2012 California Football Week 3: Typi-C-A-L [35-28L]by Nam Le on Sep, 16 2012
With a huge victory in sight, the bumbling Bears blow it
If their first two efforts against Nevada and Southern Utah were those of a team still hibernating, then the Bears can thank 105,000 hostile voices for waking them up on Saturday against Ohio State.
And yet, even with their first complete effort this season, it still wasn’t enough to beat the #12 ranked Buckeyes.
For the third straight week, things began poorly for California. After a couple of three and outs, a blown run coverage by Alex Logan led to a long Braxton Miller touchdown run to open the scoring. Logan, who had been largely invisible through two weeks, struggled badly Saturday; the Buckeyes would tack on another score when he bit on a run fake by Miller, leaving Jake Stoneburner open for the first of his two scores on the day.
Still, a strong defensive effort by California kept the Buckeyes from pulling away – the score at halftime was only 20-7, although several dropped passes by Ohio State receivers helped in keeping it that close.
Coming out of the half, though, the Bears unleashed a secret weapon to get back into it – sophomore running back Brendan Bigelow, who finished with 160 yards [on FOUR carries] on the day. Taking over at their own 19 midway through the third, the Bears sent Bigelow out to line up along side Zach Maynard in the backfield. An innocent enough formation.
What happened next was one of the most impressive runs there will be in college football this year.
Fourteen seconds, two spin moves, and one dash down the sideline later, the Bears had cut the deficit to just one score; they would take a 21-20 lead early in the fourth behind a Maynard quarterback sneak, kicking off what would be a wild final frame.
Ohio State answered with a second Stoneburner touchdown catch and 2 point conversion to go ahead 28-21, before Bigelow struck again, simply outrunning every pursuing Buckeye on his 59 yard scamper.
At that point, the word upset was not far from anyone’s thoughts. The Bears, 17 point underdogs coming into Saturday, had tied the mighty Buckeyes late in the fourth quarter. Only eight minutes remained. Eight minutes for the program to score – with a safety, a field goal, a touchdown – and secure its first victory over a ranked team since 2009.
But it was not to be. Braxton Miller engineered a fourth touchdown pass on a broken play, scrambling to his right to find a wide open Devin Smith, who raced down the field. That score gave the Buckeyes a 35-28 lead they would never give up again.
California’s last drive ended in a heartbreaking interception, Maynard’s first and only mistake on the day.
In fact, Maynard, whose play has been much maligned throughout his time under center, left no room for complaints, really. The senior quarterback from North Carolina was calm and remarkably poised in a hostile road environment, leading the team back time and time again. Maynard was accurate, and Maynard was efficient – 26 of 37 on the day. He kept the chains moving consistently in what had to be his most impressive performance in a California uniform, although he, like Miller, was hurt by some drops.
On defense, things looked much improved as well. The Bears have struggled with running quarterbacks recently, but they did an outstanding job containing Braxton Miller Saturday – outside of his one touchdown run, Miller rarely caused any damage with his legs, and was forced to stay in the pocket and throw instead; better play on the outside from linebackers Chris McCain and Brennan Scarlett helped immensely there. A look at the statsheet will also show that Ohio State completed only 33% of their 3rd downs, much better than the 52.5% the Bears were allowing the first two weeks. The yardage was obviously not ideal, but the Buckeyes were kept in check all afternoon by a much more disciplined and patient Cal defense.
The game was lost, however, in the little plays. In the 3 missed field goals by Vincenzo D’Amato, including one on a highly disagreeable decision late in the 4th quarter. In the phantom hold on Jacob Wark, which wiped out a CJ Anderson touchdown catch. In the blown coverage on Ohio State’s final score. Certainly, the Bears avoided a majority of the penalties and mental errors that have plagued their season thus far.
But they still committed enough of those to lose. Like they always do.
They played well – especially against an opponent expected to roll them. They showed flashes of the future, with the play of Bryce Treggs, Chris McCain, and Brendan Bigelow. They showed heart in battling back twice.
And at the final whistle, all of it went for naught. The Bears lost in the kind of devastating, last-minute fashion their fans have come to expect them to, trudging off the field to the sound of bells.
It was ominous, and yet, almost eerily appropriate. A loss next week to USC would drop them to 1-3, forcing the team to go 5-3 in its final 8 games just to be bowl eligible – to say nothing about how unacceptable a 6-6 record would be.
In other words, what they heard leaving Ohio Stadium on Saturday could be the death knell for the 2012 season.Cover photo credit: musiccleveland.com