Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Instant analysis: Ohio State 31, Arkansas 26
By Adam Rittenberg
NEW ORLEANS -- Ohio State found a way to hold on and end its slide against the SEC in bowl games. There were some tense moments, but the Buckeyes can finally breathe easy in the Big Easy.
Let's take a look at the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
How the game was won: Ohio State's defense kept Arkansas out of the end zone and held off a furious Razorbacks rally in the second half. Cameron Heyward and the Buckeyes' defensive line put enough pressure on Hogs star quarterback Ryan Mallett, who seemed a bit off at times and got no help from his stone-handed receivers. Solomon Thomas sealed things with a clutch interception in the closing seconds. The Buckeyes had a terrific offensive first half, racking up 28 points behind Terrelle Pryor's precision passing, Dane Sanzenbacher's heroics and some dominant offensive line play. Ohio State's suspended players stepped up and the team maintained focus in the face of adversity.
Turning point: After Arkansas blocked an Ohio State punt and took over in the Buckeyes' red zone, Thomas, one of five juniors suspended for the first five games of 2011, picked off a short Mallett pass. The Buckeyes then ran out the clock.
Stat of the game: Ohio State converted 6 of 8 third down opportunities in the first half but didn't move the chains on its first four opportunities after halftime until Pryor picked up a huge first down on a scramble. Arkansas showed why it is one of the nation's top third down defenses in the second half.
Player of the game: Ohio State's Heyward. Pryor came up big as well, but Heyward was all over the field and really disrupted Arkansas' offensive rhythm at times. The son of the late Craig "Ironhead" Heyward turned in a dominant effort in his dad's old stomping ground. Pryor also deserves a lot of credit after racking up 222 pass yards and 115 rush yards.
Second guessing: Arkansas had a chance to take on seven points at the end of the first half, but Bobby Petrino took a page from Jim Tressel's book and kicked a short field goal as time expired. Although the Hogs still had a chance to win, a touchdown right before halftime would have made things a lot easier.
What it means: Ohio State no longer has to hear about the SEC struggles or its inability to make plays in the clutch on big stages. A lot of folks will point to the controversial decision to allow the suspended players to participate, but the players stepped up and the team never fragmented. Ohio State now has won back-to-back BCS bowls and should no longer hear about the failures in the national title game. This was one that Tressel, Pryor, Buckeye Nation and the Big Ten really needed, and Ohio State came through.