PASADENA, Calif. - All of the emotion and frustration that has been wrapped up in Ohio State's recent bowl cold-streak melted away on the nation's premiere stage in sunny California on Friday afternoon. The Buckeyes are a team that is used to winning but there was something just a little more special after a hard fought 26-17 win for the Bucks.
The Ohio State locker room was filled with hooting and hollering after the final gun sounded and an unnamed player quietly said, "I didn't know it could feel so good to win."
Everyone has known that the Buckeyes can go as far as Terrelle Pryor can lead them and if the sophomore quarterback's Rose Bowl performance is a snapshot of what is to come then Ohio State fans will have some big dreams as they wait for the calendar to roll back to a new football season.
Pryor came out firing against the Oregon secondary and ended up setting a career high with 37 passing attempts, completing 23 of them for 266 yards. Couple that with 72 net yards of rushing for Pryor and it is easy to see why Pryor was named the Offensive MVP of the game. But Pryor took it all in stride and was happier for the team output more than his own numbers.
"I can't do it without my teammates, the big catches that were made and the blocking by my teammates and a great game by our defense," Pryor said. "I can't do it on my own."
The Ohio State defense held the Ducks off of nearly every season average as Jeremiah Masoli was largely ineffective passing the ball (9-20) and nearly unused in the rushing game (6 carries, 9 net yards).
But the most amazing stat is how the Ohio State offense set the tempo of the game in holding the ball for more than 41 minutes and forced the Oregon O to sit on the sidelines and watch helplessly.
"We were in some games where we felt what we needed to do was control the clock and run the ball," Tressel said. "This game we felt like we really needed to come in flinging it around and being as balanced as we could."
The Buckeyes came out passing for eight of the first ten plays en route to a 74 yard touchdown drive that culminated with a 13-yard TD pass to Brandon Saine. Friday's game did break Ohio State's five game streak of 200-yard team rushing games but one would be hard pressed to find anyone who really noticed.
"That was more than I thought that we were going to throw it, I thought we would be able to get our run game going, once that happens we stick to that but it works for me." wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said.
The battle that everyone came to watch however was how the Ohio State defense would fare against the Oregon offense and while each side was able to best one another a couple of times the decision easily went to the Ohio State defense by a unanimous margin.
"We put up way more points than most people thought and we held them to less points than most people thought," linebacker Brian Rolle said. "I am sure guys in here are just excited and our seniors, they deserved it and I couldn't be more happy for those guys leading us and keeping our heads on straight regardless of 77-percent of people thought we weren't going to win."
The Ducks knew what the Buckeyes were going to bring defensively but were just unable to make enough adjustments to find any prolonged success on the offensive side of the ball.
"Part of trying to defend us is you have to take something away," Oregon head coach Chip Kelly said. "They tried to take away the quarterback."
And apparently that was the right decision for the Buckeyes as the final tally would show.
"We wanted to keep people in his face at all times," safety Kurt Coleman said. "We wanted to make him hand off the ball and we felt that if we could make the running backs run sideline to sideline we could run with them all day."
The Buckeyes roared out to a ten point lead in the first quarter of the game and saw the lead get cut down to a touchdown after a Morgan Flint 24-yard field goal in the second quarter. Oregon would tie the game up later in the quarter with a 3-yard LeGarrette Blount touchdown run, a run where he bowled over a pair of Ohio State defenders.
"They do have a high powered offense," Pryor said. "(LaMichael James) and (Jeremiah Masoli) are great players and it just wasn't there day today. Our offensive line stepped up and without the offensive line blocking there is no way that we could win."
Ohio State had several chances to extend the lead and had to settle for field goals rather than touchdowns. Devin Barclay tied a Rose Bowl record with three makes. Aaron Pettrey returned from injury to connect on a fourth one.
"It was a great team win today," Bollman said. "The worst thing I would say about it is that we needed to turn some of those field goals into touchdowns and made it a little easier if we would have done that. I thought Terrelle did a pretty good job of attacking and throwing the ball. We did what we needed to do to move the ball."
The Ducks took the lead in the third quarter after a 1-yard touchdown run by Masoli to cap off of 12 yard drive to move up 17-16. At that point it appeared that momentum had switched from the Bucks to the Ducks and Ohio State had to find a way to answer.
Ohio State would put up three points on its next drive but Oregon would come marching back and looked to be ready to score up until Blount fumbled the ball into the Ohio State end zone to stop a scoring drive dead in its tracks and give the Buckeyes a reprieve.
The Bucks would make good on their new life in the fourth quarter when Pryor would hook up with DeVier Posey on a 17-yard touchdown pass play. It was a play that Pryor and Posey tried to hook up on in the first quarter but it came together when it counted the most.
"We ran that play the first drive and I dropped it," Posey said. "Coach Hazell came to me at halftime and told me that they were going to come back to me. I was scared as hell and told coach that I was okay, acting really confident. For me just to make that catch means a lot to me and my family and this team."
"That play is almost unstoppable," Pryor said. "I got that off of Peyton Manning, I have been watching him a lot."
And this sets a completely different tone for the Buckeyes going into the throws of winter. After losses in the last three bowl games this has got to feel a lot better.
"I think it sets the tone for the whole off season," Sanzenbacher said. "I think in the past we have lost these big games and it makes it so much tougher to get up in the winter and go to your workouts and 6 a.m.'s. Now once you come off of a huge Rose Bowl win you can carry that momentum into the next year."