The Buckeyes' offense was nearly unstoppable in the first 30 minutes of Tuesday night's Sugar Bowl win against Arkansas, as well as a far cry from what turned into a grinding second-half performance, but that didn't matter.
Ohio State's 28 points and 338 yards of offense in the opening stanza were enough as the Buckeyes held on during a wild Sugar Bowl for a 31-26 win in the Louisiana Superdome.
"We've been game-planning for this game for a month," said left guard Justin Boren, who capped his final game with a strong performance. "(Michael) Brewster and the whole offensive line, we've been watching film. We knew what to expect. We knew what they were going to bring at us, and it was to a T.
"They switched some things up at halftime that caught us off guard. We were in some bad situations and had some bad runs, but overall I'm pretty happy with the way we played."
There was little to complain about in the early going. It took only eight plays and 2:52 of the clock for Ohio State to get its opening touchdown, though the play was a bit fluky when Dane Sanzenbacher capped off a 74-yard drive by recovering Terrelle Pryor's fumble in the end zone.
The Buckeyes showed off the abilities that would be on display the rest of the half on that drive, as Dan Herron ran four times for 24 yards, Pryor hit Corey Brown for an easy first-down grab on third down and then used his improvisational skills on the long run that ended with the fumbled TD.
"It felt great moving the ball, getting first downs, getting touchdowns," Herron said. "That's what we really wanted to come out and do, make some big-time plays and put some points up on the board and help the defense out because we knew Arkansas is a team that could really score some points."
But while the Hogs were largely kept off the board in the early going, Ohio State used two clear advantages to keep the Razorbacks' defense at bay.
The first was a hurry-up offense installed during bowl preparation that clearly had Arkansas off balance.
"It's a confidence booster because it's something that we worked on all week in practice, and it's tiring in practice so you want to see it pay off in a game," Sanzenbacher said. "It got to the point where we were tired running it, but our mind-set was, ‘They have to be more tired than this, so keep on fighting through it,' and we were able to make some plays."
In addition, Ohio State's veteran offensive line was nearly ruthless in precision in the opening half. Herron and Pryor both topped 50 yards rushing, while Pryor had 19 passes without seeing his shirt dirtied on the Superdome turf. All that came against an Arkansas team that entered as SEC leaders in both sacks and tackles for loss.
By the time the half was over, Pryor was an efficient 13 of 19 with passes complete to eight different receivers, including touchdowns to Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey and a 42-yard pass popped to tight end Reid Fragel. Another long pass play to Jake Stoneburner also achieved a first down but could have been more had the tight end's knee not been down when he caught it.
"We came out ready to play," Boren said. "I think we did a good job. The second half, I don't think was necessarily us. It was just hard to get in a groove. They were just bringing all kinds of stuff. They were a little bit in the first half but we picked it up pretty well. The second half they were bringing some stuff every single play. They were being relentless because that was the only way they had a chance to stop us."
As Boren alluded to, the second half was much more of a grind for the Buckeyes. Pryor struggled to recapture his first half magic with his arm, throwing a pair of off-the-mark third-down passes on OSU's first two drives, before bad field position also put the team behind the eight-ball.
A pair of second half drives for OSU started inside the team's 5-yard line, and the late-game situation led head coach Jim Tressel to try to run out the clock with the rushing offense, especially when Pryor tweaked an ankle late.
"We had some bad luck, we had the safety, a lot of momentum swings," Boren said. "We probably could have played a little better in the second half, but we got it done and won the game. That's all that matters."
Indeed it does. With an assist from a few late stops from the OSU defense, Ohio State was able to finish off its first bowl win in school history against an SEC opponent.
"I felt we played well the whole game, but some of those three-and-outs were uncalled for," Pryor said. "I can't say enough about our defense. You guys should be talking them up in the paper tomorrow because they did a hell of a job."