The Sweet Smell Of Roses

Yesterday’s Rose Bowl game was immensely satisfying for every Ohio State football fan and, no doubt, for the team and its coaches. 

Going into the game, Ohio State clearly was viewed as the underdog by just about everyone.  The “experts” in the pregame shows all predicted that Oregon’s high-powered offense would be too much for Ohio State to handle, and their predictions likely were influenced by the fact that Ohio State had lost three straight BCS games.  Fortunately for the Buckeyes, the experts turned out to be wrong.  The defense managed to control the Oregon offense, and Terrelle Pryor had a breakout game as the Buckeyes won, 26-17.

It’s clear that Jim Tressel and the Ohio State coaches played a much more wide-open offensive style for the Rose Bowl.  Pryor threw often, completed the majority of his passes for two touchdowns and more than 260 yards, was Ohio State’s leading rusher, and time and again came up with big plays when they were needed.  Pryor threw some fine touch passes — two to Devier Posey and a looping throw that hit Brandon Saine in stride along the sideline come to mind — and also threw some bullets with accuracy.  I think part of the emphasis on passing was due to the belief that Oregon would be able to put points on the board, but I also think part of the play-calling was dictated by Oregon’s defense, which seemed committed to stopping the Ohio State running game.  In any case, the game plan required the quarterback to perform, and he rose to the occasion in heroic fashion. Kudos to Terrelle Pryor for playing an excellent game on the Big Stage and to Jim Tressel and the coaching staff for coming up with a well-executed game plan.

On the defensive side of the ball, I think Ohio State just had more talent than Oregon expected.  Even though Oregon consistently had good field position due to poor kick return coverage by the Buckeyes — thanks mostly to short, low kickoffs and lost contain — it often struggled to move the ball and its quarterback was under pressure whenever he went back to pass.  Although Oregon clearly has speed on offense, they didn’t have the enormous speed advantage that the experts forecast and, as the game wore on, couldn’t come up with the big plays at crucial moments.  Oregon also had a crushing turnover on a blown handoff that stopped a drive and allowed Ohio State to get the ball back and run more time off the clock.

As a traditionalist, I thought the two most satisfying aspects of the game were Ohio State’s ability to respond after falling behind, 17-16, and then its ability to grind out the rest of the clock when it got the ball with about 5 minutes to go after Oregon missed a field goal.  Oregon knew that it had to stop the Buckeye offense if it wanted to win the game; it just couldn’t do it.

Finally, as someone who watched the game on TV, I was struck by the punky attitude of the Oregon players, who seemed to celebrate, scream, and strut after every play and, I thought, should have been flagged for at least one late on Pryor as he ran out of bounds.  In contrast, the Ohio State players were classy and composed throughout the game.  I like winning; I like winning with class even better.

Congratulations to the Ohio State players and coaches on a great win that should help to exorcise a few demons.

The Granddaddy Of Them All

Today the Ohio State Buckeyes complete their season by playing the Oregon Ducks in the Rose Bowl.  Of course, every college football fan now wants his team to be playing in the National Championship Game, but if you fall short of that lofty goal the Rose Bowl is pretty good consolation.  It is in a beautiful and warm location, features the classic Tournament of Roses parade, and has all of the “color and pageantry of intercollegiate sports” that you could want.

For old-line Big Ten fans (such as me) the Rose Bowl will always occupy a special place because, for years, it was the bowl destination of the winner of the Big Ten.  It was the oldest and, for Big Ten fans at least, the most prestigious bowl game.  My college roommate and I actually went to the Rose Bowl on January 1, 1980, when the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes lost to the USC Trojans in a thrilling game.  We both were on the Ohio State Lantern at the time and got the Lantern‘s press box pass and field pass for the game.  Graydon sat in the press box, and I took the field pass and watched the game from the sidelines.  It is the only time I have watched a major sports event from the field of play, and it was awesome looking up at more than 100,000 cheering fans sitting in that big bowl.  Although the outcome of the game was not what I would have wished, it was an experience I will never forget.

I think this game also will be challenging for the Buckeyes.  Oregon has an explosive offense that can put a lot of points on the board.  Although Ohio State has a fine defense, I don’t think it has played any team (USC included) that has the kind of multi-faceted attack Oregon brings to the table.  Ohio State’s offense has progressed by fits and starts this season, and Buckeye fans are hoping that, with Terrelle Pryor, his running backs, and the offense line healthy for the first time in months, the offense will really find its stride in this game.  (The fact that two of Ohio State’s receivers are ineligible for the game won’t help in that regard, unfortunately.)  Offensively, I think the key will be whether Ohio State can run the ball effectively and score touchdowns when they get to the red zone.  Defensively, the test will be to keep Oregon’s quarterback in the pocket and turn him into a drop-back passer.  It should be an exciting game to watch, with two teams that play different styles.

Let’s go, Bucks!