Buckeyes, Pryor silence doubters
PASADENA, Calif. -- You didn't have to ask Ohio State senior offensive tackle Jim Cordle how he felt Friday evening. The words were printed in 36-point type all around his broad grin.
Especially that last one. Seconds before, No. 8 Ohio State had beaten No. 7 Oregon, 26-17, in the Rose Bowl presented by Citi, the Big Ten's first BCS victory since 1906.
OK, so it was 2006. It just felt like a century had passed, especially to the Buckeyes.
After being routed in consecutive BCS National Championship Games, after the Big Ten had gone 4-11 in BCS games in the last nine seasons, Ohio State shut off all that criticism in the most effective manner possible.
"This is the greatest feeling in the world there is," Cordle said. "We got a win in the Rose Bowl. We just silenced all the doubters. I couldn't be happier."
Ohio State won because quarterback Terrelle Pryor silenced a few doubters of his own. If there is a dividing line between potential and performance, the sophomore stepped across it on the first day of the new year.
Pryor reached career highs in passing yards (266) and completions (23), two of them for touchdowns. He also ran for 72 yards. Pryor ran an offense that converted 11 of 21 third downs and held the ball for 41:37.
In short, Pryor resembled the player he has been predicted to be since he became the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation two years ago. In an election so obvious it could have been held in Venezuela, Pryor won the offensive MVP.
"We needed it," Pryor said, "just for the Big Ten as a whole in general. We're playing for each other, and when schools like Penn State are playing in other bowls, it's a reputation for us. It was huge for us to get over that hump and win this game, and we've just got to keep on winning."
Of the three Big Ten teams that played Friday, only Northwestern remained stuck in the pattern of the last few miserable years. The Wildcats lost the Outback Bowl in overtime to Auburn as painfully as they lost the Alamo Bowl in overtime to Missouri a season ago.
But Penn State won the Capital One Bowl over LSU in the primordial muck in Orlando. The way that Ohio State won in the perfect conditions in Pasadena looked a little primordial, too.
Ohio State won because, as is the habit of coach Jim Tressel's teams, the Buckeyes let their opponents make the mistakes. In a battle of two starkly different football philosophies, Tressel's old-school values trumped Oregon coach Chip Kelly's new-age offense. The Ducks' spread looked as if it left its rhythm in the regular season.
Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli completed 9 of 20 passes for a season-low 81 yards. The receivers rarely got open, and when they did, Masoli missed them more than he hit them.
The Ducks committed two turnovers inside the Ohio State 35. The first one, linebacker Ross Homan's interception, led to an Ohio State field goal on the last play of the first half to give the Buckeyes a 16-10 lead.
The second one, with Ohio State ahead 19-17 in the third quarter, ended the storybook comeback of Ducks tailback LeGarrette Blount. He stormed over the goal line from 3 yards out in the second quarter for Oregon's first touchdown. But with the ball on the Ohio State 18, Blount never collected a handoff from Masoli. After Blount dropped it, he kicked the ball forward, and a diving pack of Buckeyes defenders scrummed the ball out of the end zone.
It wasn't just turnovers. Oregon committed a third-down face mask penalty that extended a 19-play, eight-minute, second-quarter drive that Ohio State finished with a field goal. In fact, the Ducks' defense stayed on the field as if they had rented it. Kelly referred to time of possession this week as the "stupidest stat" in football, and he maintained that it meant little Friday.
"Time of possession, I was not worried about," Kelly said. "The TP I was worried about was Terrelle Pryor."
He did not resemble the quarterback who averaged 105 passing yards over the last four games of the season. Maybe that knee injury that Pryor revealed this week had been more limiting than anyone knew.
"It was surprising to us," Kelly said. "Their last couple of games they didn't throw it very much and were rather conservative. They came in and opened it up, and obviously, Terrelle beat us."
Pryor tried to spread the credit to his offensive line, even though Oregon sacked him four times, three by end Kenny Rowe, the defensive MVP. Under pressure for much of the night, Pryor escaped a few times the way that veteran quarterbacks do, buying time by stepping into the pocket.
He also scrambled, most effectively on the key play in the fourth-quarter drive that produced the clinching touchdown. On third-and-13 at the Ohio State 45, Pryor ran to his right and lofted a jump ball to tight end Jake Ballard.
"It seemed like that ball was in the air forever," said Ballard, who had made only 13 catches all season for 126 yards. "It was kind of like going up in the air for an alley oop or a rebound."
The 6-foot-6 Ballard posted up 5-10 safety John Boyett, and made the catch at the Oregon 31, a 24-yard gain. Five plays later, Pryor pinpointed another pass where only his receiver could catch it. Pryor zinged the ball between DeVier Posey and the pylon for a 17-yard touchdown that closed out the scoring and the Ducks.
Not to mention the Buckeyes' and the Big Ten's BCS misery.
This Ohio State senior class became, with 44 victories, the winningest in school history. The seniors didn't win a crystal football but they won a bowl game. On Friday night, that seemed like enough. The smiles are as bright as the Buckeyes' future.
"It will be nice to sit back and think about what we have coming back," offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said. "We only lose two starters on offense."
And only four on defense, Bollman was reminded. His smile grew broader.
"We may be a pain in the ass again," he said.
The Big Ten's famine is so over.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN3.com.