The Buckeyes took to the field in Pasadena yesterday afternoon against an Oregon team that was predicted by many to win the game handily.
In its first offensive possession OSU came out and did something that nobody expected them to do: throw the ball, and more surprisingly throw the ball very well. The passing game was controlled and calculated, keeping the aggressive UO defense caught on its heels many times.
The offense most assuredly benefited from much improved execution by QB Terrelle Pryor, who finished the game as MVP with 338 total yards of offense. Mental errors were largely avoided by Pryor in this one, and aside from forcing one downfield interception (after overlooking a wide open Brandon Saine in the flat) Pryor avoided big mental blunders, even while taking 4 sacks.
While Pryor’s play is deservedly getting a lot of the attention (IT’S OBVIOUS THAT HE’S FINALLY VINCE YOUNG, DUMB-DUMBS!!!), a largely overlooked fact is that his performance hinges directly on the willingness of the offensive staff to go to a gameplan that throws early and throws often. In a post-game interview with ESPN (see below), Tress talks about the best look from the offense being in practices against the #1 defense in which they only passed. Having the courage to enact this gameplan on such a big stage takes cajones, though it certainly helps when the opposing defense is most suspect in the secondary. The game was won by Pryor’s arm (both throwing and stiff-arming OMG) and the trust that was placed in it. It also helped that Jake Ballard has mad hops.
On the defensive side of things, the Buckeyes did well to contain Oregon’s offense to the extent that they did. Jim Heacock and Luke Fickell called a great gameplan (and honestly the game-calling all around was fantastic aside from the offense slipping up a bit in th middle quarters). The defensive line disrupted a lot of Oregon’s passing plays, while Ross Homan and the linebackers stayed honest and defended the read-option as well as one would hope.
The defense wasn’t perfect but most assuredly was good enough. After Kurt Coleman got run over by LaGarrette Blount for a TD in the second quarter, Blount later fumbled a handoff through the endzone for a touchback. At that point UO had a good amount of momentum, and the fumble was huge. At another point Brian Rolle got run through by undersized (but who apparently squats 475) Jeremiah Masoli, which is embarrassing for any LB.
The special teams game came up huge in this game, as one would expect from any game involving JPT at the helm. Oregon’s return game was absolutely killer, setting them up seemingly at midfield after every OSU kickoff or punt. On the other side of the coin, the Bucks sorely missed having any semblance of a return game. Though the return game was hugely in Oregon’s favor, the Bucks had a clear advantage in the kicking aspect of things (aside from kicking kickoffs, which OSU was the worstest at). After seeing Oregon go for it on fourth down twice around their own 30, it was pretty clear to me that they had zero faith in their kicker. When they decided to take the points with 5 minutes to go in the game and try a 40+ yard field goal, it was clear why they didn’t. Miss, wide right. Meanwhile, OSU’s kicking game was dandy, whilst juggling between two kickers.
Benefiting from and taking advantage of mistakes is paramount in the Tressel play-style, and the Bucks managed to do just that. By limiting Oregon’s options and the time the Ducks had the ball (Time of Possession: OSU 42 minutes, Oregon 18 HOLY CRAP), the Buckeyes kept themselves in the driver’s seat.
Haterz across the country will say that the Bucks beat a down Oregon team, who comes from a down conference. To that I say keep hating, you small-minded children, for I grow stronger with each of your tears. Nearly every pundit called for an Oregon win, and most called for a blowout (props to you for picking the Bucks, Kirk Chris Fowler). An Oregon win would have established the Pac-10 superiority and perpetuated the BUX SUX meme, but lo and behold the Buckeyes won. After referring to the BUX = SUX flow chart it can easily be determined that BUX win = opponent SUX, therefore BUX = SUX. Whatever. Roses, son.
The Buckeyes can’t singlehandedly get the Big Ten back into respectability (great, great win yesterday Penn State), but by winning the Grandfather of All of Them is the first step to getting the team’s big game allure going. When the best team in the conference is winning its bowl game, the rest of the conference looks better by extension.
Plenty of people will go ahead and get well, well ahead of themselves with declarations about next season. I’ll be right here on my couch, smiling and enjoying this win for what it was – a great win for a senior class that had yet to win a bowl game. Coach Tressel needed this win just about as much as anyone, and you can tell that he was pretty happy after the game (“Well, they’re pretty sober”). Kudos to the man who got the team there and had the confidence in the offense to take the training wheels off on the biggest of stages.
Time and change will surely show, how firm thy friendship O-HI-O.
Photo Credits: Chris Williams/Icon SMI (Pryor), Jeff Gross/Getty Images (Ballard)