
It almost seems odd looking back on the play. There was nothing miraculous about it. The scramble out of the pocket wasn't anything that Miller hasn't done 50 times before, and certainly receivers running free on such a play isn't unheard of, but sometimes it's the moment that makes a play so big.
"Braxton's a playmaker," said Jordan Hall.
"He's a guy that can put the team on his back. He makes a play when you need one."
"When you have Braxton at quarterback, any play can turn into him scrambling and making something happen," Stoneburner agreed.
What Miller and Smith did to win the game is exactly what they're capable of, and their teammates weren't caught off guard by any single piece of it.
"This is Ohio State," left tackle Jack Mewhort explained.
"There are playmakers running up and down the sideline and all over the field. I had all of the confidence in the world in our skill players just because I've seen the stuff that they can do. I was very confident.
"When Devin made that big play at the end, I wouldn't say it was relief, it was just kind of expected, like, 'Yep, okay, there it is.' We never lost confidence."
Yep, okay, there it is. A momentum-changing 72-yard touchdown on third and seven with the score tied 28-28 late in the fourth quarter.
The final score may have been unexpected for the Buckeyes, but the fact that somebody stepped up and made a play when it absolutely needed to be made certainly wasn't.
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