Hog roasted: Late interception seals Sugar Bowl victory for Ohio State
Published: Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Updated: Saturday, June 16, 2012 00:06
NEW ORLEANS — Off-the-field distractions. A depleted secondary. No momentum.
Ohio State had its back against the wall, clinging to a late, fourth-quarter lead.
But the Buckeyes quieted the hog-heavy crowd and silenced critics, placing tattoo drama on the back burner and roasting the Arkansas Razorbacks, 31-26, in the Sugar Bowl on Tuesday night at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.
The win snaps OSU's string of nine losses against the SEC.
One of five Buckeyes facing a five-game suspension to start the 2011 season, defensive end Solomon Thomas made the play of his career: an interception with less than a minute remaining and Arkansas threatening to score a go-ahead touchdown.
"It's weird to have such adversity and such a blessing; it's so drastic," Thomas said. "It's been rough. But again, adversity, at the end of it lies a blessing. In my mind, this was supposed to happen."
OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who was named the game's Most Outstanding Player, ran for 115 yards and threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns, nearly mirroring the marks he set last January when he took home Rose Bowl MVP honors. In that game — a 26-17 victory over Oregon — Pryor threw for 266 yards and two scores and rushed for 72 yards.
After trailing 28-7 in the first half, Arkansas clawed to within 31-23 with 12 minutes remaining.
Razorback punter Dylan Breeding pinned the Buckeyes at their own 4-yard line, and Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette brought down Dan Herron in the end zone for a safety.
The Razorbacks closed the gap to 31-26 on a 47-yard field goal by freshman kicker Zach Hocker on the ensuing possession.
They couldn't get over the hump, though.
Razorback Colton Miles-Nash blocked Ben Buchanan's punt, setting up Arkansas with great field position and a chance to win.
But Thomas stepped in front of a pass by Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett and the Buckeyes ran out the clock.
"We always say the punt is the most important play in football," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "I was thinking that that might be a problem, but our defense wouldn't stop playing and (Thomas) came up with the pick."
Mallett, the Michigan transfer who is widely considered a first-round NFL Draft pick, feasted on a depleted Buckeye secondary in the second half.
Cornerback Chimdi Chekwa left the game in the first half after landing awkwardly on his right wrist after breaking up a pass. He returned to the sideline wearing a cast.
Chekwa said after the game that he dislocated his wrist and doctors popped part of it back into place. He said he would have surgery Wednesday in Columbus.
Christian Bryant, out since Oct. 16 with a foot infection, assumed some of Chekwa's duties.
The Buckeyes were already without safeties C.J. Barnett and Tyler Moeller, both sidelined for most of the season with injuries.
The NCAA suspended Pryor, Herron, Thomas, receiver DeVier Posey and tackle Mike Adams for five games after learning the players had violated NCAA rules by selling memorabilia to the owner of a Columbus tattoo parlor in 2009.
The NCAA concluded that the rules education provided by the OSU compliance department did not meet NCAA standards at the time the players sold the merchandise, so the players were still eligible to play in the bowl game.
They didn't disappoint.
On OSU's first drive, Pryor scrambled on third down for a 34-yard gain before fumbling the ball forward, into the end zone. Senior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher scooped it up for the game's opening touchdown.
Herron rushed for 87 yards on 24 carries and scored a touchdown for the 12th consecutive game to put the Buckeyes ahead 14-7.
Posey hauled in a 43-yard score with 1:59 to play in the second quarter to give OSU its largest lead, 28-7.
"It was (easy to block out the distractions) because they knew that we had their back," said senior linebacker Ross Homan. "We love them; we had their back no matter what. They approached us seniors and said, ‘We're going to put it all on the line for you guys,' and they did."
OSU racked up 338 yards in the first half, an average of 8.7 per play.
Arkansas tacked on a field goal as the first half expired, and then added another three points on its opening drive of the third quarter.
Following a 46-yard field goal by OSU's Devin Barclay, Arkansas answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive. Tight end D.J. Williams caught a pass on a two-point conversion, extending his arm across the plane of the goal line to cut the score to 31-21.
"You can't spot a team like Ohio State 28 points in the first half and expect to win," said Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino. "We played our butts off in the second half, but it wasn't enough."