Heyward goes out the hero. Photo by Columbus Dispatch
Even though the hoops team is straight blowing up and one could really devote several blogs to them alone I still have to say that even after two weeks I still can’t get enough talk, videos, write ups, replays and reminiscing about the Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas and vanquishing of the SEC curse.
This win was especially sweet. Taking down an SEC team in New Orleans, after a week of being inundated with talk of Tat5 and the streak of 9 the Buckeyes pulled together and those five delivered in big ways on an instant classic victory over the Razorbacks 31-26.
In true Tresselball fashion it was a victory that was not pretty all the time and that included a variety of emotions which in my case came in the following order – uncertainty, anxiety, shock, elation, excitement, reality, concern, excitement, disbelief, and euphoria. I started the day very unsure of how the team would play. I knew we had the talent to win, but that it would take the very best game we had – and after the weeks of scrutiny, debate and judgment for the off the field stuff and the giant egg the other Big Ten members laid in bowl games I just was not sure how close we would be able to get to the best game the Buckeyes could play. I watched the Rose Bowl replay just before kickoff and it helped. I just was not sure if Tressel would come out and be as aggressive, I wasn’t sure how our secondary would far against a passer as polished as Mallett – I wanted this win for the five , the team, and for all the fans so we could finally shut up any SEC fan at least for a while but the entire day of the game the nerves were getting the best of my excitement.
After a game opening drive from Arkansas ended in a punt due to some stiff Buckeye D and because their receivers conveniently decided to drop two passes the Buckeye offense took the field and after moving the ball well for a half dozen plays Pryor broke loose on a scramble for 34 yards that was awesome until he was stripped of the ball. After two Razorback players who were right there whiffed on the recovery Sanzenbacher (how he will be missed next year) pounced on the ball in the end zone – touchdown good guys. I was blown away. Even more blown away after Tressel follows up the score with an onside kick. Seriously. I thought that maybe he, Bollman and Hazell had all been swigging absinthe pregame. The aggressiveness backfired with Arkansas recovering and getting a short field to even the score after a nice play by DJ Williams was overturned but they ended up scoring on the next play anyway. At the time it was 7-7 but the rest of the first half would be an Ohio State offensive explosion while the Bullets stymied and frustrated Mallett and the Hog offense. I mean in addition to scores from Boom through a huge hole up the middle and on nice catches from Sanzenbacher and Posey there were also a couple really nifty designed plays to Fragel and Stoneburner….really there were multiple plays to the tight end….it made the game plan from the Rose Bowl seem boring. A Razorback field goal at the end of the first half gave them some momentum going into the break but outside of that the first half was all scarlet and gray.
The second half was as nerve wrecking and uncomfortable as the first half was fun and exciting. The Vest buttoned up the potent offense game plan and the defense managed to hold on for most of the time despite having a secondary that had lost Chekwa in the first half to a wrist injury. Bryant and Howard came in and played aggressive and fast – they did make a few mistakes but managed to hang tough for freshman on a big stage and not give up the big play. The real story was up front though where Heyward was playing out of his mind. Simon, Larimore and Williams got in on the action too and were simply all over Mallett for the majority of the game. Eventually Knile Davis got going a little and Mallet found his groove and the Razorbacks managed 10 points to just a Barclay field goal for the Buckeyes. So at 31-21 the Buckeyes got the ball on their own 4 after another great Arkansas punt (dude killed it three times inside the 5). A couple plays later Boom was initially stopped outside the end zone but driven back before being drug down – it ended up being called a safety. So at 31-23 the Razorbacks got the ball back and ended up with another field goal to pull within five points. The Buckeye offense would move the chains once thanks to an amazing scramble on 3rd and nine from Pryor. The next series was more of the same with a penalty sprinkled in. Pryor couldn’t work his magic on 3rd and 15 so on 4th and 1 Tressel went for it and everything looked great as Boom leaped ahead for an apparent first down. Only thing was that he fumbled….the first of his career as a Buckeye. The Bullets would rise again and force a punt. Once again the Buckeye offense started from the four yard line. Boom had a nice run on first down but after that the Hog defense was able to stop the Buckeyes forcing a punt. Then it happened – Buchanan was bum rushed and the punt was blocked. With 1:09 left on the clock Mallett would get another chance from the Ohio State 18. And that was the moment that every Buckeye fan alive had their hard stabbed out – after all the crazy plays, the great first half, the great defensive play and surviving injuries during the game it was going to end like this. Then on second down the Bullets were in a stunt where the defensive end drops back into coverage, Mallett did not read the defense and Solomon Thomas who was one of the five who endured the week the spotlight for all the wrong reasons stepped in front of the pass. Game over, streak broken. Buckeye win. I was in shock of the moment followed by the euphoria of knowing that the Buckeye team and entire Buckeye Nation had just been vindicated from so much. Sugar never tasted so sweet.
Pryor may have won the Sugar Bowl MVP but the player of the game in my book had to be Heyward. After a season where it could be argued that he did not live up to the hype he delivered and then some in his last game as Buckeye. As a freshman on the same field he showed his youth and got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. As a senior he completely dominated the game and no doubt increased his draft stock.
How interesting/crazy that EVERY one of the suspended players (other than Whiting) ended up contributing in a big way? Even Solomon Thomas. The others were expected Posey got a score on a nice grab, Boom ran tough and got a score, Adams had a strong game, and Pryor well everyone should have known that Pryor was going to put up a big game from the start with the look he had on his face. He wanted redemption and he did everything he could to get it – long runs, big throws, timely scrambles to extend drives by converting on third and even getting injured in the process – he played his heart out and then stepped up that podium and apologized to the fans again. The group is definitely back for next season with the deadline to declare for the NFL already passed. Looks like Tressel’s promise thing actually worked.
Remember 0-9? Not anymore. This win was much more than just a bowl win, the hex that the SEC had on the Buckeyes is no longer. Erased. Broken. Over. Last year Tressel notched his first Rose Bowl and got the bowl funk monkey off his back. This year he shook free from the SEC gorilla. I may be still just feeling the euphoria but I put this win as the second biggest of Tressel’s tenure right after the 2002 NC. Yes, bigger than the Rose Bowl last year because of the streak against the SEC.
Thanks to the Seniors – Justin Boren. Bryant Browning. Chimdi Chekwa. Ricky Crawford. Aaron Gant. Cam Heyward. Jermale Hines. Ross Homan. Garrett Hummel. Josh Kerr. Dexter Larimore. Chris Malone. Don Matheney. Jake McQuaide. Andy Miller. Brian Rolle. Brandon Saine. Dane Sanzenbacher. Grant Schwartz. Scott Sika. Connor Smith. Devon Torrence. Taurian Washington – forever Buckeyes you will be. How firm thy friendship indeed.
We shall see what next year will bring once spring ball starts, there will be much talk of who starts for Pryor the first five games, there will be spots to fill on defense, there will be new faces – but as Thomas himself said –
“You always hear stories about adversity and how, if you push through, lessons lie at the end. This has really taught me how to deal with adversity next season.”
Sounds a like a good start on 2011.