Sunday, September 13, 2009

86 Yards

This is normally where I write in a cheezy double entendre Title and use some hyperbole to describe my reaction to a big game. Today I'll keep it simple:

86 yards.

It was on the road against a very firece crowd. If ESPN broadcasters Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit are to believed, the loudest crowd they have heard in their lives. It was Ohio Stadium, cheering hard for the buckeyes on a Saturday night, and there they were, up 15-10 in what was touted as a HUGE game between visiting USC and the hometown Ohio State.

Way back in January I remember hearing about this game! There was so much on the line for a Week 2 game. This wasn't just a game for Ohio State, this was a game for the entire Big Ten. Everyone remembers how Ohio State was clobbered in multiple bowl games, and most folks still have USC's 2008 Buckeye Pounding fresh on their mind.

Last night, it seemed like the state of Ohio was going to issue huge payback to the rest of the nation. Before the game started, I insisted Ohio State needed not to win, not to dominate, but needed to compete. I was really fed up with their ineptitude in past games such as this.

Also before the game started, I had two good reasons to believe Ohio State would deliver:

1. In the Fiesta Bowl last year, Ohio State really gave Texas the business, and practically embarrasssed the Longhorns, who were favored in most peoples' minds. This was a big moral victory for the Big Ten. Unfortunately, Texas still won.

2. Not only were the Buckeyes at home, but they faced a USC team that lost most of its defensive starters, and also a USC team with a true freshman, Matt Barkley, at quarterback.

We saw the Buckeyes stifle the Trojans for most of the game. The running game was mostly stopped, and Barkley looked like... well, a true freshman.

Then the fourth quarter showed me something special. The Trojans took the ball at their own 14 yard line. Only about 4 minutes remained in regulation. From then on, Matt Barkley quarterbacked the drive of champions: it was a wonderful Touchdown Drive, capped off by a rushing touchdown, which put the Trojans ahead 16-10 with about a minute left. Pete Caroll wisely went for two, and completed the two point conversion. The Trojans fought all the way back and led 18-10.

The Trojan defense took over from there, keeping the Buckeyes at bay, where they never crossed the Trojan 40 yard line. The game ended and a relatively inexperienced USC celebrated on the field!

What a game! First of all, the kind of drive we saw from Matt Barkley is a feat we don't often see from most Senior Quarterbacks. I've never seen Tim Tebow put a team on a game winning drive such as this. I haven't even seen Matt Leinart do this when he was at SC. I could be wrong (feel free to post below if I am). Anyway, two things impressed me besides this drive:

One was Pete Caroll's game plan. I was amazed at how well he prepared for Ohio State. He knew that on the road, a mostly conservative, run happy, game plan was going to succeed, and by George, he was right! Caroll knew that the name of the game was turnovers, and with fewer turnovers, the Trojans would hang around the whole way. Only one interception was thrown by freshman Matt Barkley on this night.

Secondly, and more importantly, I was impressed by how well Ohio State played last night. I imagine Buckeye fans are so disappointed, but they really shouldn't be. I am very proud of their defense last night and their ability to control the ball. 86 yards is the reason they lost, but there was no true shame last night.

Ohio State will drop in the polls, but they will rise in the minds of many. The respect for Ohio State and the Big Ten is sure to be as good as its ever been. I, for one, feel that Ohio State may not have won the game, but they notched a big win for the Big Ten. As Herbstreit says: this may be one game of a two game series.

The rematch? The National Championship game: at the Rose Bowl. It's otherwise known as "A Return to Glory."

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