December 12, 2012

12-OH: Pop passing past Cal

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Having just wrapped up a perfect season unlike any other in program history, it's hard not to look back at the last 12 months of Ohio State football and not only marvel at the unlikeliness of what the Buckeyes accomplished in 2012, but also how far they've come since their 6-7 mark in 2011. With that in mind, I'll spend 12 days examining and reflecting on the 12 most important moments that helped create and stand out from just the sixth unbeaten and untied season in Ohio State history.

Yesterday, we reflected on a spectacular catch by Devin Smith. Today, we'll take you back to Sept. 15, 2012, when Urban Meyer used a familiar play help the Buckeyes beat the Bears.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In the third game of the Urban Meyer era at Ohio State, the Buckeyes found their backs against the wall. But fortunately for OSU, the two-time national champion head coach had a trick up his sleeve.

Facing a California team that would ultimately finish 3-9 on the season before firing head coach Jeff Tedford, the Buckeyes found themselves trailing the Golden Bears well into the fourth quarter of the game.

With California holding a one-point advantage with fewer than nine minutes remaining in the game, OSU quarterback Braxton Miller put together a 72-yard drive, bringing the Buckeyes to the Bears' three-yard line. Facing a third down and needing three yards to get into the end zone and take the lead, Meyer called on one of the signature plays of his coaching career.

After taking the snap in the shotgun formation from center Corey Linsley, Miller flinched towards the end zone, with apparent aspirations of recording his sixth rushing touchdown of the season. But as the Bears defense converged on the mobile quarterback, Miller- still behind the line of scrimmage- lofted the ball into the hands of tight end/wide receiver Jake Stoneburner for the game's go-ahead score.

"It's called a pop," Miller said. "The quarterback runs a lot on the goal line. So I went for the pop pass."

The play looked awfully similar to one that was utilized by one of Meyer's quarterbacks at Florida, Tim Tebow, who used the pop pass to help the Gators beat LSU en route to a national championship in 2006. The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner would use the unique play throughout his storied college career, but as Meyer shared two days after Miller first used it, the pop pass actually originated during his time as the coach at Utah in 2003.

"We had a triple overtime win against Air Force. Our tailback was hurt. We played with Ben Moa in 2004, triple overtime. Alex Smith was our quarterback. He wasn't a great runner, so we put the tight end at quarterback and just kept pounding people," Meyer recalled. "One day in practice I said try this one day. The first one he almost hit me, and I was nowhere near the receiver. It looked like a tight end throwing the ball, but he got better and better, and we used it and won the game."

Meyer said that the pop pass makes for a natural fit in his offense, which is at its best when paired with a mobile quarterback. And given that Miller rushed for 377 yards in the Buckeyes' first three games alone, the play was even more deadly when it was used against the Bears that afternoon.

"If you have a good runner at quarterback and you kind of set it up. Braxton runs the ball in the red zone right now because he's our best option. So if you've got a great runner, other teams are doing that too," Meyer said. "It's hard to defend, because basically you're spreading the field and direct running your quarterback. That means there is a lot of discipline involved in watching your guy but also tackling the quarterback."

The pop pass wasn't the last play of the day that Miller needed to make, after California running back Brendan Bigelow ripped off a 59-yard run to tie the game at 28 on the very next possession. The OSU quarterback ultimately had the last laugh, however, when he found wide receiver Devin Smith for a 72-yard touchdown to seal the Buckeyes' 35-28 victory.

It was just the third game of the season, but a trend was already beginning to emerge for what would ultimately become just the sixth unbeaten and untied team in Ohio State history.

"Our guys found a way," Meyer said.


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