If close my eyes I can still see it.
Like so many fans out there it has taken me a few days of basking in the afterglow of the Rose Bowl to both fully recover and appreciate the experience. Every time I describe the day and game to anyone I get chills. Mostly because it was truly the experience of a lifetime, ranks right up there with the time I spent driving vans for USA basketball during the Olympics in 1996. That was amazing because I was able to meet a bunch of famous people on a personal level, the Rose Bowl win though – that was a celebration on a personal level of a whole lifetime of following a team and then getting to see them win the granddaddy of them all right in front of my eyes. It may not have been the National Championship but to me this was better – in 2002 that team was a surprise-shock-the-world type of sensation, this time it was vindication and liberation all wrapped up in scarlet and gray glory. Sound dramatic? It should. I take my Buckeyes seriously (probably to a fault), believe in them passionately and cheer for them vehemently. So I have no trouble even today looking back a week and saying it was the best New Years I have ever had in my life. No party could ever come close to the feeling of watching the confetti fly down at me finally realizing the Buckeyes were Rose Bowl Champs.
Not that I didn’t think they would win, I thought that from the time that the game was set with Oregon that the Buckeyes were able to win – but actually being there and experiencing it quite an intoxicating moment for a guy whose last three Buckeye games attended had ended up in losses. I had thought for a while that I was a jinx better suited to be at home watching than to try to attend – but Tressel and the boys showed me once again – there are few things better in this life than being in the stadium during a big win. I could ramble on and on about how the day went and what was awesome about it. But instead I just want to share a couple of closing thoughts on only what can be called an incredible game in which the Buckeyes ended up Rose Bowl champs.
1) Anyone got any questions about Pryor now? Didn’t think so. The young man was obviously less than 100% with the PCL definitely still a factor in his ability to scramble. Still – time and time again it seemed as though when we needed a big play we need look to no one other than #2. Was it a flawless performance where he singlehandedly willed us to a win? No. But it was a gutsy performance which he clearly led the team to victory. Check out some of the stats – 3rd and 6 he delivered a 24 yard scramble to keep a drive alive, 3rd and 10 a TD pass to Saine, 3rd and 3 a rush for a first down, 3rd and 12 a pass to Boom for a first down – and that is only the first half. The second half we saw him call his number time and again with the game on the line and then seal the deal with the gutsy pass to Ballard (hell of a catch too) and then the picture perfect fade to Posey. All in all the Rose Bowl MVP (deservedly so) racked up 338 yards of offense (266 passing / 72 rushing) and delivered on the big stage. So to all those who doubted if Pryor would make it as our QB and wondered if he would live up to the hype – told you so.
2) Tressel took some heat this year, and even though I am a huge JT fan I wondered if he would ever waver in his Tressel-ball philosophy when it seems like the offense and Pryor were struggling so much. We had seen glimpses of what was possible during the season against the likes of Toledo and New Mexico State but I really thought I had to be in a different dimension as I was in the stands watching the Buckeyes throw the ball most of the time – in the Rose Bowl. It was insane. I mean raise your hand if you thought that the Vest (or Hazell) would be dialing up 8 passes in 10 plays of the first scoring drive. Something like 16 throws on 31 first down plays. It was ridiculous in an enthusiastic frenzy way. Even more astonishing is how even with throwing the ball almost 40 times that the time of possession still favored the Buckeyes – 42 minutes to 18 for the Ducks.
This is not to say that when the game called for bleeding the clock that Boom and Saine didn’t get the ball as evidenced by the time devouring drive in the fourth quarter. The final drive was 11 straight running plays which consumed the final 5:10 – game over. Better yet was the postgame interview where he joked about the sober Duck fans and gave props to Ballard for the big time catch even though he plays in an offense that “doesn’t throw the ball to the tight end that much” – HA! It was great to see the normally stoic Tressel look so relaxed, like he was enjoying himself and soaking it in.
3) Silver Bullets. I am sure that most everyone would agree that the defense was the true key to the game by shutting down the Ducks offense. Sure Pryor played an amazing game and all but the Duck offense was the Pac-10 leader in scoring and was supposed to dazzle us with the read option, all that speed and holy Masoli. Well as I read in one blog – “welcome to big boy defense”. I mean the biggest plays that Oregon were on special teams, the rest of the time they barely had anything going on and were held to the second lowest total all season. Heyward and Gibson bullied Masoli all game, Denlinger, Larimore and Worthington constantly created havoc in the backfield. The speed back Lewis eventually had to go back to the locker room after being pounded time and time again. Craziest stat – Oregon had 8 offensive plays in the fourth quarter and only 53 total for the game. That is what you call domination.
The reason why I saved the props for the defense until last wasn’t because I was saving the best for last – rather because earlier this week it came out that although Thaddeus Maximus would be leaving for the NFL that Heyward and Chekwa were going the route of Coleman and both coming back as seniors on the Buckeye defense. I truly wish Gibson the very best at the next level – he has been amazing to watch and not easily replaced. He will always be a part of the Buckeye family and it is an privilege to have been able to watch him play. However; bringing back Heyward and Chekwa means that the 2010 version of the Silver Bullets will be nasty as this year – maybe even more so when you consider that Rolle, Homan and Hines will all be seniors as well.
So that closes out Buckeye football 2009 – a strange year marked by early inconsistent offensive line play due to illness and injury, a struggling offense that seemed to find its’ identity and lose it during the course of the season, a vicious defense that kept everyone watching each week, and seemingly slower development of Pryor than anyone expected until he blew up in Pasadena. The crazy part is even with the struggles, the gave given away to USC, and the game that should not be spoken about in West Lafayette – we ended up at 11-2 and Rose Bowl champs which is pretty much where everyone thought we would. Sometimes the road less traveled by can get you to the same place.
Go Buckeyes – 2010 Rose Bowl Champions. Now there are only 239 days until the opening game against Marshall – let the hype commence.
* in other Buckeye news it came out that Lamar Thomas is transferring out of the program. I wish him the best, I think he is a talented dude but wasn’t able to crack into the lineup. I am sure he will be able to at his next stop which is rumored to be UNC.