Smith Delivers Heroics, Victory Over Cal
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It didn’t dawn on him initially, but Devin Smith couldn’t help but smile when he heard someone in the stands compare his catch Saturday to the one he made against Wisconsin last season.
It wasn’t exactly in the final seconds of the game, or even on the same end of Ohio Stadium, but Smith’s 72-yard touchdown catch gave the Buckeyes a 35-28 victory over a better-than-advertized Cal team on Saturday.
“I just kept waiting,” OSU Head Coach Urban Meyer said after the game.
“I have been in games before where I thought we were going to lose, (but today) I thought someone would make a play, I really did.”
The Buckeyes (3-0) looked like the better team for the first 30 minutes of the game Saturday. Maybe not 17 points better, as the spread suggested, but Meyer’s team did have a 20-7 lead at the half after tight Jake Stoneburner caught a 1-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter.
OSU quarterback Braxton Miller had only carried the ball six times, including a 55-yard touchdown run in the first quarter where he embarrassed a pair of Cal defenders on his way to the end zone.
“Since Braxton became our quarterback, he’s much better,” Meyer said.
“But we’ve got a long way to go. It’s kind of turning into that kind of world for us right now that there’s a lot of players, people, numbers committed to stopping the run.”
Miller’s long touchdown run was set up by Ohio State’s defense, which held the Golden Bears (1-2) to just five yards on the previous drive after they started at the OSU 45-yard line.
That was pretty much the highlight of the day for defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and his defense, however, as the Buckeyes surrendered over 500 yards of offense to the Jeff Tedford-coached Bears.
They did sack quarterback Zach Maynard six times, but Tedford and the Cal coaches eventually made the Buckeyes pay for their aggressiveness on defense.
“This game they tried to pressure us and that's huge. Their D-line is pretty effective and they knew how to get to the ball with strong guys,” Maynard said after passing for 280 yards and a touchdown.
“I guess they figured they could push us back and put pressure on me but I hit almost every hot route and they stopped pressuring me as much. That forced them to drop back.”
Penalties and sloppy play plagued the Ohio State offense early in the second half, while Maynard and the Bears rushing attack made them pay on defense. The Buckeyes did not make a first down in the entire third quarter, as they were held to just 25 yards of total offense.
“We just got into a lull,” said tight end Jake Stoneburner, who caught a pair of touchdown passes Saturday.
“I don’t know exactly what it was, little things like missed assignments, dropped balls, bad communication. It started to click there again late in the game, but we have to make sure we do it for four quarters.”
Ohio State’s defense gave up and 81-yard touchdown run to sophomore Brenden Bigelow in the third quarter and a personal foul penalty against the Buckeyes gave Cal a short field to work with on their opening drive of the fourth quarter.
“Stupid penalties,” Meyer said, almost under his breath.
“We had some personal fouls, 15‑yard penalties. Better get that cleaned up or we're going to lose a game. I don't have a magic answer for you. Are we going to do 10 pushups after we commit a penalty, I don't know. We'll get better, though. I promise you we're going to get better. How long will it take, there's a lot of moving parts to get better.”
The Bears scored on a quarterback keeper at the end of an 8-play, 46-yard drive. The extra point gave them a 21-20 lead thanks to a missed extra point from Drew Basil earlier in the game.
Miller led the Buckeyes right back down the field on 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to re-take the lead. It was capped off by a 3-yard touchdown pass to Stoneburner on the “jump pass” play made famous by Tim Tebow at Florida.
The lead would be short-lived, however, as the OSU defense allowed Bigelow to rip off another long touchdown run, this time 59-yards, to tie the game at 28. Bigelow narrowly escaped a tackle by Nathan Williams in the backfield and broke two or three tackles – at least one from Ryan Shazier and another from Christian Bryant – on his way to the end zone.
“On defense, bad tackling. That's all I know, is bad tackling,” Meyer said.
“We've gotta get that figured out. It's time to play Ohio State defense and that wasn't Ohio State defense at all.”
It really wasn’t Meyer’s offense either. The Buckeyes finished with 412 total yards, including 163 on the ground, but Miller threw a bad interception to Steve Williams on the ensuing drive after Bigelow’s touchdown run.
The Buckeyes got the ball back after Tedford made a very questionable decision to have kicker Vincent D’Amato try a 42-yard field goal on 4th-and-1. He had already missed two other kicks from similar range.
It was three players later where Miller found Smith running all alone down the right sideline on his way to a 72-yard touchdown; the second game-winning touchdown catch of his young career.
“Devin Smith had a hell of a day, made a couple of great plays,” Meyer said.
"Yeah, he dropped a couple, but we need a homerun hitter. When you take a really hard swing every once in a while you've got to hit it out of the park."
They’re going to need more of those if this team can’t find a consistent running game in the coming weeks. They have one more tune-up left against UAB before their conference-opener in East Lansing on Sept. 29.
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