CFN Bowl Analysis ...
Ohio State 31 ... Arkansas 26
Sugar Bowl Stream-of -Consciousness Notes
There. Are you happy now?
Were the six straight BCS appearances and the eight in nine years not enough?
Did the national championship not buy any street cred? Did all the double-digit win seasons and the droves of players sent off to the NFL not quite float your boat?
Can Ohio State finally be called a real, live superpower because it happened to get by an SEC team? Considering the entire body of work under Jim Tressel and all the great things the program has done over the last several years, did one win really matter that much to one of college football's elite?
Heading into a new era, the Big Ten desperately needed to end this disastrous bowl season on a high note, and it desperately needed its anchor program to show that it actually can get over the ugly SEC hump. While Iowa's win over Missouri deserved more credit, and Illinois did beat a BCS league team (Baylor), it's not like the wins came over the SEC. Forget that the Big Ten, other than Ohio State, has been just fine against the supposedly head-and-shoulders superior league, this was a must-win, even if it took way too many breaks to close.
It was all shaping up to be just a little extra twist of the knife after the miserable seven hours the Big Ten had on New Year's Day. It wouldn't have been enough for Ohio State to lose a tenth straight bowl game to the SEC; it would've made the five-loss January 1st into something more dramatically disastrous for the Leaders and Legends, and would've made for a long eight months and five games for the Buckeyes. And yes, perception does matter.
BCS at-large bids are about economics, and top Big Ten teams travel, but it's also important when it comes to the way the college football world, and particularly the pollsters, look at the leagues. Just ask Boise State what it's like to get respect during the fog of the season.
If there's a three-way debate this year between Auburn, Oregon, and let's say, an unbeaten Ohio State, there would be some voters, subconsciously or not, who'd give the edge to the Ducks over the Buckeyes because we all saw the OSU vs. the SEC movie before, and it wasn't always pretty. It's not fair, but the debate is usually about what teams might do in the BCS games, and not necessarily who the most deserving teams are. Now that Ohio State's aura of inferiority is gone, at least for right now, the Big Ten doesn't come out of this bowl season looking completely and totally awful.
With one Solomon Thomas interception, dry land is no longer a myth. Yes, Ohio State really can beat an SEC team.
- Most bizarre about the victory was that one of Tressel Ball's basic tenets, the need to win the special teams battle, blew up for the Buckeyes. Arkansas came up with one of the greatest all-around kicking performances in BCS history, with Zach Hocker nailing all three shots from 20, 46, and 47 yards away and punter Dylan Breeding averaging 43.7 yards on seven punts , putting four kicks inside the 20. Breeding crushed the Buckeyes with bad field position in several key spots in the game. Throw in the blocked punt by the Hogs and Tressel won't be happy.
- If you had told the OSU coaches that Ryan Mallett would only throw for 56 more yards than Pryor, they'd have been measuring their head size for championship hats.
- If you had told the Arkansas coaches that Knile Davis would run for 139 yards and average 5.3 yards per pop against the nation's No. 3 ranked run defense, they would've led the S-E-C, S-E-C chant before the game started.
- Ohio State's Cameron Heyward just proved that he might be the most versatile top defensive line in the 2011 NFL Draft.
- Plenty will be made out of the Arkansas dropped passes, but Ryan Mallett wasn't as sharp as he needed to be under pressure. He didn't handle himself in and out of the pocket like he normally does, but when he had time to throw, he put up some beautiful deep touch passes.
Someone finally held on to a Ryan Mallett pass. Unfortunately for Arkansas, it was Ohio State DE Solomon Thomas.
In a blunder reminiscent of the Sept. 25 game with Alabama, Mallett made an awful read after the Hog special teams gift wrapped the comeback for him, putting the ball in Thomas' chest. Game over. And unacceptable for one of the nation's premier hurlers. Ohio State, naturally, deserves a ton of credit for hanging on and persevering in the Sugar Bowl. Michigan and national championship games aside, you could argue that this was one of the program's biggest victories in the last 20 years. They had to overcome all of the off-field distractions, the winless bowl history versus SEC, and early injuries in the secondary. Oh, and say what you will about whether Terrelle Pryor should have been eligible, but he delivered in a huge way, spearheading a Buckeye BCS bowl win for a second consecutive January.
- Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward rendered the Senior Bowl and Combine obsolete for himself with tonight's performance. The way he dominated the Arkansas linemen and commanded double-teams, NFL scouts won't need to see much more to make him a first-rounder.
- The BCS and ESPN are killing themselves in a big swath of the country with these weeknight games that start at 8:45 ET and don't end until well beyond midnight. It's too bad that a chunk of the 90% of gainfully employed Americans missed out on a phenomenal fourth quarter. This has reached World Series proportions.
Sure, Mallett has about as much zip on his passes as any quarterback in the country, but don't blame him for all of the drops this evening. His receivers let him down in a big way, and really could have used the services of injured junior Greg Childs.
- Doesn't Ohio State WR Dane Sanzenbacher look like the kind of receiver who'll be catching 55 passes from Peyton Manning or Tom Brady two years from now? He won't be one of the top 5 receivers taken in April, but he just knows how to play his position and will wind up out performing his draft position at the next level.
By Matt Zemek
Nothing in this game was the slightest bit stylish. Moreover, neither of these teams deserved love or affection; Grantland Rice would have found it hard to unleash his flowing romantic prose on Tuesday night in the Crescent City.
Rice, an eternal optimist and a wonder-worker with the typewriter, might have turned cynical if he had digested the backdrop to this tilt between Ohio State and Arkansas. The matchup in New Orleans involved, on one side of the aisle, a team with five players who frankly shouldn't have been eligible to play. On the other sideline stood Bobby Petrino, a habitual liar of a coach who is one of the worst serial offenders in all of football when it comes to leveraging deals. (This doesn't even touch on his treatment of the Atlanta Falcons.) These programs didn't merit verbal bouquets before kickoff time, so the only way they'd earn admiration would be if they produced a brilliant 60-minute showcase of college football.
Instead, "The Slop in the Superdome" – though filled with thrills, spills and chills in a plot-twist-laden extravaganza – left pigskin pundits groping for words with all the futility of an Arkansas receiver, an ACC officiating crew, and Dan Herron in a fourth-and-short situation. So many aspects of this game were just. Plain. Nutty.
How could Arkansas score just one touchdown after falling behind 28-7 and come within 17 yards of beating one of the best college football programs over the past decade?
How could Arkansas receiver Joe Adams drop passes again and again and again, when just one catch here or there would have transformed the outlook for his team?
How could the ACC refs fail to blow a play dead due to forward progress at the Ohio State 2, instead of allowing Dan Herron to be driven three yards into the end zone, disengage from a tackler, and be re-tackled for a ridiculous safety? (To be clear: Herron disengaged; that point is not up for debate or dispute. Of course he shed the tackler, without the whistle being blown, and was then re-tackled. The salient point is that when a running back gets driven five yards backwards, the whistle should be blown. Forward progress has clearly been stopped in such a case.)
How could Arkansas not at least make the attempt to scoop and score on the late blocked punt? Remember, on a fourth-down play, possession changes as soon as toe meets leather. Arkansas could touch the ball and not lose possession. Only if Arkansas made a genuine recovery of the ball and then lost control would the Hogs have forfeited possession back to Ohio State. There was no risk of losing the ball on a scoop-and-score attempt, and that oversight prevented the Razorbacks from gaining a 32-31 lead.
How could Dan Herron not tuck the ball away on his fourth-and-one dive in the fourth quarter from the Ohio State 38?
(Side question: How could many commentators dog Jim Tressel for dialing up a play that fundamentally worked? Multiple pundits felt Terrelle Pryor should have been given the ball; sections of the Fourth Estate took care to emphasize that element of the play more than the performance of OSU's offensive line.)
How could Petrino call a draw on 3rd-and-10 in Ohio State territory in the second half and – earlier in the game – have Ryan Mallett throw a five-step-dropback pass on fourth-and-one on the Buckeyes' side of the field? How, too, could Petrino opt for field goals instead of touchdowns on a repeated basis? (Amazingly, the accumulation of 3-pointers almost worked.)
How could Ryan Mallett basically replay the Alabama game from Sept. 25, 2010?
Four players – Cameron Heyward, Dane Sanzenbacher, D.J. Williams, and Knile Davis – stood above the rest in this game, but otherwise, the Sugar Bowl was one head-scratching parade of bizarre clumsiness, especially in the disjointed second half. The game also told us that the wrist should not be an adequate basis for ruling a runner down (that rule needs to be changed), and that a knee should not be an adequate basis for ruling a runner down as well. The Sugar Bowl taught the nation that forward-progress calls - such as the one not made on the Dan Herron safety - should be subject to review. This wild affair also showed why a forward-bouncing fumble (from the eight-yard line into the end zone) should be brought back to the spot of the fumble if recovered by an offensive player other than the fumbler himself.
If you enjoy confusion and cluttered, clumsy chaos, this game was for you.
--Other brief Sugar Bowl musings: Seeing the stands packed in the Superdome, it becomes that much clearer that the Orange Bowl's sorry annual attendance figures are connected to the fact that it can't so easily draw Big Ten or SEC teams. The ACC lock-in is killing the Orange Bowl, and that's a really good reason for the Orange Bowl Committee to lobby for a removal of conference tie-ins when this BCS rotation expires in January 2014.
--Yes, Ohio State should have been saddled with five (more) ineligible players in this game. With that said, the Buckeyes have won two straight BCS bowls and have acquitted themselves well in each of the last three BCS games they've played. This Tressel guy can coach, despite the venom he regularly (and unfathomably) receives from a disproportionate amount of online voices and fans.
--This came in a losing effort, but when was the last time Arkansas possessed a punter and a placekicker who were lights-out on such a scale? Dylan Breeding and Zach Hocker turned in two phenomenal performances on Tuesday night. If Arkansas had been able to push a few more Ohio State ballcarriers from the seven-yard line to the goal line, the Hogs could have gotten three more safeties and won by a 32-31 count.