The SEC hex on Ohio State is over. In an all-time classic, the Buckeyes defeated Arkansas, 31-26, in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. It is Ohio State’s first bowl victory over an SEC squad in 10 tries, a streak that stretches back 33 years.
Amazingly, each of the “Tat Five” played a key role in the victory. None was more surprising, though, than Solomon Thomas. His interception of a Ryan Mallett pass with 58 seconds left as the Razorbacks were on OSU’s doorstep sealed the victory.
After blocking a punt, Arkansas got the ball at the Ohio State 18-yard line. On second down, Mallett was pressured and rushed a throw. In stepped Thomas to swipe the ball, etching his name in Buckeye Lore.
As Ohio State ran out the clock, its fans serenaded the Razorbacks with a mock S-E-C! chant.
Terrelle Pryor was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after he accounted for 336 total yards (221 passing, 115 rushing). He had two touchdown passes and zero interceptions. The Ohio State offense rolled up 446 yards.
For much of the night Pryor made bigger plays than Mallett. The Michigan transfer had 277 yards through the air and two touchdowns. His one interception came at the most inopportune time, though. He was also the victim of numerous dropped passes and a relentless Buckeye defensive line that sacked him four times.
It looked like the game might turn into a blowout after Ohio State took a commanding 28-7 lead in the second quarter. They led 28-10 at the half after Arkansas made a field goal on the last play of the first half.
In front of a pro-Arkansas crowd in the Louisiana Superdome, the Buckeyes set the tone from the game’s outset. After Arkansas receiver Joe Adams dropped what would have been a touchdown on the first play of the game, the Buckeye defense clamped down and forced a three and out.
Once Ohio State got the ball, exciting things were bound to happen. Facing a third-and-long, Pryor found Corey Brown for a first down. A 16-yard run from Boom Herron got Ohio State into Arkansas territory before Pryor made things happen with his legs. Two plays later, Pryor dashed down the sideline for a 34-yard gain. Unfortunately, though, he fumbled the ball as he was being tackled by a gang of Arkansas defenders. The ball rolled into the end zone and appeared to be recovered by Arkansas before Dane Sanzenbacher dove on the ball for an Ohio State touchdown.
In a shocking move, Ohio State attempted an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. Arkansas recovered, though, and Mallett took advantage of the short field. One play after an apparent 17-yard touchdown was called back, Mallet found Adams with a perfectly thrown ball in the corner of the end zone to knot the game at seven.
The Buckeyes would answer.
Again, facing a potential three-and-out, Pryor found the open receiver. This time it was Jake Stonburner for a big gainer. Pryor then found Sanzenbacher over the middle for 31 yards before Herron went back to work. He pounded out 11 yards on the next play and went nine yards untouched into the end zone after that. Barely halfway into the first quarter, the Buckeyes led 14-7.
After trading punts, Arkansas drove into Ohio State territory where they faced a fourth-and-one from the 30-yard line. Bobby Petrino, being a riverboat gambler, opted to go for it instead of kicking a 47-yard field goal. He also decided to throw a pass instead of using running back Knile Davis. It backfired as Nathan Williams batted down a pass to give the Buckeyes possession.
Ohio State would make them pay.
Pryor found Reid Fragel open for a 42-yard gain on a beautifully designed play. From there, Boom got the Buckeyes inside the red zone. An acrobatic catch by, whom else, Sanzenbacher gave the Buckeyes a two touchdown lead.
Ohio State had a chance to extend its lead to 17 points on its next possession after driving into Arkansas territory, but Devin Barclay was wide left on a 50-yard field goal try.
The Buckeye defense again put the hammer down on Mallett, sacking him twice and allowing the offense to get an opportunity to put more points on the board before the half.
Score they did. Pryor found DeVier Posey open in the end zone on a perfectly thrown 43-yard bomb. The touchdown put the Buckeyes in front 28-7. It looked like they would run away with things, but Arkansas put together an 83-yard drive that culminated with a field goal on the last play of the half to cut the margin to 28-10.
The Razorbacks would use that drive to give them momentum into halftime. They would keep that momentum for much of the second half.
The two teams traded field goals to begin the half. Trailing 31-13, Mallett picked apart the OSU secondary to get Arkansas back in the ballgame. After a successful two-pint conversion, the Razorbacks trailed by just 10 points.
Things were still looking good for the Buckeyes until Arkansas pinned them back to their own four-yard line on a punt. On the first play, Herron dashed out to the two-yard line before he was met by a group of fired up Razorbacks. They shoved him back into the end zone before he tried to break lose. Unfortunately he was corralled for a safety, making it a one-possession game.
Arkansas would add on a field goal after failing to sustain a drive off the free kick.
Leading 31-26, Ohio State punted from deep in its own territory. The Razorbacks sent the house and blocked the punt.
Just when Buckeye Nation cringed at the thought of an epic collapse, Thomas became the unlikeliest of heroes.
The win validates a season that as recently as 10 days ago was called a failure in some circles. Ohio State ends the year with a 12-1 record and Top 5 national ranking. They also beat Michigan for the seventh consecutive season and won their sixth straight Big Ten title.
With the offseason come all the questions surrounding the suspended players. Will any of them go pro? Does it doom any national title hopes the team might have?
Spring practice will be one of the most exciting in recent memory.
For now, though, Buckeye Nation should sit back and enjoy a victory that is over three decades in the making.