Turning Points, Volume 14: Ballard's Back-Breaker

By Jeff Beck on August 8, 2013 at 4:00p
As The Game Turns

2009 began with a lot of promise. Coming off of a 10-3 season with a developing star in sophomore Terrelle Pryor, expectations were high.

Pryor would have some help on the offensive side of the ball with a number of returning players including Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Brandon Saine, Jake Ballard and Dane Sanzenbacher.

However, it was the defense that looked to be the team’s greatest asset, as the squad returned a plethora of starters including Chimidi Chekwa, Kurt Coleman, Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward, Brian Rolle, Doug Worthington and Anderson Russell.

For the second consecutive season, the Buckeye’s mettle would be tested early against a USC Trojans team. The game the season prior was an embarrassment, as OSU was laughed out of LA after a 35-3 defeat. But 2009 looked to be a different story. Gone was seasoned QB, Mark Sanchez, replaced by freshman Matt Barkley. The hope among Buckeye nation was that the green QB coupled with a rowdy Columbus crowd would be too much for the Trojans to handle.

However, after a 31-27 squeaker against Navy, a victory against USC looked a lot further away than expected. 

The day of the game, the Buckeyes looked like the best team on the field for 90% of the contest, but a lack of execution coupled with questionable offensive play-calling resulted in an 18-15 defeat. Not to be deterred, the Buckeyes took the loss in stride, going on to win their next four games before a shocking upset in the house of horrors that is Ross Ade Stadium.

Sitting at 5-2 with their most difficult games ahead of them, things looked to be going South for the Buckeyes. Their November slate included a matchup against No. 11 Penn State, No. 10 Iowa and the season finale against TTUN. Lucky for the 2009 team, November is just when the squad appeared to hit their stride.

After a convincing 24-7 defeat of Penn State in Happy Valley, the Buckeyes beat Iowa in overtime on the leg of Devin Barclay to give the Scarlet and Gray a B1G title and their first Rose Bowl trip in 13 years. After a quick appetizer against an unranked Michigan team it was off to Pasadena to take on the Oregon Ducks.

Setting the Stage


The storyline early was as expected: will these cornfed B1G slowbies be able to keep up with the flash and speed of Chip Kelly’s spread offense? Almost immediately that question was answered as Jim Tressel surprised everyone with a pass first attack. The switcheroo clearly caught the Ducks off-guard and in less than four minutes, the Buckeyes had their first score: a 13-yard TD pass to RB, Brandon Saine.

While the score did much to alleviate some of Buckeye Nation’s fears, it was yet to be seen how the defense would perform against an incredibly versatile offense. Three plays later, Cameron Heyward made the Silver Bullets’ intentions loud and clear with a 9-yard sack of QB Jeremiah Masoli. Forced to punt in just 5 plays, it was evident the Buckeyes came to play.

The Scarlet and Gray weren’t able to take advantage of the strong defensive showing, punting the ball back to the Ducks. But once again Cameron and the boys would show, holding Masoli and RB LaMichael James to a quick three and out. This time the Buckeyes were able to take advantage knocking through a 19-yard FG to go up 10-0.

Heading into the second quarter the Ducks would finally get on the board with a 24-yard FG to narrow the lead at 10-3. On their next possession they would tie the game at 10-10 with a bruising 3-yard TD run from LeGarrette Blount. From there the Buckeyes would string together a plodding 8-minute drive ending in a Barclay FG to regain the lead at 13-10. One more FG before the end of the half would send the Buckeyes into the locker room up 16-10.

To begin the third, the Ducks would use 12 plays to move the ball 53-yards for a Masoli 1-yard TD, putting Oregon up 17-16. The Buckeyes would counter-punch with a 50+ yard drive of their own, marching down to the Oregon 21 and booting a 38-yard FG to go back up 19-17.

The 2-point lead was tenuous at best. The Buckeyes were settling for FGs while the Ducks were tallying TDs. A Kenjon Barner return to the Oregon 40 set the fighting Kellys up with solid starting field position, then two plays later a 30-yard LaMichael James rush had the Ducks thinking paydirt. Up just two with Oregon threatening to score, the Buckeyes needed a momentum shift. And that’s exactly what they got.

On second and 2 from the Buckeye 18, Blount prepared to receive the handoff then lost the handle in the backfield. To make matters worse, he accidently kicked the pigskin sending it careening toward the endzone and into the Buckeye secondary.

The fumble recovery put the Bucks at the 20. While unable to capitalize, the turnover allowed the Scarlet and Gray to maintain their lead heading into the final quarter of play.

On the Ducks first possession of the fourth, they were once again forced to punt. Working from their own 19 with thirteen minutes left on the clock, the Buckeyes needed to create some separation. The Scarlet and Gray were able to pick up two first downs working their way to the OSU 48. But a sack and a loss of one had the Buckeyes staring down the barrel of a 3rd and 13. Up only two with a hungry Oregon offense licking their chops to take the field, it appeared to be the perfect time for a...

Turning Point: Ballard Climbs the Ladder

Pryor took the snap from the shotgun and was forced to his right. With a Duck defender bearing down on him from behind and another lineman coming at him from the front, Pryor sidestepped causing the two defenders to smash into eachother before throwing up a prayer.

The 6’6’’ Ballard was able to leap between two defenders for a 24-yard catch. The play was a back-breaker for the Duck defense. Just five plays later, Pryor fired a near-perfect toss to Posey in the endzone to go up by 9.

The extra breathing room was all the Silver Bullets would need, not allowing another point for the remainder of the game. The victory would give the Buckeyes their first Rose Bowl win since 1997, and put-to-bed their 0-3 run in BCS bowls over the past three seasons.


Comments Show All Comments

Ken-Yon Rambo's picture

Great memories.  That Rose Bowl victory was a clinic of Tressel's best traits, and one of the most underrated of his era.  The time of possession.......the field goals.......the field position battle....and who can forget Tress yelling "It's not over!!!!" as the offense was walking to the sidelines, after a game-clinching third down conversion.  
Herbie said it best as the game was winding down:
"This is a comfort zone for Jim Tressel.  Like a python, just slowly squeezing."

How firm they friendship...

buckeyeEddie27's picture

One of my all time favorite games.  Absolutely love rewatching that one

I know there's a game Saturday, and my ass will be there.

yrro's picture

I have never enjoyed Tresselball so much as this game. It was exactly how it is supposed to work. We ate up the whole fourth quarter and they never had a chance.

OSUBias's picture

Underrated tackle on that play by Sanzenbacher. Solid hit.

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

Idaho Helga's picture

(Chuckles)  Yeah, that's exactly what I thought.  Glad he was able to hold onto the ball.

Idaho Helga's picture

I also don't recall noticing your name here before (another chuckle).   You strike as me as honest!

OSUBias's picture

I comment in waves when I'm not busy, then disappear. My name started as a joke with a friend who was always talking about the east coast media bias. So I was counteracting that with a better bias. I'm as honest as it comes (through scarlet colored glasses, of course).

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

Idaho Helga's picture

Glad to meet you.    Keep those glasses on....

Buckeye_Mafia's picture

One of the greatest Buckeye games EVER!  I was one of the many buckeye fans that KNEW we would be the best team oregon faced all year.  And that their offense would be worn down by our defense...I lived in Arizona at the time and all the PCC-10 (at the time) chuckleheads said how oregon was gonna hang 60+ on us by halftime.  Still have that game on my DVR...

"At critical moments throughout the season, we learned about the character of this football team.  This was a team of true character, of true resilience." -- President Barack Obama

Ken-Yon Rambo's picture

Agreed.  The prevailing wisdom at the time was the OSU defense was too slow to keep up with Oregon.  Everybody in the country that Oregon would blow us out.  
But that was the first year we started Rolle and Homan as the two linebackers, with Jermale Hines at the star.  That was plenty of speed at the LB position to keep Oregon at bay, and the defensive line did a great job all game of keeping Jeremiah Masoli off balance.  In fact, Jim Heacock dialed up a great defensive gameplan overall.  
Definitely one of my favorite Buckeye wins.  

How firm they friendship...


Had the greatest view of this from the stands.  
I was sitting behind the band at this game.  So the Buckeyes were driving to the opposite end zone.  When Pryor rolled out and threw that ball, all I saw were multiple green jersey's ready to snag it.  Interception, I thought.
Then out of no where, I see a pair of hands rise above the green jersey's, snag the ball out the air, and bring it down for a great catch.  Huge relief followed by a big cheer from myself.
Still the best game I've been to

Hovenaut's picture

Man, Ballard sure, uh, stepped up on that play.

Great game, great moment.

Here's to future great moments in Pasadena....

AJW_16's picture

Here's to future great moments in Pasadena....

...beginning January of 2014.

"Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you." 

IBleedSandG's picture

Here here.


BuckeyeMark's picture

Tremendous game.  We nearly got done in by Tress' slow-down and take figgies approach.  Two things make me sad about this game:
* Pryor was soooo good.  We never got everything from him that we could've and that's a shame.  That guy was monster talented.
* I deeply resent that Oregon never gets called out for this loss.  The next year they were in the MNC game and NO ONE in the natl media said word one about how we beat them the year before. 
Okay rant off.  Still love wearing my Rose Bowl champs shirt.

AJW_16's picture

Agreed. We were still in the paradigm of "OSU can't win the big one" and everyone seemed chomping at the bit to continue that narrative. When Ohio State won (in a very Tressel-esque game) everyone at ESPN seemed deflated IMO.

"Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you." 

pjtobin's picture

I loved watching TOSU put the brakes on the ducks "speed". I wouldn't say I wasn't nervous. I was. But now look at the bragging rights. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

ChicagoBuckeyeFan's picture

Easily one of my favorite games of the past decade. I remember losing my voice on that play. Anyone else remember how arrogant Masoli was in interviews leading up to that game? Saying he was as good as Pryor? 

BuckeyeSouth's picture

I remember that game fondly and remember hearing so much about Oregon speed and that the Buckeyes would never be able to contain their offense.
The commentary about the USC game reminded me of when they asked Barkley what the hardest thing he did that night and his response was "coming out of the tunnel".  Hated that guy ever since.

Champions.  Undisputed.  

unholy bucknut's picture

I loved beating Oregon no one thought we were going to be able to deal with their speed. No one thought about them not being able to deal with our will.

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Great game!  Great play!  That play was outstanding.  It was one I will never forget as long as I live.  Great Rose Bowl win for the Bucks!!

nvbuckeye's picture

Two things I remember most about being there in person:
1. surrounded by duck fans and telling them before the game (to shut up their boasting about duck offense) that oregon had not faced a defense all year like Ohio State played - very prothetic, right?; and
2. watching all the touchdowns right in front of our seats, including the big fumble out of the back of the endzone (absolutely deflating the green and yellow - it was really quite after that).
A truly fabulous game for all Buckeye fans.  GO BUCKEYES!!!!

WC Buckeye's picture

I was there, too, and remember all the stupid trash-talking that their fans were doing leading up to the kickoff. What I remember most was
1) looking around in the stands early in the 4th quarter and seeing the Oregon fans looking at each other with VERY worried looks on their faces
2) looking around in the stands late in the game and seeing most of the Oregon fans headed for the exits; they didn't want to stick around and eat their richly-deserved crow
I've been to a lot of our bowl games in the last 15 years, and this one was by far the most satisfying for me personally.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

Knarcisi's picture

This game was Pryor's finest moment. 

gobucks96's picture

Agreed. You started to see all the promise coming together for the kid.. 

IBleedSandG's picture

One of the best catches I've ever seen. Full extension (thank God Jake is 6'6'') in a crowd with the game in the balance, talk about clutch. I'm, pretty sure I yelled at TP right as he threw the ball, "Pryor, what the... OH SHIT!"
It was an awesome game. The Bucks probably should have won by double digits but it's all good.