COLUMBUS — With Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller making national headlines with his legs during the first two weeks of the season, California came into Saturday’s game with the Buckeyes fully committed to limiting the sophomore’s rushing attack.
The Golden Bears loaded up the box and had one of their safeties spy Miller on every play. The plan worked — Miller rushed only 12 times after running 44 times in the first two games — and it didn’t.
“That opens up a lot of seams for the guys on our side,” Miller said. “There’s a lot of things going on and when the quarterback scrambles the defense has to turn around and find somebody that’s open.
Miller turned the Bears’ strategy against them during a 35-28 victory, twice using a jump pass — made famous by Tim Tebow during Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer’s time at Florida — for touchdowns to tight end Jake Stoneburner, and executing a perfect rollout pass for the game-winning touchdown to sophomore receiver Devin Smith.
Miller completed 16 of 30 passes for a career-high 249 yards and a career-best four touchdowns. The other touchdown was a 55-yard run by Miller early in the first quarter.
“All of our eyes were on Braxton — we wanted other players to make something happen for them,” Cal cornerback Marc Anthony said. “Braxton is one of the best in the game and he came through for his team.”
Miller said his best play of the game was his first touchdown pass, a 25-yarder to the back shoulder of Smith in the front corner of the end zone late in the first quarter.
Smith finished with five catches for a career-high 145 yards. It was his second game with two touchdowns — the first came versus Colorado on Sept. 24, 2011.
“We’re constantly in each other’s ear talking about how we’re going to attack the defense,” Smith said of his relationship with Miller. “We’re going to keep working hard together. When you know you can rely on somebody to make the play, it makes it that much easier.
“I know what I can do on the football field, and I’m glad that it’s happening the way it’s happening. Hard work really pays off.”
The aerial attack cooled in the third quarter, when Miller completed just one pass for 5 yards and the Buckeyes were forced to punt on four straight series.
The Golden Bears scored in the third and again early in the fourth to take a 21-20 lead.
“They went bear defense, four down, bear, four down … and paralyzed the offensive line a little bit,” Meyer said of California’s defensive success. “I was just trying to keep (Miller) calm and cool. I love coaching Braxton because there’s not a whole lot of panic in him.”
Miller completed four passes on the next drive — including a 3-yard pop pass to Stoneburner for the touchdown — and ran the ball in on the conversion attempt to give Ohio State a 28-21 lead.
After Cal tied it two plays later, the stage was set for Smith’s big play. Miller scrambled out of the pocket and hit a wide-open Smith down the right sideline for a 72-yard touchdown. It was Miller’s longest career completion, topping the 54-yard pass he had against Michigan last season.
“I was on the opposite side of the field, but we all take responsibility,” Anthony said. “It was a crucial point in the game. We had a simple Cover 2 on and we got caught getting nosy.”
Opponents’ fear of Miller’s legs may be a big asset for the Buckeyes, and Meyer hopes that his receiving corps continues to get stronger in the meantime.
“We’ve gotten better already,” Meyer said. “You can take a look at the evolution in the past 12 months or so. We are developing some receivers, and Devin had a hell of a day.”
California’s defense won’t disagree, as they walked out of Ohio Stadium with plenty of burn marks.
Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or email@example.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.