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

By Jeff Beck on August 8, 2013 at 4:00 pm
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.

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