COLUMBUS - Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller left Ohio Stadium after the Buckeyes survived a determined upset bid by California on Saturday wearing a t-shirt with a picture on it of cartoon character Wile E Coyote, the persistent plotter who is always outsmarted by his nemesis the Road Runner.
It seemed a strange choice for someone quick enough to avoid any anvil falling from the sky and skilled enough to avoid falling over any cliff.
Make no mistake about it, though, Miller did save Ohio State from going over a cliff with two fourth-quarter touchdown passes that led OSU to a 35-28 win on a day when California could have gone home with a stunning upset.
Miller copied a play Tim Tebow used for OSU coach Urban Meyer at Florida to throw a jump pass for a 3-yard touchdown to Jake Stoneburner with 8 minutes to play. Then he found a wide-open Devin Smith for the game-winner on a 72-yard pass play with 3 minutes to play.
California had put Ohio State's offense into slow motion for much of the second half after OSU jumped out to a 20-7 lead early in the second quarter.
Three and out became a repetitive refrain as No. 12 OSU (3-0) managed only two first downs in its next seven offensive possessions after taking that big early lead.
And Ohio State's defense wasn't any better, surrendering 512 yards total offense to the Bears.
Cal (1-2) erased OSU's 20-7 lead, first with an 81-yard touchdown run by Brendan Bigelow, then with a 1-yard sneak by quarterback Zach Maynard, to go ahead 21-20 with 12:26 left in the game
Then, after Miller connected with Stoneburner for a TD and ran for a two-point conversion to put Ohio State out front 28-21, Bigelow struck again, going 59 yards for a score that tied it at 28-28.
"Our guys found a way," Meyer said. "I've been in games before where I thought we were going to lose. I just kept waiting. I thought someone would make a play.
The way to winning the game went through Miller when he and Smith recreated a fourth-quarter connection reminiscent of their game-winner in the final quarter against Wisconsin last season.
Smith (5 catches for 145 yard, 2 touchdowns) wasn't the No. 1 target on the play, but when a cornerback and safety both went to Corey (Philly) Brown, Miller went to Smith.
"They automatically went to Philly because I looked at him. You work on that in practice. Seize the moment," Miller said.
Meyer said, "I love coaching Braxton. There's not a whole lot of panic in him."
Ohio State needed one more big moment, this one on defense, before it was over. Christian Bryant's interception at the Buckeyes' 37-yard line with 1:22 left on the clock.
Miller was 16 of 30 passing for 249 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 75 yards on 12 carries, fewer than half of the 27 carries he got last week against Central Florida.
The sophomore QB had a role in all five of Ohio State's touchdowns. He began OSU's scoring with a 55-yard run in the first quarter, then hit Smith with a 25-yard pass for the Buckeyes' second score.
Tailback Jordan Hall started the game and rushed for 87 yards on 17 carries in his first action of the season after surgery to repair a torn tendon in his foot in late June.
Miller attributed OSU's mid-game offensive struggles to relaxing a bit after getting an early lead.
"I think we got too complacent with what we did in the first half," he said.
For California, Maynard hit 26 of 37 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown. Bigelow rushed for 160 yards on only four carries and Isi Sofele gained 86 yards on 21 carries.
California coach Jeff Tedford said, "It's very discouraging because we came here to win and we played well enough to win, but the scoreboard just doesn't say that."
What Tedford left unspoken was that if the Bears' kicker Vincenzo D'Amato had hit his three field goal attempts, it might have been a different game.
D'Amato was wide left from 40 yards and twice from 42 yards, the final time with 4:20 to play on a kick that would have given California a 31-28 lead.