NCF Nation: Aaron Pettrey
He came of age in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi, delivering a complete performance as both a passer and a runner. Pryor accounted for 338 total yards; Oregon had 260.
RB John Clay, Wisconsin
Clay gave Miami a taste of Big Ten football by bulldozing the Hurricanes for 121 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in the Champs Sports Bowl.
RB Brandon Wegher, Iowa
It seemed like no running back could stay healthy for Iowa this year, but Wegher came up huge in the FedEx Orange Bowl. The true freshman had 113 rush yards on 16 carries, including the clinching 32-yard touchdown run with 1:16 left.
WR DeVier Posey, Ohio State
I saw a future NFL receiver when I watched Posey in the Rose Bowl. He had eight receptions for 101 yards, including a leaping 17-yard touchdown that all but sealed Ohio State's victory.
WR Andrew Brewer, Northwestern
Brewer saved his best game for last, hauling in eight receptions for 133 yards and scoring on receptions of 35 and 39 yards in the Outback Bowl.
TE Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern and Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
Dunsmore had nine receptions for 120 yards, including an electrifying 66-yard touchdown dash through the Auburn defense. Garrett Graham might be the first-team All-Big Ten selection, but Kendricks stole the show in the Champs Sports Bowl with seven receptions for 128 yards.
C John Moffitt, Wisconsin
Moffitt moved back to center because of a teammate's injury and helped the Badgers overpower Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. Wisconsin racked up 430 total yards and held the ball for 39:15.
G Justin Boren, Ohio State
Boren led a big and nasty Buckeyes line that generated push for the run game and helped Pryor attempt a career high 37 passes in the win against Oregon.
G Joel Foreman, Michigan State
The Spartans' offensive line stepped up nicely in the Valero Alamo Bowl, helping to generate 148 rush yards and allowing only one sack against a Texas Tech team that rushes the passer extremely well. Foreman, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, deserves some props.
OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
Bulaga showed why he's jumping to the NFL draft with a terrific performance against Georgia Tech star defensive end Derrick Morgan in the FedEx Orange Bowl.
OT Dennis Landolt, Penn State
Landolt and his linemates did a good job against LSU's blitz and protected Daryll Clark on a muddy field in Orlando. Penn State allowed only one sack and rushed for 124 yards.
DL Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
Clayborn was an absolute beast in the Orange Bowl, recording nine tackles (all solo) and two sacks as he disrupted Georgia Tech's triple option attack.
DL J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
Watt led an aggressive Badgers defensive front with a sack, two tackles for loss, two pass breakups, a quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery against Miami.
DL O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin
Schofield was disruptive all season and showed it in the bowl game, recording two sacks and forcing a fumble that led to a crucial field goal in the fourth quarter.
DL Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State
The Buckeyes defensive front made life miserable for Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, and Gibson stepped up with two tackles for loss in what proved to be his final collegiate game.
LB Navorro Bowman, Penn State
Bowman had a game-high nine tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and forced LSU into a critical penalty in the final minute as the Lions preserved a Capital One Bowl win.
LB Ross Homan, Ohio State
Homan ended the season as one of the Big Ten's top linebackers and turned in a terrific performance in Pasadena with 12 tackles and an interception that set up a field goal just before halftime.
LB Pat Angerer, Iowa
The triple option will test a middle linebacker, but Angerer stepped up for Iowa with a game-high 10 tackles, including one for loss, against Georgia Tech.
DB Kyle Theret, Minnesota
Theret was the Gophers' MVP in the Insight Bowl, recording seven tackles (all solo), two interceptions, a tackle for loss and a 40-yard reception on a fake punt that set up the team's first touchdown.
DB Ross Weaver, Michigan State
The Spartans' secondary struggled against Texas Tech, but Weaver recorded a team-high seven solo tackles and had a forced fumble and an interception that led to 10 Michigan State points in the second half.
DB Kim Royston, Minnesota
Royston recorded a career-high 15 tackles, tying the Insight Bowl record, including 14 solo stops against Iowa State. He also forced a fumble that turned into a Minnesota field goal.
DB Sherrick McManis, Northwestern
McManis made plays throughout his career and finished it in typical fashion with an interception and a fumble recovery, both occurring in Northwestern's end of the field.
K Collin Wagner, Penn State
The horrible field conditions didn't bother Wagner, who went 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts and drilled the game winner with 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
P Blake Haudan, Minnesota
Haudan averaged 49.6 yards on five punts and completed a 40-yard pass to Theret on a well-timed fake in the third quarter.
Returner Keshawn Martin, Michigan State
Martin blossomed as the Big Ten's most dangerous kick return man this fall and averaged 24.8 yards per runback with a long of 36 against Texas Tech.
Honorable mention -- WISCONSIN: QB Scott Tolzien, RB Montee Ball, P Brad Nortman, LB Chris Borland, TE Garrett Graham, starting offensive line. MINNESOTA: WR Da'Jon McKnight, LB Lee Campbell. NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, WR Zeke Markshausen, WR Sidney Stewart, CB Jordan Mabin, LB Quentin Davie. PENN STATE: QB Daryll Clark, RB Stephfon Green, TE Andrew Quarless, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, CB A.J. Wallace, starting offensive line. OHIO STATE: DE Cameron Heyward, DT Doug Worthington, RB Brandon Saine, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, K Devin Barclay, K Aaron Pettrey, P Jon Thoma, starting offensive line. MICHIGAN STATE: RB Edwin Baker, WR Blair White, P Aaron Bates, LB Greg Jones, starting offensive line. IOWA: QB Ricky Stanzi, TE Tony Moeaki, P Ryan Donahue, DT Karl Klug, LB A.J. Edds, DE Broderick Binns, starting offensive line.
A 43-8 record. Four Big Ten championships (three outright, one shared). Four wins against archrival Michigan. Four trips to BCS bowl games, including two national title games.
But without a bowl victory, Ohio State's seniors had an incomplete legacy.
Ohio State's 19 seniors went out as winners following Friday's 26-17 win against No. 7 Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi. They helped to end the Buckeyes' three-game losing streak in BCS bowls and the Big Ten's six-game losing streak at the Rose.
The Buckeyes' seniors end their careers with 44 wins, one more than the previous high for a class set by three groups (1995-98, 2002-05, 2005-08).
"It makes up for a lot of misfortune and shortcomings," tight end Jake Ballard said.
"We needed to come out and win for these seniors," sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor said.
Ballard made the biggest catch of his career in his final game, a leaping 24-yarder on third-and-13 that set up Ohio State's decisive touchdown.
The Buckeyes also received contributions from seniors like kicker Aaron Pettrey (45-yard field goal), defensive tackle Doug Worthington (tackle for loss, tipped pass that led to interception), punter Jon Thoma (43.7-yard average), left tackle Jim Cordle and safeties Anderson Russell (six tackles) and Kurt Coleman (four tackles).
"Every loss that we've had at the end of every bowl has been a learning experience," said Coleman, who turned down the NFL draft after his junior season in large part to win a bowl game. "Last year [against Texas], we were so close to winning, and that was one of our biggest motivation factors going into the offseason.
"We put in the hard work, and it paid off."
The Buckeyes continue to drive into Oregon's red zone but stall before the goal line. Since their opening touchdown drive, they have had four field goals, as both Devin Barclay and Aaron Pettrey have been terrific. But field goals usually don't beat Oregon.
The Ducks, meanwhile, have converted two red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. Terrelle Pryor just had one of his first really bad throws of the game, as he missed Dane Sanzenbacher for a possible touchdown.
1. Allow Terrelle Pryor to make a difference with his feet: I know Pryor is a bit banged up, but he remains Ohio State's most dangerous offensive weapon. I've yet to see a defense consistently stop Pryor around the edges, and that includes Texas in the 2009 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, a game where Pryor easily could have had 50 more rush yards. If the Buckeyes can run between the tackles with Brandon Saine and Dan Herron and then go outside with Pryor, they'll be tough to stop. It's the last game. It's a must win. It's time to turn Pryor loose and let him be a difference maker.
2. Buckeyes linebackers must tackle well in the open field: Oregon knows Ohio State's defensive line is trouble, and it will try to run away from Cameron Heyward, Thaddeus Gibson and Co. LaMichael James is one of the fastest backs Ohio State has faced in some time, so there will be increased pressure on linebackers Ross Homan, Brian Rolle and Austin Spitler to be sound in their tackling. Ohio State tackles better than the Pac-10 defenses Oregon typically faces, but James, Jeremiah Masoli, Kenjon Barner and LeGarrette Blount all have the speed to take it the distance.
3. Win the special teams edge: This is usually a given for Ohio State, but the Buckeyes have some questions at kicker and with their punt and kick returners. They also allowed a long kickoff return for a touchdown Nov. 14 against Iowa. Ohio State can help its offense by winning the field-position battle, breaking off a big runback or two and keeping Oregon's dangerous return teams in check. Barner averages 24.3 yards on kickoff returns and has a 100-yard touchdown, and he's no slouch on punt returns (9.1 ypr average). If the game comes down to a field goal, Jim Tressel has two decent options in Devin Barclay and Aaron Pettrey.
The kicking game has played an enormous role in Tressel's success, and it's no surprise that Ohio State clinched a Rose Bowl berth on a 39-yard field goal by backup kicker Devin Barclay in overtime against Iowa.
Sound special teams are a given at Ohio State, but the team has more question marks than usual in the third phase heading into its matchup against No. 7 Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi (ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET). There's some haziness at place-kicker as well as on punt and kickoff returns.
The Buckeyes' kicker situation actually is a decent problem to have.
Starter Aaron Pettrey suffered a torn MCL in his right (kicking) leg on kickoff coverage Oct. 31 against New Mexico State. Pettrey underwent surgery and had a wire inserted in his knee to hold the ligament in place. Barclay handled the kicking duties in November, but Pettrey has made an incredible recovery and will be available against Oregon.
During bowl practice, he has drilled 50-yard field goals with room to spare and converted a 63-yard attempt in Tuesday's practice.
"I'm just happy to be back," Pettrey said. "The doctor told my parents after the surgery that there's no way I'd be back for the game. [Pettrey's parents] never told me that until last week, so I feel great."
Barclay will handle kickoff duties Friday rather than Pettrey, mainly because of the torque it puts on the knee and the need to have a capable 11th tackler on the coverage unit. But the two likely will share field goal duties against Oregon.
Pettrey converted 13 of 19 attempts before his injury, while Barclay is 4-of-7 with the big 39-yarder against Iowa.
"Devin's still been with the [first team], I'm with the 2s," Pettrey said. "Devin's been kicking all year, and I've taken a month and a half off. I've only had like a week to get ready. If I'm back, I'm back, and right now, I feel close, 90-95 percent."
Ohio State gets deeper at kicker but thinner on returns because wide receiver Ray Small, the team's primary punt returner and No. 2 kick returner, is suspended after a repeat violation of team rules. Wideout Duron Carter, another return option, also is unavailable because of academics.
Tressel said Thursday that wide receivers DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher will handle punt returns Friday, with running back Jordan Hall as the third option. Posey and Sanzenbacher have combined for three returns this year.
Lamaar Thomas remains Ohio State's top option on kick returns, and one of the team's top running backs, Brandon Saine or Dan Herron, will occupy the second spot. Saine has three kick returns for 67 yards (22.3 ypr) this season.
"I'm not excited about the way I've been given this opportunity," said Thomas, who could also be a bigger factor as a receiver Friday. "I'm truly going to miss those guys, Ray and Duron, but it is going to be an opportunity that I'll be able to showcase some things. I'm excited about that."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
There will be many more starts and other big stages for Terrelle Pryor, who's expected to spend at least another season and possibly two at the helm of the Ohio State offense.
But make no mistake: Pryor's long-term legacy as Ohio State's quarterback will be shaped by what he does Saturday night against No. 3 USC (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).
|Jamie Sabau/Getty Images|
|Saturday's showdown with USC could prove to be a defining game for QB Terrelle Pryor.|
There are no guarantees, especially with a loss to the Trojans, that Pryor will face another team of USC's caliber in his Buckeyes career. Sure, Ohio State's dominance of the Big Ten could continue, but Penn State seems to be catching up quickly in the conference. The Buckeyes begin a two-game series against Miami next season, but the U. isn't USC.
Let's not underplay what's on the line for Ohio State in this game. The Buckeyes need to change the perception that they can no longer win big games. They need to change the perception that they're just the best of a bad bunch in the Big Ten. They need to prove that a Big Ten team can compete with the squad that has done more to ruin the league's national reputation than any other.
For Pryor, this is a chance to prove himself as a complete quarterback and an effective field leader. He boasts the unique combination of size and skills that, if used correctly, could give the Trojans defense some major headaches.
"If he comes out and plays well, it could throw his name right in the middle of the Heisman race," Ohio State kicker Aaron Pettrey said. "It could definitely be a defining game for him, and hopefully he comes out and takes control of it."
Pryor saw the field against USC last year, but he couldn't do much to change the outcome. He was used in spots throughout the first half and showed good poise as a true freshman playing in a rough environment. But by the time he ran a full series late in the third quarter, Ohio State found itself in a 35-3 hole.
He took over the starting job the following week and endured ups and downs leading a veteran offense that had some strong loyalties to his predecessor, Todd Boeckman. After a strong offseason in which he improved his passing footwork and fundamentals, Pryor now leads a unit featuring many of his peers. Though Ohio State didn't name a season captain from the offense, the general sentiment suggests that this is Pryor's team.
"He's definitely taken ownership; that’s the role of the quarterback," senior right tackle Jim Cordle said. "He's more comfortable and obviously knows that all of us on the offense trust him and are more confident in him. There's a comfort level for him in that role."
Pryor created a stir last week when he paid tribute to childhood idol Michael Vick by writing Vick's name on one of his eyeblack stickers. The sophomore, who has been shielded from the media this week and throughout most of his college career, also took heat for some of his postgame comments.
Though the criticism seems excessive, Pryor is the type of polarizing player who will always find his way into the spotlight. He's talented and brash, saying in April, "There's some teams out there that are waiting for us, and there's teams that we owe some stuff to. We're just going to bring it."
Pryor no doubt included USC in his thoughts. Saturday night, he has the chance to back it up.
"He looks like he wants to win the game for us this week," Cordle said. "If he can beat USC, that’s obviously pretty defining."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When Terrelle Pryor showed snippets of his boundless potential last season, he usually did so with his feet.
Whether it was sprinting for the game-winning touchdown at Wisconsin, wrong-footing the Michigan State Spartans in a blowout or consistently beating Texas defenders to the edge in the Fiesta Bowl, Pryor displayed the type of fearless footwork that you simply can't teach. But outside the spotlight, in Ohio State's locker room, the meeting rooms or the practice field, Pryor moved more cautiously.
|AP Photo/Andy Manis|
|Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor knows his role as a leader will increase in 2009.|
He tiptoed and kept a safe distance.
"He was very conscious of, 'Hey, this was Todd Boeckman's team,'" Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. "He never wanted to step where he didn't think he belonged. He wanted everyone to feel good about what he's doing, most especially Todd because of his fondness for Todd.
"It was difficult enough to start taking some of Todd's reps. So he was very conscious of not treading where he might not be best suited to go."
Pryor no longer has to think twice about where he sets foot. Every cubic inch of Ohio State's locker room, meeting rooms and practice fields is now his territory.
Sure, the Buckeyes have seniors and other voices of leadership. When Ohio State elects its team captains in August, Pryor, only a sophomore, likely won't be among them.
But there's little doubt that Pryor has a much greater ownership stake in this Buckeyes team. He doesn't have to be a steward for last year's sizable senior class. He admired and respected them, but they're gone now.
When the 2009 season kicks off, Pryor can be his own man, his own leader and his own quarterback.
"I want to take that responsibility and lead the team," Pryor said. "There's some seniors now that will take it, but you can tell, they kind of gave it to me. The most important thing is for a quarterback to be a leader. ...
"We have some seniors and guys, they've been here longer. It's their team, but it's also my team."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Through its first eight games, Penn State had put up 298 points in the first three quarters. Tonight, the Nittany Lions have been contained, though they're showing some signs of life.
Daryll Clark is beginning to find some gaps in the Ohio State defense, though Penn State just seems a bit out of sync. Without a consistent running game, the Nittany Lions will need Clark and senior wideouts Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood to emerge. The big plays just aren't there tonight for the Lions, who trail in the fourth quarter for the first time this season.
Ohio State continues to convert key third downs and mounted a 13-play, 72-yard drive that ate up 7:28 before another Aaron Pettrey field goal. Buckeyes wideouts Dane Sanzenbacher and Brian Robiskie are stepping up and finding gaps for freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who has made several big-time throws (13-for-18, 174 yards).
Neither team has much of a running game, so this one could be won through the air.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There are actually points on the board, so this update might be marginally more interesting than the last one.
I know the Big Ten isn't exactly the Big 12, but this feels more like an SEC game at the half. Several ferocious hits have been dished out on both sides of the ball, and besides two blown coverages, the defenses continue to dominate.
Unless one of these teams finds a running game in the second half, this contest likely will be decided by special teams and field position. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel has been a master at both throughout this career, but Penn State is moving the ball a bit better than the Buckeyes. Running back Chris "Beanie" Wells entered tonight with an excellent big-game track record, but he hasn't gotten much going so far (10 carries, 11 yards).
Penn State's swarming front seven has clogged rushing lanes and forced Ohio State to run outside. If there's a troubling trend for Penn State, it's third-down defense. Ohio State has converted three third downs of seven yards or longer, as well as a second-and-19 on the final drive of the half.
Terrelle Pryor has gone 9-for-14 passing, but two of his completions went for 53 and 33 yards. Penn State completely blew its coverage on the 53-yarder to Dane Sanzenbacher (4 catches 76 yards), but the Lions' held from there.
I've been very impressed with Ohio State's defensive line so far. Evan Royster is averaging just three yards per carry, nearly five below his season average. Aside from a blown coverage that allowed Daryll Clark to find Graham Zug for a 49-yard gain, the Buckeyes have looked tough.
Laugh all you want, but the first-half game balls go to the four specialists: punters Jeremy Boone and A.J. Trapasso and kickers Kevin Kelly and Aaron Pettrey. Expect more big plays in the second half, but these four could decide the game.