Rea's Say: Buckeyes Can Hold Their Heads High

Go ahead and target Jim Tressel if you want to, but the blame for why Ohio State came up a little short of upsetting third-ranked Texas in the Fiesta Bowl should not fall to the players.

Ohio State walked off another big stage last night with another defeat, marking the program's third consecutive Bowl Championship Series game loss and fifth straight defeat to a top-five team.

Unlike those previous setbacks, though, the Buckeyes were able to hold their heads high in defeat. There are going to those who tell you that third-rated Texas was not that good, undeserving of such a high ranking. That is ridiculous. The Longhorns are a very good team, well-schooled in their preparation and comfortable in both their offensive and defensive schemes.

Nevertheless, Ohio State stood toe-to-toe with Colt McCoy's aerial onslaught, which included a Fiesta Bowl-record 59 pass attempts for 414 yards. Yes, McCoy managed to rally his team in the final two minutes for the winning touchdown. But make no mistake – young Mr. McCoy had more than few bruises when he tried to get out of bed this morning, many of them bearing the indentation of Buckeye leaves.

To their credit, the Buckeyes played a lot of man coverage against McCoy, who finished second in this year's Heisman Trophy balloting. That allowed them to blitz from a variety of angles, and a talented Longhorns offensive line was thoroughly confused throughout the first half. Holding Texas to three points before halftime was a major accomplishment since the UT had averaged more than 23 during the regular season.

Also during that first half, Ohio State discovered it could run the ball effectively against the Longhorns, something few other teams had been able to do against a team that ranked No. 2 in the country against the rush. Beanie Wells set the tone on the team's second possession of the game, breaking through the line and making safety Blake Gideon whiff before dragging linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy with him for a 22-yard gain.

Later in the first quarter, Wells introduced cornerback Chykie Brown to his stiff-arm during a 26-yard romp.

Wells had three runs in the opening 30 minutes that were good for 20 yards or more, picking up 96 yards while averaging 8.0 yards on 12 carries.

Despite the good fortune, however, OSU squandered some opportunities to seize the first-half momentum. One possession after he drilled a 51-yard field goal that would have been good from 60, long-range kicker Aaron Pettrey misfired badly on another 51-yard attempt that was never close.

In the second quarter, the Buckeyes marched to the Texas 7-yard line and spent a timeout before a crucial third-and-2 play. Unfortunately, right tackle Bryant Browning was called for a false start penalty coming out of the timeout, pushing OSU back to the 12-yard line and forcing a change in the play-call. Rather than Pryor in the shotgun, the Buckeyes elected to go with Todd Boeckman and the senior quarterback threw incomplete. Senior Ryan Pretorius came on to kick a 30-yard field goal to give Ohio State a 6-3 lead, but it meant another four points had slipped through the Buckeyes' hands.

One of the most crucial junctures of the game occurred just before the half. Brown had rolled the dice on a fourth-and-7 play at the OSU 37, but the gamble came up snake eyes when James Laurinaitis pressured McCoy into the waiting arms of Thaddeus Gibson, who bulldogged the Texas quarterback to the ground for an 11-yard loss.

The Buckeyes had the lead at 6-3, their defense was stoning one of the most potent offensive attacks in college football, and they had the ball near midfield with 2:25 remaining in the half. Further enhancing their prospects was an offside penalty against Texas that gave OSU a first-and-5 situation inside Longhorn territory.

Rather than try to seize on that advantage and land a haymaker to Texas' jaw, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel decided to take his foot off the accelerator. Two straight runs by Wells netted the first down, but the ensuing first-down call was something of a head-scratcher. Boeckman returned to the lineup and heaved a deep ball down the middle of the field to a double-covered Brian Robiskie.

Luckily for the Buckeyes, the ball fell incomplete but the momentum was lost. Pryor threw incomplete on second down and then was forced to dump his third-down pass under heavy pressure. OSU punted the ball away, and with the football went some of the team's mental focus.

While Ohio State seemed reluctant to go for the jugular, Texas stayed on the attack. Beginning on its own 9-yard line with 56 seconds to go in the half, I think we all know what Tressel would have done. Brown, on the other hand, kept firing and McCoy drove his team down the field and likely would have had his team in front by intermission if not for an ill-advised pass that was picked off by Anderson Russell at the goal line with just 0:03 left.

The emotional charge the Longhorns got from moving 90 yards on the Buckeyes in 53 seconds carried over to a game-altering third quarter. Texas turned two possessions in that frame into long touchdown drives, including an 85-yard march that took only two minutes and 47 seconds. UT was an offensive juggernaut in the third period, running 31 plays, totaling 14 first downs and amassing 179 total yards.

Meanwhile, OSU remained in its shell. For the same 15-minute period, the Buckeyes ran eight plays, had no first downs and netted a measly 2 yards.

By the time the third quarter came to a merciful end, Texas had grabbed a 17-6 advantage and the Scarlet and Gray faithful in attendance must have been experienced a severe case of Florida déjà vu.

Then something strange happened. During the break between quarters, senior co-captain Malcolm Jenkins took it upon himself to break into an offensive huddle, Jenkins ripped off his helmet and appeared to give his teammates an earful. Whatever the OSU cornerback said must have been the wake-up call the Buckeyes needed. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Boeckman heaved a pass down the right side of the field and Robiskie made a diving stab of the ball that was good for 48 yards.

The drive later stalled, and the Buckeyes were forced to settle for a 44-yard field from Pettrey, but the tide had been turned. As poorly as OSU had performed in the third quarter, it had pulled within eight points of the Longhorns and set up what turned out to be a fantastic finish.

As ineffective as they had been during the third period, the Buckeyes were a completely different team in the final frame. They marched 80 yards in only two minutes and 40 seconds to get within 17-15 with 7:26 to go, and then moved the ball 73 yards in just under 4½ minutes to take a 21-17 lead with 2:05 remaining.

Both of those scoring drives were engineered with Wells sidelined after taking a shot to the head, and perhaps it wasn't such a bad thing to have the junior tailback on the bench. His unavailability forced Tressel to alter his play-calling. After Wells' initial success, the OSU coach began to rely too much on his running game. Without his stud, Tressel had to look for other ways to move the ball against the Longhorns.

As a result, the Buckeyes went back to rolling Pryor out of the pocket and the freshman responded by throwing a 16-yard pass to Robiskie. Later, he turned simple option reads into a 15-yard gain through the left tackle hole and a 26-yard scramble around right end, and then finished things off by grabbing a touchdown pass from Boeckman.

During the team's go-ahead scoring drive, Tressel even got his tight end involved as Boeckman pitched a ball over the middle to Jake Ballard, who made a fingertip catch to turn a simple drag route into a 21-yard gain.

By the time Boom Herron finished off the touchdown drive with runs of 8 and 15 yards, the Longhorns defense was out of gas. Unfortunately, the Buckeyes left too much time on the clock for McCoy.

The game goes down as a loss for Ohio State, and the criticism of the Buckeyes will undoubtedly continue in the national media. Likewise, Tressel will be scrutinized for some of the decisions he made during the game.

But the simple truth is that someone has to win and someone has to lose. Winning is much more gratifying, of course, but the Buckeyes gave it everything they had. Who could ask for more?

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