The Sugar Bowl played out exactly as expected in the Superdome tonight as the Buckeyes and Razorbacks collided under the lights of the Big Easy. Ohio State jumped out to a 28-10 lead in the first half, but had to hold on through a furious comeback by Arkansas to survive 31-26. With the win, the Bucks cleared away the goose egg in OSU wins over the SEC in Bowl games, and helped to bring some respect back to the Big Ten this bowl season. Terrelle Pryor finished the game 14/25 for 222 yards and 2 touchdowns with 15 carries for 115 yards. The 28 points scored by the Buckeyes were sufficient to outscore both Michigan State and Michigan combined from their bowl games.
The first drive for the Hogs was not what they had hoped for. Ryan Mallett came out throwing on their first three downs, but missed on all three. The Buckeye’s defense was clearly taken aback by the aggression from the Razorbacks early as the first two passes should have been completed. Surprisingly, the first pass sailed high and strong, and the second was flat out dropped at the first down marker. On third down, the Buckeyes finally got a little pressure on Mallett, being unable to fight through the tough Arkansas offensive line early, and managed to force a third incompletion.
Ohio State’s drive was dominated by the play of Boom Herron. Herron looked absolutely unstoppable as he pushed Arkansas defenders up and down the field. Most impressive was a 10 yard first down run where he dragged a hog for 5 yards before several others got over to help out. But it was the scoring play that was most surprising. 3rd and 7 from the Arkansas 40, Terrelle Pryor was forced to scramble for the first. Arkansas was unable to bring him down until he got to the 5 yard line where the defender forced a fumble. The ball skittered forward only to be jumped on by Dane Sanzenbacher in the endzone for a touchdown.
Arkansas started out their next drive with fantastic field position after Drew Basil accidentally made contact with the ball too high on the kickoff. The Hogs completely changed their strategy from what they showed on the first drive, switching to a run only offense that was particularly effective behind their tough offensive line. When they did go back to throwing the ball, the Hogs found two quick completions resulting in a quick touchdown. The throw into the endzone for the score was particularly impressive, placed exactly where it needed to be over the outside shoulder of the receiver.
The Buckeyes responded in kind. Pryor made several fantastic plays, including a nice throw on the run to Jake Stoneburner, to smartly move the Bucks down the field. Pryor quickly found Sanzo in a mismatch coverage with a linebacker, allowing a strike over the middle. Two quick 10 yard runs from Herron and the Buckeyes were celebrating another score and a 7 point lead.
Both teams traded several possessions, struggling to find gaps in the opponent’s defense. It was the Buckeyes that struck first. A fantastic Play Action screen to the tight end Reid Fragel opened up a huge hole straight up the left side of the field that saw Fragel run straight up the field with no-one to stop him for 42 yards. It was a play unlike any we have seen from Tressel in his entire career at OSU. But the best play of the drive came on a 25 yard pass play from Pryor to a tightly covered Dane Sanzenbacher that displayed all of Sanzo’s skills as a wide receiver.
As a whole, the game was completely defined by big plays. For the first half, the vast majority of the big plays were made by the Buckeyes. Falling on Pryor’s fumble in the endzone, big passing plays, and big pass drops from Arkansas were huge for the Buckeyes. Even more impressive was the play of the Buckeye defensive line. After struggling early with the Arkansas line in the trenches, the Bucks began to make sacks like they were going out of style. In the first half, Mallett had been sacked 3 times for -21 yards.
The Buckeyes continued to scoring deluge towards the end of the first half. On 2nd and ten from the 43 yard line, Pryor bombed it deep to a heavily covered DeVier Posey who hauled the ball in for a score to give the Bucks a 28-7 lead and completely set Arkansas back on their heels going into halftime. The Hogs tried to mount a 2 minute offense in response. A big run on 3rd and a couple set Arkansas up to build some momentum going into the half. Despite some great play from the Buckeyes defense, Arkansas still managed to get close to the endzone and pick up a big field goal to grab some momentum going into the half.
At halftime, Pryor was 13/19 for 204 yards and 2 touchdowns, compared to Mallett’s 13/25 for 178 and 1 touchdown. The OSU runningbacks outgained Arkansas 135 to 77 yards, with Herron and Pryor both picking up more than 50 yards in the half. The third down efficiency was one of the big factors in the huge lead for the Bucks, as OSU picked up 6-8 while Arkansas only managed 3-9 for the half. A 6.7 yard per carry average (compared to the Hogs 3.3) helped in a big way as well.
The Buckeyes came out of the gate much more conservatively than the way the game started. Ohio State found initial success running the football in the half, but seemed to go to the well too often or too predictably. Arkansas quickly smothered the running game and forced Pryor into a particularly bad throw that was almost picked. It was exactly the way most Buckeye fans did not want to see from their team out of the half.
The Hogs worked to take advantage of the opportunity to close the gap. Arkansas runningback Knile Davis was critical towards that goal as he found massive gaps in the OSU defense, managing more than 5 yards every time he touched the ball. It didn’t help matters that OSU was having personnel issues, particularly with Cam Heyward sitting on the sideline for a few plays. However, the Buckeyes managed to refocus a little and force a stop to allow only a field goal on the drive.
Ohio State responded by getting away from their conservative nature a little. Pryor found DeVier Posey on a great pass play that Posey managed to scoop up off the turf. The Bucks then returned to running it up the middle, but had managed to work the ball close enough to allow Barclay to drop in a 46 yard field goal to give Ohio State a three score lead again.
The Razorbacks finally found the endzone again for the first time since the first quarter on yet another beautiful pass from Ryan Mallett over the head of Torrence. Torrence was in perfect position on the play, but the offense just did what they had to do to take the defense out of the play. Down 12, Bobby Petrino decided to go for two to make it a 10 point game. Jermale Hines made a great play to stop the Arkansas player outside of the endzone, but needed help to fully bring him down. When help didn’t arrive, the tight end reached the ball into the endzone for the score.
It seemed like absolutely nothing went Ohio State’s way on offense in the third quarter. Even when Pryor made a huge first down with his legs to end the quarter, an ill timed (though legitimate) holding call completely killed the drive and allowed Arkansas to get fantastic field position off the resulting punt. Arkansas looked like they were going to make something happen, but great play from the Buckeye defensive line forced the Hogs into a punt of their own. That punt, however, turned into Arkansas points as they tackled Herron in the endzone for a safety, putting the game within 8 points with lots of time left on the clock.
Of course, after a safety, the defense gains the ball on a free kick. Arkansas moved the ball down near the redzone, but the OSU defense stiffened and forced the Razorbacks into a field goal that they put through the uprights. The Buckeyes were left with only a 5 point lead and wondering what had hit them. Worse yet, it seemed like the coaches had no idea what to do.
The offense got the ball back desperately needing a long drive and preferably a score. The Bucks found themselves in a 4th a short on their own 40 yard line. The Bucks went with Herron diving over the line, but Herron had the ball knocked out of his hands, causing the Bucks to commit a turnover on downs. Arkansas was unable to put anything together, however, on offense, getting penalized for a hold on the first play.
With a bit more than 4 minutes left in the game, the Buckeyes found themselves on their own 4 yard line. On first down, Herron found a massive hole opened up by Bryant Browning on the right side. An 18 yard pick up resulted in giving OSU some confidence on offense and the ability to run a bit more time off the clock. The Bucks were able to grind the clock down to 1:15, but were forced to kick the ball back to Arkansas. The Razorbacks managed to block the punt and recover on the 15 yard line, giving them more than sufficient time score.
But it was the only turnover of the game, an interception by Solomon Thomas, that ended the ball game and gave the Buckeyes the victory.
Dan Herron’s 24 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown were critical towards securing the victory. The best running back in the game, however, was clearly Arkansas’ Knile Davis with 26 carries for 139 yards. He was nearly unstoppable for the majority of the game, picking up 10 yards at will it seemed.
Ryan Mallett finished 24/47 for 277 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 fatal interception. His favorite target was clearly Joe Adams who caught 9 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown, but also dropped a number of wide open passes. For the Buckeyes, DeVier Posey’s 3 receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown led the Buckeyes.