EW ORLEANS — Almost an hour after the end of the Sugar Bowl, after most had departed the Superdome for parts celebratory or remorse, several remaining fans walked slowly across the field.
A young girl, wearing an Ohio State scarlet cheerleader’s outfit, broke away from her mother’s grasp and sprinted to a large batch of scarlet confetti (roughly in the outline of California) that had been used in the celebration of the Buckeyes’ 31-26 victory over Arkansas.
The girl, about 4 or 5, plopped on her back and did a snow angel — or maybe a “confetti angel.”
Maybe that was one final illustration that the Buckeyes’ victory over the Razorbacks, which ended a nine-game losing streak to Southeastern Conference teams, was heaven on earth.
It was apparent from the beginning that Ohio State placed a great premium on getting that 900-pound, 4.3-speed, SEC gorilla off their backs. In building a 28-10 lead and dominating the first half, the Buckeyes knocked the Hogs off the ball, winning the line of scrimmage on both sides, time and time again.
And a 38-day layoff, the Razorback defenders didn’t seem ready for the intensity and the passion by which they would be attacked.
They got it at halftime as the Hogs fought their way back in it with the deense even scoring with a safety.
And Ohio State coach Jim Tressel again opened himself up to criticism when three of the five OSU players (Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron and DeVier Posey), who are suspended for the first five games of next season (but not the Sugar Bowl) because of NCAA violations involving sale of gear, scored touchdowns. And defensive end Solomon Thomas, another of the “Buckeye Five,” made the game-winning interception. And end Cameron Heyward wreak havoc all night with the UA offense. Five for five on game-changing elements You bet, Ohio State placed a high priority on victory. The philosophical debate is at what cost.
However, most UA fans I talked to wanted the Razorbacks to beat the Buckeyes when they were at full strength — to remove any question.
For the UA players, coaches and fans, this was devastating.
Despite having an AWOL defense and receivers whose hands turned to stone, this was very winnable, set up to be possibly one of the most magnificent comebacks in UA history.
And it again illustrates how inches and crazy bounces of the ball matter.
* Remember the touchdown Cobi Hamilton scored when two defenders collided that turned the game around against LSU? That might have been strangely evened out. On Ohio State’s first touchdown drive, Pryor fumbled near the end zone. Two Hogs were in position to recover and they collided diving for ball, leaving opening for Buckeye receiver Dane Sanzenbacher to recover for a touchdown.
* On a fourth and inches play, Herron appeared to dive for a first down but had the ball stripped in midair. It bounced backwards, and the failed fourth-down conversion gave the Hogs field position for victory the rest of the game.
* And the most “scratch your head” circumstance after you see the replay: After the UA’s Colton Nash-Miles blocked a punt with 1:15 left, the Hogs’ Julian Horton, probably acting on instinct instead of football savvy, fell on the ball at the 18. If he had tried to scoop-and-score, he could have walked into the end zone. Falling on the ball was irrelevant because the UA would have possession deep in OSU territory because it was fourth down.
“When you play a team like Ohio State, every play counts,” said UA coach Bobby Petrino.
Little things, mental and physical, become big things — contrasted by Horton’s lack of game-awareness to the UA’s D.J. Williams stretching his arm to get the ball across the plane of the goal for a key two-point conversion even though his body was stopped short of the goal line.
Ironically, in this defeat the Razorbacks’ often-maligned special teams may have had their best game in a decade. Zach Hocker connected on three field goals (including 46- and 47-yarders), the UA’s coverage units were superb and punter Dylan Breeding and that unit combined to pin OSU deep in its territory most of the second half. The Buckeyes started drives on their 1 and twice on their 4.
UA quarterback Ryan Mallett, prone to make errors in judgment in key situations because he trusts his arm too much to throw into coverage, made an ill-advised pass right into the hands of Solomon, who broke perfectly on the ball after dropping into coverage, that resulted in an interception that killed the Hogs’ final chances.
Both the upside (arm) and downside (savvy) of Mallett was illustrated in the final minutes.
Mallett made some outstanding throws (including two touchdown passes on fade routes) that gave the UA the firepower to come back. And at least a half-dozen of those passes were dropped (two that might have gone for touchdowns) were dropped by normally sure-handed receivers. Loss of timing and sync are two of the dangers of a pass-oriented team facing a layoff.
Ironically, the UA receivers weren’t the “good hands people” of the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
And an obviously disappointed Mallett, speculated to enter the pro draft this spring, made a mysterious statement after the game, “We’re going to come back swinging and get ready to take another shot at the BCS.”
After the initial sting of “what if?” wears off, the UA fans have a lot to feel good about.
This was a spunky team as evidenced by the comeback against a good Ohio State team, one that breaks the stereotype of Big Ten teams being dramatically lacking on team speed.
Many UA teams, after that clunker of a first half, would have wilted and been hammered in a bowl game. The Hogs had the heart on defense and the firepower and confidence on offense to come back and were able to put the Buckeyes on their heels the second half.
It seems Petrino and his staff have instilled a toughness that could have legs in subsequent seasons.
But the gorilla now shifts from OSU being 0-9 against the SEC to the Razorbacks being 0-4 vs. the Big Ten.
What hae been more indicative than the 0-9, however, is that Ohio State is 1-0 against Oregon this year, having defeated the Ducks in last year’s Rose Bowl.
“I know we’re awfully proud of the fact that we beat Oregon in 2010 and no one else has in this year,” Tressel said.
Interesting game. Everyone found their angels and demons.
In defeat, Hog fans found more hope.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)