Columbus, OH – Braxton Miller threw a 72-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith late in the fourth quarter to lift 12th-ranked Ohio State to a 35-28 victory over California.
Miller led the Buckeyes to their first two victories primarily with his legs, rushing for 161 yards in the opener against Miami-Ohio and 141 yards last week against UCF. On Saturday, he managed 75 yards on the ground with a 55-yard TD, but also threw for 249 yards with four scores.
His final pass gave Ohio State (3-0) the lead for good.
Smith, who finished with 145 yards on five receptions, was 15 yards behind the California defense on a 3rd-and-7 play. Miller bought a little time with his legs before spotting the wide open Smith, who cruised down the right sideline and into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 3:26 remaining.
Cal still had time and drove to its own 42 before Christian Bryant picked off a Zach Maynard pass at the Ohio State 37 to seal the contest.
"Cal mixed it up and gave us a lot of looks," Ohio State defensive lineman Nathan Williams said. "We executed as well as we could have, but we do have to improve a lot. Our defense is disappointed in our effort. We're going to try to get it corrected. It won't happen again next week."
Maynard threw for 280 yards with a touchdown for the Bears (1-2), who were their own worst enemy on Saturday. A holding call negated a touchdown and Vincenzo D'Amato missed a trio of field goals.
"We can take a lot of good things from today," California coach Jeff Tedford said. "We made some successful plays, kept our composure and played with a lot of heart. However, we didn't come here just to play well, we came here to win."
Brendan Bigelow rushed for 160 yards on just four carries for Cal, scoring on an 81-yard run in the third quarter and a 59-yard jaunt in the fourth. The Bears outgained Ohio State, 512-412.
Bigelow's second long TD scamper tied the game at 28-28 with 8:10 to play and Miller was intercepted by Steve Williams at the Ohio State 44 just three plays after the ensuing kickoff.
The Bears were unable to take advantage of the turnover as D'Amato was well left on a 42-yard field goal try with 4:20 to play, and Miller threw for the go-ahead score moments later.
Miller was asked to carry much of the workload last week after a knee injury to running back Carlos Hyde, who sat out Saturday's game. Jordan Hall returned to the lineup Saturday after missing two games recovering from a cut on his foot and rushed for 87 yards on 17 carries in the victory.
Ohio State opened the scoring on its third possession of the game when Miller escaped containment on 3rd-and-4 and raced down the left sideline untouched for a 55-yard touchdown.
The point after was wide right and Cal responded with a 75-yard march. Isi Sofele started it with a 26-yard run and Maynard capped the 6-play set with a 19-yard screen pass to Chris Harper for the touchdown and a 7-6 edge.
Ohio State answered with its own 75-yard scoring drive and Miller used his arm for this one, completing three passes on the 4-play series. He started it with a 9-yard pass to Smith and added a 40-yard completion to Jake Stoneburner before Smith hauled in a 25-yard TD strike.
The Buckeyes started their next offensive set from the Cal 45 after an 18-yard punt and needed five plays to again find the end zone. Miller's 35-yard pass to Smith set up a first down at the 10 and the quarterback followed with a run of nine yards set up a perfect play-action TD toss to Stoneburner for a 20-7 advantage with 13:30 left in the half.
Cal appeared to have a touchdown midway through the second quarter when Maynard and C.J. Anderson hooked up for 49 yards, but an illegal block penalty against Jacob Wark negated the score. The Bears soon after reached the OSU 10, but went backward from there and D'Amato was well left on a 40-yard field goal try.
Bigelow pulled the Bears within 20-14 early in the third when he broke four tackles en route to an 81-yard score. D'Amato's second miss of the day, a 42- yard try, was wide left in the final minute of the period.
Cal grabbed a 21-20 lead early in the fourth on a quarterback sneak from a yard away by Maynard. Ohio State, which went three-and-out on its last three possessions of the third quarter, followed with an 11-play drive for a touchdown, as Miller finished with a 3-yard scoring toss to Stoneburner and ran for the ensuing 2-point conversion for a 28-21 advantage.
Miller completed just 16-of-30 passes ... Stoneburner had three catches for 44 yards ... Sofele finished with 86 yards on 21 carries in defeat ... Ohio State improved to 6-1 all-time against California. It was the first meeting since 1972 ... The Buckeyes have now won 60 straight regular-season non-conference home games against unranked opposition.