Heartbreak in the Horseshoe

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By Jim McGill, Staff Writer
Posted Sep 15, 2012
If by BearInsider Staff or Contributor, this article is Copyright © 2014 BearInsider.com


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Loyal and vocal Cal fans in the Horseshoe at OSU -Bear Insider
Ohio Stadium/Columbus, Ohio - Though the Bears lost to Ohio State 35-28 on Saturday, a game was there for the taking.   

When the Bears took their first lead at 21-20 with 12:26 remaining in the 4th quarter, the team was poised to shock 105,000 Buckeye fans who could scarcely believe that a loss to the Bears was a real possibility. 

And this when a dejected Cal fan base fully expected a resounding defeat in Columbus.

Coming into the critical 4th quarter, the Bears had steadily crept back from a 20-7 deficit that theatened to get away from them after the Buckeyes took their two touchdown lead just a minute into the 2nd quarter on what would be Ohio State sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller's third of five touchdowns on the day (four passing, one rushing).

But from that point on, a resolve that would carry them tantalizingly close to a landmark victory over a 12th-ranked opponent on the road kicked into gear as the Bears scratched and clawed their way back into the fight, giving the 16-point favored Buckeyes all that they could handle in their hard-fought victory.

"We enjoyed a win against a quality opponent in Cal. Very good athletes, well-coached," said Utah head coach Urban Meyer, in his third game at the helm for the Buckeyes.

"Our guys found a way. I've been in games where I thought we were going to lose, where I just kept waiting.

"I thought someone would make a play. I really did."

It was a day of what-if's, starting with a 47-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Zach Maynard to senior running back C.J. Anderson, which was called back on a phantom illegal blocking call on tight end Jacob Wark, bringing the ball back to the Buckeye 29.

"They said that as the guy tried to get away, he (Wark) was holding," said Tedford.

"I thought Jake was doing a great job of running his feet. Typically guys get called for holding when guys aren't moving their feet and they grab them and yank them when they try to get away and I thought he kept his feet running but you know, it was the call that was made."

The clearly blown call would end up costing the Bears dearly, combined with three straight field goal misses from junior kicker Vincenzo D'Amato from 40, 42 and 44 yards in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th quarters, including his first miss later in that drive where the Bears came away empty-handed.

After the Bears fought their way back to a 21-20 lead in the 2nd half, the Buckeyes came right back again, driving 75 yards for the go-ahead score, with the Bears giving up the second of two touchdowns in blown coverage, as Miller hit a wide-open Jake Stoneburner with a pass 3-yards behind redshirt frosh linebacker Jalen Jefferson, who bit on a fake by Miller on the pass.

"It was a jump pass," said Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer. "It was a pass where everyone else in the world saw when Braxton Miller - they had the world to stop Braxton. And when they came up, it was really good execution by Jake Stoneburner, blocking and releasing in the back of the end zone. If you're pounding the quarterback, that's a hard one to stop."

Though Miller did great damage to the Bears on the day, throwing for 249 yards and four touchdowns along with his 1st quarter 55-yard touchdown run, the 6-3/220 Miller was just 16-of-30 on the day passing, while averaging just 1.8 yards per carry on his other 11 rushing attempts on the day.

Was Meyer prepared for what Cal would try to do to stop Miller after his huge game last week in OSU's victory over Central Florida?

"I think we were very concious of it," said Meyer. "Also, Cal did good. Cal had people assigned to Braxton all day. I think it's going to be that kind of year now."

It wasn't until late in the game that mistakes more typical of the Bears frustratingly-slow start to the season derailed the Bears' chances in the end, starting with a horribly-blown coverage with both Bear defensive backs biting on a Miller fake, only to have Buckeye receiver Devin Smith break free for a 72-yard touchdown reception, racing all alone down the right sideline for a 35-28 lead the Buckeyes would not relinquish.

The final blow came when Cal drove to their 42 yard line with 1:22 remaining before Maynard unleashed a pass high over the head of receiver Keenan Allen and into the waiting arms of safety Christian Bryant, effectively ending the Bears' hopes.

However, a game that would've been a bitter disappointment on many other occasions, actually gave hope to a Bear fan base that was searching for answers after watching the sloppy play in Cal's first two games of the season.
A fan base perilously low on patience after the season-opening frustrations clearly perceived this game differently then just another loss.

And in their postgame talk show, the host summed up the feelings of many of the Buckeye nation fanbase by remarking that every season has a game that you know you probably should've lost but somehow found a way to win. The fact that the Bears pushed the 12th-ranked Buckeyes to the brink in a largely-solid performance is not to be taken lightly, though clearly a moral victory meant little to the team itself.

"Everyone's upset, you know?" said senior running back Isi Sofele. "They walked away with a win we should've had.

"It was all there for us but we just made too many penalties on the field. We'll just take all the good from the game and put it into next week's plan."

Regardless of the pain, the disappointing defeat can clearly be a springboard to a confidence and mental toughness largely missing in the start of the season.

"Without a doubt," said Tedford. "That's a good football team over there. They're big and physical and fast and athletic and we went toe-to-toe with them. We came back from a haltime deficit to go ahead.

"I'm proud of our team and I'm proud of the way we competed. We kept our composure. So you can take a lot of good from that.

"But again, it's not what we came here to do - to just play a good game. We came up short."

Another major development was the emergence of what may be the Bears' first legitimate home run threat since running back Jahvid Best in sophomore speedster Brendan Bigelow, with two touchdowns, including an electrifying run, spinning off a hit for an 82-yard touchdown in the 3rd quarter. Bigelow rushed for 160 yards on the day on just four carries.

"When I initially took the handoff, all I was thinking about was getting around the corner as fast as I could," said Bigelow. "Don't slow down.

"When I first initiated contact, and spinned off of him, I was just thinking, 'Just stay on your feet. Just keep moving, keep pumping my feet.'"

Another positive development was the step forward of senior quarterback Zach Maynard, who played solidly throughout the game till the final interception, completing 26-of-37, including the game's first touchdown to freshman receiver Chris Harper - his second on the year.

If the Bears are to have any chance going into next weekend's class with 2nd-ranked USC, they'll need to take every positive gained from this experience - and more - to avoid starting the season 1-3 and putting themselves in a tough hole to climb out of.

But if the developments shown today are any indication of where the team is heading, the season may well be taking a distinct turn for the better after its infuriatingly dismal start.

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