Wednesday, January 5, 2011

BUCKEYES WIN SUGAR BOWL OVER ARKANSAS IN DRAMATIC FASHION

Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor wins the Sugar Bowl's most valuable player award. (The Buckeye Times/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)
NEW ORLEANS — Just a little less than two weeks ago, Ohio State defensive end Solomon Thomas was suspended by the NCAA — for the first five games of 2011 for receiving improper benefits. His actions brought shame to the team and the university.

On Tuesday night in New Orleans, Thomas was the team's hero.

After a blocked punt set up Arkansas inside the OSU 20 with around a minute to play — and down five — Thomas stepped in front of Razorback star quarterback Ryan Mallett's pass and picked it off, securing the Buckeyes 31-26 Sugar Bowl victory.

With the win, the Buckeyes snap their 0-9 bowl game record against the Southeastern Conference.

"That was the second interception of my whole life," Thomas cried on the field after the win. "It felt so great."

Ohio State junior quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, finished the game as the Sugar Bowl's Most Valuable Player — his straight BCS bowl game MVP. He ending the night with 336 total yards (221 pass, 115 rush) and two touchdown tosses in the win.

Pryor was also one of the five players suspended for next season by the NCAA, and after the game he let the emotions of the entire episode loose.

"I'm in a lot of pain," Pryor said. "That's the reason why we all came here. They kept on preaching how we're a football family and when everything goes bad, that's what happened, they stuck with me.

"I love all my teammates for that. I apologize to Buckeye Nation ... I apologize to everybody."

The best way to apologize is win and he and Thomas made "Buckeye Nation" feel a little more forgiving on Tuesday night.

"We played a great team," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. "Our kids fought and fought. We had so many injuries on defense. I couldn't be any prouder."

He said he wasn't surprised that the suspended players — Pryor, Thomas, Dan Herron, DeVier Posey and Mike Adams — played so well.

"You know, their contributions have been good ever since they've been here," Tressel said. "And they're young men that knew what they wanted to do, especially as (Pryor) mentioned, for those seniors, they wanted to be here for them and the seniors wanted them here with them."

In the early stages of the game, it seemed like a contest of "whatever you can do, we can do better," as each team moved the ball at will on the first few drives of the opening quarter.

The Buckeyes showed that they had lady luck on their side, as well.

On third-and-9 at the Arkansas 37, Pryor used his legs to gash the Razorbacks defense, galloping 37 yards deep into Arkansas territory. However, at the end of the run, Pryor was hit by a Razorbacks defender causing the Buckeyes quarterback to fumble the football forward into the end zone. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, it would be recovered by Ohio State senior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, who made the head's up scoop for the game's first touchdown.

"I'll tell you, if there was one person that would make a play like that, it would definitely be Dane Sanzenbacher," Pryor said. "He's made plenty."

It didn't take Arkansas long to answer the Buckeyes touchdown, as Mallett connected with receiver Joe Adams from 17 yards out to tie the score at 7-7 with 9:43 to play in the opening quarter. The drive took less than two minutes to execute.

It was the Buckeyes turn to answer.

On the ensuing series, Pryor again hurt the Razorbacks on a third-and-9 conversion, as he escaped a strong Arkansas pass rush, rolled left and hit tight end Jake Stoneburner for 13 yards out close to midfield.

Two plays later, Pryor fired a laser down the middle of the field to Sanzenbacher for 31 yards to the Arkansas 20. Herron would pound the points home a moment later, running it to paydirt from nine yards out for the 14-7 advantage with 7:17 to play in the first. The 68-yard scoring drive for the Buckeyes lasted just 2:26.

Of course, in the spirit of "whatever you can do, we can do better," Arkansas returned on the next series and began to gash the Buckeyes defense with sophomore tailback Knile Davis.

However, a huge sack by OSU defensive tackle Dexter Larimore on Mallett — an 8-yard loss — knocked the Razorbacks out of scoring range, forcing a punt with 3:09 to play in the first.

After trading punts, Arkansas got the football back and moved it down to the Buckeyes 30. However, Ohio State's defense would step it up big again, batting down a Mallett pass on fourth-and-1, stifling the potential scoring drive.

The Buckeyes offense would make the Razorbacks pay.

After missing on a deep ball to Posey on first down, Pryor came back on second down and hit tight end Reid Fragel for 42 yards down to the Arkansas 28. Six plays later, Pryor would throw a 15-yard touchdown strike to Sanzenbacher for the 21-7 lead, a little more than five minutes into the second quarter. The pass-and-catch looked very reminiscent to the one he threw to Posey to win last year's Rose Bowl game against Oregon.

The Buckeyes continued to come up big defensively. After gaining 19 yards on first-and-20 — following an Arkansas holding penalty — Buckeyes defensive end Cameron Heyward dropped Davis in the backfield for a three-yard loss, forcing the Razorbacks to throw it on third down. The pass from Mallett to Adams wouldn't be completed.

Pryor would lead the Buckeyes on their fourth touchdown drive of the first half late in the second quarter — this time to Posey in the back of the end zone for 43 yards and the 28-7 lead.

Mallett and Arkansas would make it interesting late in the third quarter pulling to within 10 of Ohio State, after the Razorbacks signal caller hit Jarius Wright for a 22-yard TD strike, and then followed it up with a two-point conversion to tight end D.J. Williams.

Arkansas continued to push the issue, as they recorded a safety on Herron early in the fourth, and then received a 47-yard field goal by Zach Hocker, pulling the OSU lead to 31-26.

It would get even tighter, as the Arkansas defense prevented the Buckeyes from converting on fourth down inside OSU territory, and then later — after keeping the Buckeyes from converting a first down with 1:07 to play — blocked a punt, giving the Razorbacks a big chance to pull off the comeback win.

However, Thomas would put the kibosh on the Razorbacks' hopes, intercepting the pass for the victory.

"I just read (Mallett's) eyes," Thomas smiled. "He tried to make the play and I just broke on the ball.

"I am just so blessed."

The Buckeyes finish the season 12-1, while Arkansas falls to 10-3. The win is the Buckeyes second straight in BCS bowl games.