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NCF Nation: 2011 sugar bowl analysis

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.
NEW ORLEANS -- Instant analysis of the Allstate Sugar Bowl, which No. 6 Ohio State won 31-26 over No. 8 Arkansas:

How the game was won: Arkansas nearly pulled off a comeback for the ages. Down 28-7 late in the first half and 31-13 in the third quarter, the Razorbacks completely turned things around with their defense to put a cork in the Ohio State offense, which had 338 yards at halftime. In the end, though, Ryan Mallett and the powerful Arkansas offense misfired too many times both early and late, falling just short.

Turning point: After a blocked punt set Arkansas up on the Ohio State 18, Mallett was picked off by Solomon Thomas with 58 seconds remaining. It was the first and only turnover of the game. The Razorbacks missed opportunities all night. After cutting the lead to 31-23 with a safety, they had the ball three times, all with advantageous field position. They came away with just three points.

Stat of the game: Arkansas receivers dropped six passes.

Player of the game: Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward. He manhandled Arkansas tackle DeMarcus Love most of the night and was the biggest reason why the Razorbacks couldn't get as many points as they're used to.

Unsung hero of the game: Arkansas punter Dylan Breeding had four punts downed inside the Ohio State 20, including three inside the 5.

What it means: Ohio State snaps its nine-game losing streak to SEC teams in bowls, and the Buckeyes gave the Big Ten some BCS redemption after its brutal New Year's Day. The Buckeyes who were controversially suspended for next season and not the bowl game all came up big. Arkansas acquitted itself well in its first-ever BCS game, but the Razorbacks will long regret the missed chances to win this game. Mallett is most likely bound for the NFL, but Bobby Petrino could have a highly-ranked team going into next season all the same.