Saturday, November 14, 2009

BUCKEYES SEND SENIORS OFF WITH A TRIP TO PASADENA

Ohio State defensive tackle, Doug Worthington, gives head coach Jim Tressel a giant bear hug prior to Saturday's 27-24 win over No. 10 Iowa in Columbus. Worthington was one of 19 OSU seniors who played in their final game at Ohio Stadium. (Photo by Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)

COLUMBUS — It was the war of the roses.

After trading blows for 60 grueling minutes Saturday evening, in front of 105,455 screaming fanatics at Ohio Stadium, the Big Ten championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl couldn't be decided in just four quarters of play.

So, No. 10 Iowa and No. 11 Ohio State would have to duke it out one more round for the title.

And, it was the Buckeyes' defense which delivered the first staggering shot, as two seniors — Austin Spitler and Doug Worthington — fittingly made back-to-back stops for losses, forcing the Hawkeyes into a fourth and long. Then, another senior — safety Anderson Russell — picked off an Iowa pass in the end zone, preventing the Hawkeyes from scoring on the first series of overtime.

On the ensuing drive of the extra period, it was the least experienced player on the team — yet, the oldest — who delivered the knockout punch.

After the Hawkeyes' defense allowed the Buckeyes just three yards during their overtime series, OSU backup kicker Devin Barclay — a 26 year old junior who had only played in two football games ever in his life prior to Saturday's showdown with Iowa — lined up, and with every eye in the stadium zeroed in on his No. 23 jersey, nailed a 39-yard field goal through the heart of the uprights.

The clutch kick gave the Buckeyes a 27-24 win, at least a share of their fifth straight Big Ten title, and of course a spot in the "Granddaddy of them all" — the Rose Bowl.

Following the victory in the post-game press conference, senior offensive tackle Jim Cordle erupted with joy, began pouring Gatorade on his head, and shouting ... "We did it, baby! We won! These guys up here (the senior captains), we've got five rings now. We did it! We won!"

The senior from Lancaster would eventually come back down to Earth a few moments later to give a more subdued reflection of the big win.

"Man, this was great," Cordle said. "It was obviously an unbelievable game. I'm bruised. I'm battered, but we're victorious, man."

Barclay, a former MLS soccer player who took off running as if he had just kicked a game-winning goal in the World Cup, was walking on water following the win.

"It's unbelievable. I'm pretty speechless," said Barclay, who went from being a bench-warmer two weeks ago, to season-hero Saturday night. "The fourth quarter definitely made it interesting. I'm just glad that we came out and now we're going to the Rose Bowl. I'm pretty excited. It's a really great feeling."

Ohio State head coach, Jim Tressel, said he felt confident that his inexperienced kicker could make the pressure-packed boot.

"We had so much confidence in Devin that we were going backwards to make his kick longer," Tressel laughed. "Unbelievable. But we did have confidence in him. We weren't going to line up kicking on first down because we thought we could move forward. And then, we didn't move real far forward, but we got it centered back up for him and he nailed it through.

"I had confidence that he was going to."

Iowa (9-2, 5-2 Big Ten) stated their case as to why they should've been wearing the Big Ten crown, as the Hawkeyes came back from the dead more times Saturday than Michael Myers.

Trailing by as much as 14 points, with just 11 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Hawkeyes used a 99-yard kickoff return by Derrell Johnson-Koulianos to pull the Buckeyes' lead to within seven points.

Following a big defensive stand, the Hawkeyes then marched 70 yards on eight plays to even things up at 24 apiece, when red-shirt freshman quarterback, James Vandenberg, connected with Marvin McNutt in the corner of the end zone.

Vandenberg, who was making the first start of his collegiate career — replacing injured starter Ricky Stanzi — was stellar in the loss, picking apart the Buckeyes' defense for 233 yards on 20-of-33 passing, with two touchdown tosses, both to McNutt.

Iowa head coach, Kirk Ferentz, wasn't surprised that his young quarterback played so well, with so much on the line.

"James played a heck of a game," Ferentz said. "It wasn't unexpected. We know what he is capable of. He was very impressive and has a good handle on our system. The thing is, he couldn't have walked into a tougher environment. Ohio State is a great team and this is a tough place to play.

"But James played with mental and physical toughness."

Spitler, who finished with six tackles — two of which for losses — in his final game at the "Horseshoe," was impressed with the Iowa passer.

"That guy had an arm on him," Spitler said of Vandenberg. "He made us pay for our mistakes. He was unbelievable."

Of course, when it comes to Big Ten football, the team that runs the ball more effectively, usually comes out victorious.

That was the case on Saturday, as the Buckeyes played "Tressel Ball" to near perfection, running the rock 51 times for 229 yards, controlling the time of possession with an average of 4.5 yards per rush.

"Twenty first downs against Iowa? There are not many people that had 20 first downs (against them)," Tressel said. "And, I don't know of anyone that rushed for 229 yards (against Iowa). I thought (offensive coordinator) Jim Bollman and the staff did a great job of having a game plan."

Junior tailback, Brandon Saine, led the Buckeyes rushing attack in the win, running for 103 yards on 11 carries, with two touchdowns, including a 49-yard jaunt in the fourth quarter.

"It was the best game I ever played in," Saine remarked after the game.

Dan "Boom" Herron also had a solid game on the ground for the Buckeyes, rushing for 97 yards on 32 carries and a touchdown in the win.

On the other side of the ball, the Iowa offense — which had its way in the air for much of the game — were never able to successfully mount a rushing attack on the Buckeyes, as they ran for just 67 yards on 24 totes — an average of just 2.8 per carry.

The Buckeyes defense didn't play their best game of the season by any means, but they held strong when it counted.

"We kept on fighting," OSU senior safety Kurt Coleman said. "That's what our team is all about."

The Buckeyes are now just one win away from earning an out-right Big Ten title. To accomplish that feat, Ohio State (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) will have to knock off arch-rival Michigan in Ann Arbor next Saturday.

"We're not satisfied with a share of the Big Ten title," Coleman said. "We want to win it out-right.

"Michigan week begins now."