Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Ohio State earned its third win of the season in a back-and-forth thriller against California on Saturday, 35-28. It was the Buckeyes’ first game the season against an opponent from a Bowl Championship Series conference, and almost their first taste of defeat. Here’s what we learned about the Buckeyes in their narrow victory.
The Buckeyes were fortunate to win
California converted eight more first downs than OSU, held a significant advantage in time of possession, outgained the Buckeyes by 100 yards and surrendered 70 fewer yards on penalties. But the Buckeyes still secured an advantage in the only statistic that matters, the final score.
Much credit goes to California junior kicker Vincenzo D’Amato, who missed all three of his field goal attempts. The final try was a 42-yarder late in the fourth quarter, on a fourth-and-1 with the game tied at 28. Rather than try to convert a first down, coach Jeff Tedford elected to send his kicker out for one more attempt. And once again, D’Amato horribly shanked his kick wide-left, sending a souvenir into the north stands.
Tedford’s decision was puzzling to say the least. All told, California ran the ball for 224 yards on 41 rushes, an average of 5.5 yards per carry. Common sense says they could manage one yard for a first down. Instead Tedford put faith in the kicker who had already missed two field goals from similar distances. His faith was misplaced, the kick was missed badly and Cal missed out on an upset win.
Jordan Hall returned to action…and saw a lot of it
Hall was sidelined for OSU’s first two games while recovering from surgery, and in his first game back he saw a surprising amount of action, carrying the ball 17 times for 87 yards.
When asked about Hall’s workload, coach Urban Meyer admitted that he “didn’t think that was going to happen,” but said that the senior captain, “just kept going.”
Hall’s return could not have come at a better time for the Buckeyes, just a week after junior running back Carlos Hyde, who started in Hall’s absence, suffered an MCL sprain. Hyde did not play against the Golden Bears and will likely miss at least one more game. Hall’s presence adds depth and experience to a position that would otherwise lack it.
The Defense (finally) applied a pass rush
Earlier this week, Meyer stressed that his team needed to do a better job at pressuring opposing quarterbacks, and with good reason. Despite having what’s thought to be on of the most talented defensive lines in the country, the Buckeyes recorded just three sacks in their first two games.
They doubled that effort against Cal, as six different Buckeyes brought down the Golden Bears’ senior quarterback Zach Maynard. The six team sacks was most by a Buckeye defense since 2009.
All told it was a lackluster game for the Silver Bullets. They allowed more than 500 yards of total offense and struggled with tackling in open space. That being said, it was promising to see improvement in the pass rush, which had been a huge disappointment.
Give an extra helmet sticker to…
Devin Smith. The sophomore wide receiver is establishing himself as a big-play target for the scarlet and gray.
Smith’s 72-yard, game-winning touchdown catch in the fourth quarter was reminiscent of his game-winning score last season against Wisconsin. In both scenarios he was able to slip behind broken coverage as quarterback Braxton Miller extended the play with his legs and heaved a deep pass his way.
Having said that, Smith’s performance against Cal had a Jekyll-and-Hyde quality to it. He caught two touchdowns on five receptions for a career-high 145 yards, but also dropped some easy passes for would-be first downs.
Meyer summed up Smith’s play perfectly, comparing his receiver to a baseball player.
“He dropped a couple but we need a home run hitter,” said Meyer. “When you take a really hard swing, every once in a while you’ve got to hit it out of the park.”