PASADENA, Calif. – The Big Ten Conference is back.
Widely dismissed as too plodding to keep up with its super-athletic counterparts from the Pacific-10 Conference, No. 8 Ohio State proved plenty dynamic Friday in a 26-17 victory over No. 7 Oregon before 93,963 in the 96th Rose Bowl.
The Buckeyes pushed the pace at times and received a memorable performance from sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor while mostly stifling an Oregon offense that came in averaging 37.7 points.
It was the first Rose Bowl victory for Ohio State since 1997, and the first triumph by a Big Ten team in the game since Wisconsin defeated Stanford, 17-9, in 2000. Oregon has lost its last four appearances in the Rose Bowl, its only victory coming in 1917 when the school was still nicknamed the Webfoots.
“We needed it just for the Big Ten as a whole,” Pryor said. “It was huge for us to get over that hump and win this game.”
Pryor showed why he had been so heavily coveted by the Ducks coming out of high school, completing 23 of 37 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 72 yards and was selected the game’s most valuable player.
The Buckeyes looked vastly superior to the team that suffered an 18-15 loss to USC in September.
“We felt like we really needed to come in flinging it around and being as balanced as we could and we felt like as long as we were doing it well we would have a chance to keep doing it,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. “T.P. made good decisions (on) who to throw it to and when to run.”
Receiver DeVier Posey made a twisting 17-yard touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone with 7 minutes, 2 seconds left to give Ohio State its final margin.
The Ducks used a reverse to return the ensuing kickoff to the Buckeyes’ 36-yard line, but they eventually opted to try a field goal on fourth-and-1 at the 27. Morgan Flint’s 44-yard attempt was wide right and Ohio State ran the final 5:10 off the clock.
“It’s not a clock issue,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said of his decision. “We’re down two scores so we need a touchdown and a field goal. It doesn’t matter in which order you get it.”
Ohio State (11-2) took a 19-17 lead late in the third quarter on Devin Barclay’s 38-yard field goal, the Buckeyes’ fourth field goal of the game.
Oregon, which had sputtered on offense for much of the first half, was plenty efficient on its first drive of the third quarter. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli completed an 8-yard pass to Lavasier Tuinei on fourth-and-4 and later spun into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown run that gave the Ducks (10-3) a 17-16 lead, their first of the game.
Masoli was out of sync for much of the afternoon, though, completing only 9 of 20 passes for a season-low 81 yards and rushing for 9 yards on six carries.
“They did a great job of taking him away,” Kelly said of the Buckeyes’ defense. “Part of defending us is taking something away, and they tried to take away the quarterback.”
Said Ohio State strong safety Kurt Coleman: “We felt like if we could keep someone in his face constantly and make him make quick decisions, it would play into our hands.”
Oregon tailback LeGarrette Blount – he of the infamous postgame punch against Boise State and ensuing 10-game suspension who had given Oregon a 10-10 tie in the second quarter with a 3-yard run – caused more consternation among Ducks fans in the third quarter when a handoff inside the 20-yard line bounced off his shoulder pad and squirted out of the end zone for an Ohio State touchback.
But Oregon got the ball back shortly thereafter when defensive back John Boyett intercepted a Pryor pass at the Ducks’ 43-yard line.
Pryor led Ohio State to a 16-10 halftime lead after the Buckeyes held the ball for 22:02 to only 7:58 for Oregon in the first two quarters.
“Today, we played our best ball from throughout the year,” Coleman said. “That’s what you have to do.”
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