When the time came, Ohio State’s offense answered the metaphoric bell. Twice.
On two separate occasions, the Buckeyes were called upon offensively to come through with scoring drives in the fourth quarter. And both times the unit did just that in a 35-28 OSU victory Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
“It was amazing,” said fifth-year senior defensive lineman Nathan Williams. “It’s a great relief for the defense to have an offense that moves the ball and gives us some rest. The offense was clutch today. They were awesome.
“Coach (Urban) Meyer has brought in an offense that can move the ball up and down the field. When we needed our offense more than any time so far this season, they came through.”
The OSU defense did not have a banner day against the Golden Bears. Cal finished the afternoon with 512 yards of total offense, the most by a Buckeye opponent since Minnesota had 578 in 2005. Fortunately for Ohio State, much like against the Golden Bears, the Buckeyes came out on top in that previous contest. OSU beat Minnesota 45-31 on Oct. 29, 2005, and the 2012 Buckeyes followed their offense to victory despite Cal’s impressive yardage total.
Ohio State (3-0) looked to be in control at halftime. The Buckeyes led 20-7 at the break, but Cal came out with and took the momentum in the third quarter. The Golden Bears outgained OSU 195-25 during that quarter and cut the lead to 20-14 on an athletic 81-yard touchdown run by Brendan Bigelow. Then, early in the fourth quarter, Cal cut the deficit to 21-20 on a 1-yard TD run by quarterback Zach Maynard with 12:26 remaining.
That’s when the Ohio State offense first made a crucial response.
“We all kind of looked at each other and said, ‘We’ve got to get this thing going,’ ” junior offensive lineman Jack Mewhort said. “It got a little sketchy (in the third quarter). We got together and knew what we had to do. We went out there and did it.”
The Buckeyes went on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that lasted 3:55. It ended with a 3-yard TD pass from Braxton Miller to Jake Stoneburner – the first OSU edition of the Florida “jump pass” goal line pass utilized by famously by Tim Tebow. Miller did not jump, though, as he did not need to leap to find a wide-open Stoneburner.
“I knew it was going to work,” Stoneburner said. “They were probably thinking power right up the middle. I assume (Miller) had a good fake, everyone bit up and I was wide open.”
Miller added a two-point conversion run that extended Ohio State’s lead to 28-21, but unfortunately for the Buckeyes, that was not the end of the dramatics for the afternoon. A mere 21 seconds after Stoneburner’s touchdown, Cal answered. Bigelow found the end zone again, this time on a 59-yard run. Vincenzo D’Amato’s extra point tied the game at 28-28 with 8:10 remaining.
The Golden Bears were then gifted another offensive possession when Miller threw an interception at the OSU 44-yard line on the ensuing possession. The defense stood strong, however, holding Cal to a 42-yard D’Amato field goal attempt. It, like two other D’Amato attempts, missed with 4:20 remaining.
That gave Ohio State the opportunity it needed, and it did not take the Buckeyes long to take advantage. After Miller opened the drive with an incompletion and senior tailback Jordan Hall rushed to the left for 3 yards to the OSU 28, the Buckeyes were facing a 3-and-7. Miller dropped back to pass on third down and did not find primary receiver Corey “Philly” Brown open. The play broke down into a scramble drill, as Miller kept the play alive long enough to sophomore Devin Smith to break open down the field. Miller spotted his classmate down the right sideline and connected with him for a 72-yard touchdown with 3:26 left on the clock.
Cal had one final possession, but it ended on a Christian Bryant interception – the first of his career.
The final OSU touchdown reminded Stoneburner of the Miller-to-Smith connection that gave Ohio State an upset victory over Wisconsin last season.
“It was Braxton being Braxton,” Stoneburner said. “He scrambled and threw the ball up. I thought, ‘Man, where are you throwing that? It’s third down.’ All the sudden, Devin’s wide open.
It was déjà vu from Wisconsin all over.”
Stoneburner wasn’t the only person in the stadium with that feeling, either.
“After I scored that touchdown, I ran back to the sideline and I heard someone in the stands yell, ‘That was just like Wisconsin!,’ ” Smith said. “I thought that was pretty funny.”
On a day that featured an opponent coming to Ohio Stadium and outgaining the Buckeyes by 100 yards, the two fourth-quarter touchdowns gave the offense something to hang their hats on.
“As an offensive lineman, you just have to go out there and block as long as you can and be confident that those guys are going to make plays,” Mewhort said. “They did it. We have all the confidence in the world. It gave us a little bit of a springboard going into the next couple of weeks to know we can fight back.”