NEW ORLEANS - If this was indeed the last game of redshirt junior quarterback Ryan Mallett's career at Arkansas, his last pass as a Razorback will be one that haunts him.
With his team trailing by 5 and a blocked punt setting up Arkansas with a chance to complete a miraculous comeback, Ohio State defender Solomon Thomas picked off Mallett at the 18 with 58 seconds left.
Thomas' play preserved the Buckeyes' 31-26 win Tuesday night over the Razorbacks in the Sugar Bowl.
"I didn't see the guy, he dropped out," Mallett said. "I tried to get rid of it quick. They had pressure coming. I didn't see him. He made a great play."
Mallett was 24 of 47 for 277 yards with 2 touchdowns in the loss as Arkansas (10-3) rallied from 31-13 deficit in the third quarter.
He was also sacked four times in the game by the Buckeyes (12-1), who got great games from Thomas and the other four players that are suspended for the first five games of next season, but were allowed to play in the bowl game.
After the game, Mallett actually said he had not thought about his future – although he is one of five Arkansas juniors who have applied to the NFL for draft advice.
"You know it was a tough play," Mallett said. "It is not the way you want to end the year obviously and I haven't even thought about my future.
"This hurts as a team," Mallett added. "We've been so close all year and we're going to continue to be that way. We're going to come back swinging and get ready to take another shot at the BCS."
Thomas, the only back-up of the five players, dropped from his defensive end position to make the big play.
"That was the second interception of my whole life," Thomas said afterwards. "It feels great."
Arkansas head coach Bobby Petrino said his quarterback did as he was taught.
"On that interception, the out-of-play call, it was a zone beater and a blitz to the other," Petrino said. "He did exactly what he was coached to do. The only difference is when they blitzed, they clicked out a linemen he did not see."
It's clear that Petrino has an affinity for his quarterback, who is expected to declare for the NFL draft after setting school records for career passing yards (7,493), single season yards (3,869) and single-season TDs (32) in the loss.
"You can't really say enough about what Ryan's done for the program," Petrino said.
Colton Miles-Nash blocked the punt and freshman Julian Horton had a chance to pick it up and "scoop and score", but fell on the ball instead.
"That's what they were trying to do is scoop and score it," Petrino said. "Looked like he had it the first time and I think the second time he just wanted to make sure he got the ball.
"We practice it all the time," Petrino added. "It was very well executed. Coach Smith had a great plan to go get it. We were going to take a shot in the second half on blocking one. We got it done, but unfortunately we weren't able to scoop and score."
Knile Davis rushed 26 times for 139 yards, but Arkansas chose to pass on its last possession.
Normally sure-handed tight end D.J. Williams (5 catches, 38 yards) dropped a pass before Mallett was picked off.
"That was a huge swing of emotions and momentum, everything," Williams said. "A lot of people are going to diagnose those last three plays, I would say, including the special teams play. The next two are going to be diagnosed, broken down, going to be a whole lot of shoulda, coulda, wouldas, but the fact is that we didn't execute when we needed to."
Arkansas actually had 3 possessions in advantageous field positions after getting it to 31-21, but came away with only a field goal to go along with a safety the defense recorded.
Joe Adams had 9 catches for 120 yards, but was one of several Arkansas wide receivers that had drops in the contest.
"Sometimes if you have a 38-day layoff I guess that's what happens," Petrino said.
Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor was named the MVP after going 14-of-25 passing for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns and also leading his team with 15 carries for 115 yards.
Dan "Boom" Herron added 24 carries for 87 yards and a score in a game that Ohio State led 28-10 at halftime.
"We got back to playing just our base defensive stuff," Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette said. " You have to give credit to our coaching staff."
That coaching staff in return credited the players.
"I am very proud of our football team and what they accomplished throughout the year and then they showed their character and toughness in the second half," Petrino said.
Williams, a senior who played his last game for the Razorbacks, tried to take some positives from the heartache of losing.
"That's the hardest part, when you go back and watch film, is looking at the missed opportunities. Still with all of those (dropped) balls right there, we still put ourselves in a position to win the game, and I think that just comes down to having heart. This team has heart, and it's been like that since day one of spring football and fall camp."
An Unhappy Ending
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