In a surprisingly friendly environment, that was at worst 50% Buckeye fans, the Ohio State Buckeyes met the California Golden Bears in California Memorial Stadium. In a game best described as “frenetic”, both teams put up 1112 total yards of offense en route to a 52-34 final score. Kenny Guiton finished the game 21/32 for 276 yards and 4 touchdowns, while his counterpart, Cal QB Jared Goff, notched 31/52 for 373 yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception. Jordan Hall and an impressive day on the ground with 168 yards on 28 carries for 3 touchdowns, and Devin Smith picked up 149 yards on 3 receptions for 2 touchdowns.
As has been typical for the Buckeyes this year, they started on the defensive side of the ball. On the first play of the game, Joey Bosa made a huge tackle to celebrate his first start of his career. The defense as a whole executed extremely well, wrapping up better than we’ve seen all season, and performing smart, aggressive tackles. And while Cal was able to get some yardage on their first couple possessions, it wasn’t enough to sustain a drive.
Kenny Guiton got his first career start in this game, with Braxton Miller’s MCL still a concern to the coaching staff. It didn’t take him long, only the second play of the first OSU possession, to make his own mark on this game. Devin Smith broke open on a deep route on the right side of the field, and Guiton hit him with a 90 yard touchdown strike. The pass hit Smith nearly in stride and allowed him to run away from the defender with ease. It was reportedly the longest play from scrimmage in OSU football history, beating out Gene Fekete’s 89 yard play against Pitt in 1942.
The offense didn’t let up either. Guiton hit another long pass play to Smith on the next possession. He followed that with a 4th and goal strike to Chris Fields, which came after OSU forced Cal QB Jared Goff into a fumble. All in all, OSU scored 21 points and racked up 190 yards of total offense in the first *six minutes of play*. It was an offensive showcase in every way imaginable.
California finally scored on a deep pass to the left side of the field, notching the first 6 points scored against OSU in the opening stanza all season. After picking themselves up from the turf, Goff found James Grisom on a long 3rd down. OSU’s defense had broken down deep and left two Cal receivers wide open for the reception. Grisom was pushed towards the endzone by Roby, who mysteriously didn’t even bother to try to tackle him.
OSU’s offense made its first critical mistake of the game. Kenny Guiton attempted to run a read play with Jordan Hall. Guiton waited too long to make the decision, and when he pulled the ball back to keep it, it slipped through his fingers. Cal pounced on the ball, giving them the huge momentum boost they needed to get back into this. Unfortunately for them, Goff tossed a deep pick to Christian Bryant on the very next play, completely negating the advantage. Guiton again drove the Buckeyes down the field, putting Drew Basil in position for a long field goal.
The Cal offense, which had finally clicked after their sluggish start, continued to have some problems with the aggressive Buckeye defense. The defensive line was executing very well and nearly constantly occupying the backfield. That aggression cost them a little when Armani Reeves intercepted the football, but was called back for Michael Bennett jumping offsides. Not long after, Goff hit Chris Harper for a 42 yard touchdown that required Harper to fight off the Bucks defense to break it into the open field.
Defense for the Golden Bears had seemed problematic at the beginning of the game – that wasn’t too surprising with them coming in as the 116th defense in the nation. But the Bears began to settle in and focus on their fundamentals to slow the Buckeye attack. After being forced to punt once, OSU settled in as well and methodically drove down the field for a Jordan Hall touchdown from the 1 yard-line.
With a little bit of help, Cal was ready to answer. A couple penalties, including an incredibly ignorant late hit on Ryan Shazier, extended the Bear’s drive and put them in position to close the gap. RB Kyle Boehm was used repeatedly as a change-up for the Cal offense on the drive, running the pseudo-wildcat to try to throw the Buckeyes off. For the most part the strategy was effective, earning them a field goal and putting them back only 14 points with under five minutes to play in the half. Ryan Shazier suffered an apparent shoulder injury on the drive, but managed to return in the middle of the next drive.
Cal followed that up with a stop, and put up another field goal to set the score at 31-20 at the half. On the path to that score, the Bears converted a long fourth down with a nice trick play. It turns out that Goff and the Cal punter wear the same number, allowing Cal to mix Goff into their punt team instead of the punter. If no-one pays attention, like OSU didn’t, Goff takes the snap and is ready to throw. It was a particularly impressive fake play.
The first half was clearly the game that defense forgot. That was to be expected to some extent, considering the quality of Cal’s offense. OSU’s offense struggled a bit more than may have been expected later in the half, some of which may have come as much from the defense as from the Bucks getting in their own way. On the other side, Cal’s offense was having no trouble extending drives late in the half. The Bucks needed to force stops against the Bears, and they simply weren’t coming easy. This was particularly true with OSU again having trouble wrapping up and bringing the ball carrier down.
As a team, the Golden Bears are known to be a high-paced speed team. On the first possession of the second half, the Buckeyes showed them that they really didn’t understand the meaning of the word “speed”. Ohio State ran their own uptempo offense and nearly drew a second Cal substitution penalty for the day. Cal was saved only by a quick timeout, but it wasn’t enough to keep Guiton from cutting a 4th and 1 option play up the gut for 36 yards. Two plays later, Jordan Hall punched it into the endzone for his second score.
The Buckeye defense did an excellent job getting a three and out on Cal’s first possession of the second half. In response, the Buckeye offense turned in a slow, methodical drive that sapped the strength of the Bear’s defense. Guiton fed the ball to Dontre Wilson, who showed good burst and acceleration around the edge, on several occasions, as well as running the read option with Jordan Hall a few times. The drive ended on a fade route to the left corner to Corey Brown for six.
The Golden Bear’s offense wasn’t about to stay down for long. A great kickoff return to their own 46 yard line gave them enough momentum to put together an excellent drive in short order. A few quick passing plays was all they needed to put another six on the board with a pass to Bryce Treggs in the corner of the endzone.
Part of the success for Cal’s offense came from OSU’s defensive lineup, which used three down linemen instead of the usual four. The Buckeyes did that to help defend against the spread out passing attack, but it was costing them in the running game. It did not hurt the Bucks in the QB pressure game, as they managed to get a sack despite the three man front, and regularly had Goff on the run. In the end, it began to look like OSU’s “bend but don’t break” style of defense had returned. Cal had a shot to score early in the fourth quarter but were unable to punch it in on fourth and goal.
Don’t think Cal was done however. After stopping the Buckeye offense, who was busy trying to kill clock, the Cal offense put together another solid drive capped with a 1 yard touchdown run by Daniel Lasco. Again, poor tackling was a big culprit to the Bucks struggles on defense. Cal ball carriers were simply able to gain too many yards after contact to be entirely comfortable about this defense’s grasp of fundamentals. Considering the improvements we saw during the course of the season last year, it may be too early for concern.
The game was functionally over when the Buckeyes took control of the ball with 6 minutes left to go. Another methodical drive of just feeding Jordan Hall the football killed enough clock to effectively put the game out of California’s reach.
Ultimately, this was a solid showing for Kenny Guiton as a starter. I’m not yet ready to say he’s a better quarterback than Braxton Miller, but he’s certainly good enough to be a starter. The Offense as a whole is an impressive unit, and it’s exciting to think what they’ll be able to do as this year progresses.
The Buckeyes will next play Florida A&M in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday, September 21st. You’ll be able to see that game on the Big Ten Network at Noon Eastern Time.