Tuesday night's Sugar Bowl had a little bit of everything. And gave Cleveland-Ohio State fans a thrill ride where the head spinning, gut twisting, soul trying anxiety was just all too familiar.
But, unlike often times in the lives of northeast Ohioans, this one had a happy ending. Not necessarily the ending where you run into the front yard and whoop and hollar with your family after winning the lottery. No, more like the ending where you collapse on the ground, kissing the turf after crawling away from a plane crash.
A couple things stood out. Many of which will be used (or ignored) by SEC honks, ESPN, and general Ohio State haters to diminish the win. But we'll remember.
First, undoubtedly, the suspended players for Ohio State played enormous roles in the win, including winning MVP, catching a touchdown, running for one, and clinching the game with an interception. Should the players have been in there? Probably not. But don't put that onus on Ohio State. It is the BCS and the Sugar Bowl who needed Terrelle Pryor and guys to play. Should the five game suspensions be held up, playing Herron, Pryor, and Posey yesterday will only hurt Ohio State more next year than it helped them in a meaningless exhibition game.
A meaningless exhibition game that thrilled and entertained millions, but come on, please let's have a playoff system. Anyway...
Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett played very well, showing off his cannon arm quite often. All too many times, his receivers dropped balls at key times (including an almost sure touchdown on the Razorbacks' first play from scrimmage.) But if it weren't for a dropped interception in the fourth quarter by OSU, and a fumble on fourth down by Herron, the ending would not have been in doubt either. Funny how the announcers didn't mention that very often. (By the way, if Jim Tressel had decided to punt on fourth and a foot in the fourth quarter, they wouldn't have deserved to win. And probably wouldn't have.)
The safety. Suffice it to say giving up 2 points and giving Arkansas the ball at the 50 was a huge momentum boost. And also the worst call I have ever seen. I haven't seen an official explanation, but that play was the very definition of forward progress. I've never before seen a call like that, and it went basically unchallenged by ESPN. Additionally, several ball spots were...questionable...as well. Each horrific call seemed to go against Ohio State. Four replays in the first half...where were they all in the second half?
Ohio State came out shooting in the first half. Good scouting and film work obviously showed them something about Arkansas' speed to the lines. The offensive and defensive lines dominated Arkansas', and Cameron Heyward probably should have been MVP. Dane Sanzenbacher' fumble recovery might have been a combination of luck and hustle, but the touchdown pass he caught from Pryor was pure magic. The 28-7 lead had Buckeye nation in a mood of cautious euphoria.
Of course, as written in the Ohio state constitution, the second half got tight. ESPN will remember the Razorbacks' drops, but it was the failure of the OSU offensive line to keep their first half pace, the few big mistakes (like Herron's fumble), the hugely pro-SEC crowd and announcers, and the malpractice by the zebras that pulled the game as close as it was.
Ohio State 31
Overall a strong performance on a big stage, and Ohio State finally gets its first bowl win against the SEC. There are bleary eyes and palpitating hearts in Ohio today, and smiles across the land.