COLUMBUS: Jake Stoneburner admitted that doubt crept in.
When the game against the University of California became tight in the second half, the senior receiver said most of the comments on the Ohio State sideline were along the lines of “Man, Cal might actually pull this out.”
OSU’s sophomore miracle men — Braxton Miller and Devin Smith — made sure that didn’t happen. Quarterback Miller tossed a 72-yard touchdown pass to wide-open receiver Smith with 3:26 remaining, and junior safety Christian Bryant put it away with an interception with 1:09 to go as the No. 12 Buckeyes escaped with a 35-28 victory Saturday.
As thrilling as that sounded, OSU turned in its worst performance of the Urban Meyer era. Their first-year coach allowed the Buckeyes to enjoy the triumph Saturday, but today will be another story.
“I won’t say tomorrow will be all peaches and cream,” Meyer said.
Rotten peaches, perhaps.
OSU is undefeated in three games but just one remains against Alabama-Birmingham before the Big Ten season begins, and Meyer has a multitude of problems to correct.
• Too many flags.
His Buckeyes committed 11 penalties for 101 yards against the Golden Bears and have been flagged 21 times for 180 yards in the past two games.
On one second-quarter Cal possession, the OSU defense committed two personal fouls (although one was offset). At times, OSU’s follies seemed Cooperesque.
“Late hits on quarterbacks, I think Corey Linsley had one right in front of us, that’s just stupid, ignorant penalties,” Meyer said. “Right tackle jerking on the 1-yard line, that’s a stupid penalty. Going after balls and getting your feet tangled up, that’s football.”
• Bad tackling.
Those were Meyer’s words after Cal rolled up 512 yards of offense, the most since Minnesota’s 578 in 2005 and the most at home since Cincinnati totaled 525 in 1999. Cal sophomore tailback Brendan Bigelow, who said he is still recovering from two serious knee injuries in high school, rushed four times for 160 yards and two touchdowns, including a dazzling 81-yarder that was the longest run by an opponent in Ohio Stadium and the third-longest against OSU.
“It’s time to play Ohio State defense and that wasn’t Ohio State defense at all,” Meyer said.
• Lackluster linebackers.
Meyer didn’t call out any, but ABC analyst Chris Spielman couldn’t have been happy after Cal rushed for 224 net yards. Yet the starters’ stats seemed deceiving. Ryan Shazier totaled 13 tackles (two for losses) and one sack. Etienne Sabino had seven tackles (one for loss) and one sack. The third, Curtis Grant, had only one stop.
“That hurts my heart because we pride on stopping the run,” Shazier said. “We can’t be having that happen, too many people missing tackles. We can’t have people slipping and missing assignments. We were lazy, we thought we had a win.”
• No run game except Miller.
This season’s theme continued with Miller picking up 75 of OSU’s 163 yards on the ground. Jordan Hall returned from offseason foot surgery and contributed 87 yards on 17 carries. But Miller has rushed for 53 percent of the Buckeyes’ yards and five of their nine rushing touchdowns. Meyer knows foes will game-plan to stop Miller.
“What is going to happen is we’re going to have to throw the ball,” Meyer said. “It’s turning into that kind of world for us right now that there’s a lot of players, people, numbers, committed to stopping the run.”
• Another lull.
In the opener against Miami University, the Buckeyes were sleeping in the first quarter.
This time it was the third quarter, when OSU ran 14 plays, totaled 25 yards and picked up one first down.
“Little things weren’t happening, dropped balls, missed assignments,” Stoneburner said. “We kept on going three-and-out then it clicked all of a sudden and our offense was back.”
That ebb and flow frustrates offensive coordinator Tom Herman.
“I have to examine why that issue keeps rearing its ugly head,” Herman said. “When we’re good, we’re pretty dang good, but we’re not good consistently enough right now. Being young and the offense being new is starting to wear thin as far as reasons.”
But those on the OSU sideline found positives.
OSU came up with big plays when it needed them. Its defense forced three long field-goal attempts, from 40, 42 and 42 yards, and Cal’s Vincenzo D’Amato missed them all. Meyer likes that the receiving corps is starting to present dependable targets other than Smith in Corey “Philly” Brown, Stoneburner and Evan Spencer.
It sounds almost ludicrous, but Stoneburner believes the game will build confidence.
“We were able to go out there two times in a row and score when we needed to. It gives us confidence, brings us together a little bit more,” he said.
Senior defensive lineman John Simon took offense to the notion that the Buckeyes played with no energy.
“That’s absolutely wrong. That’s what got us the win,” Simon said. “It showed that our team is able to handle adversity and win in every circumstance.”
That might be the case. But Cal exposed OSU’s flaws. The Buckeyes’ Big Ten opener against Michigan State is just two weeks away and Meyer knows there is much to fix. “Peaches and cream” is certainly out the window.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.