The Ohio State Buckeyes averted disaster against the University of California Golden Bears, rallying late in the fourth quarter for a 35-28 victory.
Cal trailed 20-7 at the half, but a huge surge in the third quarter helped the Golden Bears cut Ohio State's lead to six. A touchdown drive to start the fourth quarter gave Cal their first lead (21-20) and all the momentum.
Ohio State responded by scoring 15 points in the final eight and a half minutes of the game to escape Cal's near upset.
Here's 10 things we learned from Ohio State's close call with the Golden Bears.
1. Braxton Miller can throw an accurate deep ball.
After throwing for just 155 yards last week against UCF with his longest completion just 15 yards, Braxton Miller had much better success on his deeper throws against Cal.
Miller completed five passes that went for 20 or more yards on Saturday, including the game clinching 72-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith late in the fourth quarter. He wasn't perfect, and he did miss some open receivers down the field throughout the game, but he showed against Cal that he can connect on the deep pass when he needs to.
2. Without Miller, Ohio State's offense would be in trouble.
During Cal's surge in the second half, the Golden Bears did everything they could to contain Miller and get the ball out of his hands in the running game.
The result was ugly for the Buckeyes.
Cal forced three-and-outs on three of Ohio State's five possessions as the Buckeyes gained just 25 yards in the third quarter.
When the coaching staff finally opened things up in the passing game, Miller delivered the ball with accuracy and woke up an anemic offense.
3. Jordan Hall is no Percy Harvin.
The return of Jordan Hall—who missed the first two games of the season recovering from a foot injury—was supposed to give Ohio State their "Percy Harvin."
Jordan Hall is not that type of player. At least he wasn't against Cal.
Hall ran the ball with decent success, piling up 87 yards on 17 carries. But his longest run went for just 15 yards, and the running back didn't catch a single pass in the game.
Percy Harvin's role in Florida's offense produced big play after big play, and Jordan Hall failed to do that once against Cal. Hall might just need to shake off the rust, but after one game, it doesn't look like he has the explosiveness to fill that role.
4. Ohio State can produce pressure on the quarterback.
Coming into today's game, Ohio State had just three sacks against two opponents.
The Buckeyes doubled that number against Cal.
Meyer and the coaching staff showed much more aggressiveness in their blitz packages, and Ohio State sacked Zach Maynard six times on Saturday. It wasn't just the defensive line, as the Buckeyes got six sacks from six different players.
5. Nathan Williams is the difference maker.
It's no surprise that Ohio State struggled to generate any pressure against UCF with Nathan Williams on the sideline.
The senior defensive end is clearly Ohio State's best pass rusher, and he put his talent on display against Cal. Although he didn't register a sack, he was consistently in Cal's backfield and other defensive lineman benefited greatly from the havoc he created.
Keeping him healthy has to be one of Ohio State's top priorities moving forward.
6. The Buckeyes have some serious issues in the secondary.
Despite facing constant pressure, Cal quarterbacks threw for 288 yards against the Buckeyes.
Ohio State came into the game ranking 96th in the country in defending the pass, giving up 281 yards per game to opposing quarterbacks. Missed tackles and poor angles allowed Cal's receivers to run wild through Ohio State's secondary, and it almost cost the Buckeyes the game.
7. Tackling is somewhat important.
Broken tackles by Cal, both in the running and passing games, made this contest much closer than it should've been.
Brendan Bigelow made multiple Ohio State defenders look silly on his 81-yard touchdown run—a run that should have gone for just five yards if the Buckeyes had wrapped Bigelow up properly.
8. Ohio State's coaching staff did a much better job managing Braxton's carries.
Braxton Miller was averaging 22 carries per game coming into Saturday's contest, but the coaching staff showed some nice balance giving Braxton just six carries in each half against Cal.
His 12 total carries only netted 75 rushing yards, which is literally half of what he's been averaging per game against Ohio State's first two opponents. In the long run though, limiting Braxton's carries is vital to an Ohio State offense that would be utterly lost without him.
9. Devin Smith is a big play waiting to happen.
The sophomore provided Ohio State its biggest play of the year last year as a freshman, and he has continued that trend so far in 2012.
After making what will likely hold up as the catch of the year in Ohio State's season opener, Smith took advantage of some confusion in Cal's secondary to get open for the biggest play of the game against Cal.
Tied at 28, Devin Smith capitalized on Cal's busted coverage and darted down the field for the game clinching, 72-yard touchdown pass.
10. Braxton Miller is a legitimate Heisman trophy candidate.
After three games, Braxton had piled up 988 yards of total offense with 12 touchdowns against just two turnovers.
Those are Heisman numbers.
We won't know if Braxton can maintain this kind of production against conference opponents, but right now, he's on pace to have a record breaking year for the Buckeyes.
On top of that—he's clutch. With the game on the line and his team struggling, Miller put together two 75-yard touchdown drives together in the final eight minutes of the game, lifting the Buckeyes over the upset-minded Golden Bears.
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