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Monday, May 4, 2009
Ohio State's Russell moves on from Fiesta loss

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Anderson Russell reacted like anyone would, burying his helmet in the grass at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Several feet away, Texas offensive lineman Cedric Dockery knelt and raised his arms in triumph.

The image provided all you needed to know about the deciding play of the 2009 Fiesta Bowl between Ohio State and Texas. But it didn't tell the entire story.

 
  Chris Williams/Icon SMI
  Anderson Russell is looking to go out on top in his senior season.

"You've got to move on," Russell said. "If you play DB, that's going to happen to you over the course of your career. You're going to get beat. You win some, lose some."

If ever a player were equipped to handle failure on the football field, Russell would be it.

Most defensive backs hear the you-need-a-short-memory line from a coach or two along the way. Russell heard it from his dad, Kevin, a former defensive back with the Philadelphia Eagles.

From the moment he started playing football, Anderson knew there would be times an opposing receiver would get the best of him. And he knows Texas' Quan Cosby, who scored the game-winning 26-yard touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl with 16 seconds left, won't be the last one.

"What's done is done," he said. "Me and Cosby, we were battling the whole game, going back and forth, because he was on the boundary with me. I almost picked a pass off that last drive."

The fact that Russell can find positives in his Fiesta Bowl experience bodes well for Ohio State. Because there were positives. Lots of them.

Until the final 30 seconds, Russell had been arguably the team's defensive MVP. He recorded nine tackles in the game with an interception, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.

"We should talk about the last play of the first half," defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "It's the same defense, it's the same player, and he gets an interception and he's the hero. But not too many people talk about that."

The focus remains on Cosby's touchdown, which was, in many ways, a cruel irony for Russell and the Buckeyes. For most of the game, Ohio State defenders put on a tackling clinic, repeatedly keeping Texas' receivers in front of them to prevent big plays.

The Buckeyes made Colt McCoy and the high-powered Texas offense have to work on every drive. Perhaps for that reason they stayed in man-to-man coverage on the decisive play, confident the tackle would be made.

But Russell tried to jump Cosby's quick post route, missed the ball and missed Cosby, who raced untouched to the end zone.

"You come back and it's like, 'Man, we were right there. We could have shocked the world,'" Russell said. "Because nobody really gave us a chance going into that game. I was just happy for our team that we put ourselves in a position to be able to win.

"We had done a pretty good job of containing their offense during the course of the game. And then, that last play."

It took a few days for Russell to get over the loss, but he soon moved forward, thanks in part to his teammates.

"Anderson's handled it very, very well," Heacock said. "I don't think there's a guy in this complex or any place around our football program that for one second would say one word or think one thought about it being a one-man game. It's a team game. We had numerous chances that we could have gotten it done, and we didn't."

For that reason, Russell might be the most motivated player in the country heading into 2009.

He seemed to get stronger as the season progressed last fall, recording his best games in Big Ten play against Minnesota (7 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery), Penn State (9 tackles) and Northwestern (9 tackles, 1 fumble recovery).

The Atlanta native enters his third season as a starter alongside Kurt Coleman, a second-team All-Big Ten safety in 2008.

"I love playing with that guy," Russell said. "We can combine to make the best safety tandem in the nation."

Coleman said Russell dealt with "a lot of people trying to give him some grief" after the Fiesta Bowl. But after the initial shock, Russell has been unfazed.

"I really want to go out on top and make it the best year I've ever had," Russell said. "Things started clicking for me toward the end of last year, just understanding the whole entire game. That's probably the most comfortable I've felt playing football. That's going to transfer over."