"They're not the best receivers," Ward said with a hint of a smile, "but they're good receivers."
One has to wonder if Ward was changing his tune after the Buckeyes' 26-17 win on New Year's Day came courtesy of an offense more than willing to explore what it could do through the air.
Starting Ohio State wideouts DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher combined for a career day catching passes from quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Their 17 catches easily bested the duo's previous top game from this year – 11 catches vs. Minnesota – and provided the most for a Buckeye duo in a game since David Boston and Dee Miller combined for 20 against Indiana in 1998.
"I have a lot of confidence in Dane and DeVier," Pryor said. "Those are my two guys. I love them."
Add in an excellent blocking performance by Taurian Washington – elevated to the No. 3 spot thanks to game bowl bans to Ray Small and Duron Carter – and Darrell Hazell's wideouts as a whole had a day in the sun in beautiful Southern California.
That showing was highlighted by the excellent performances of Posey and Sanzenbacher. Posey hauled in eight passes, including the game-sealing fourth-quarter touchdown, for 101 yards, moving him past the century mark for only the second time in his career. Sanzenbacher, meanwhile, played the role of possession receiver well, hauling in a career-best nine passes for 64 yards.
"I gotta say, I wouldn't have been able to guess that we would have nine and eight catches," the junior from Toledo said afterward. "But I think it goes to show the chemistry that we built through the season. I think that we knew as a passing offense that we could do something like this, but we weren't able to put it together in a game yet. To end the season like that, it's a big step."
While Sanzenbacher was Pryor's go-to guy in the Rose Bowl, catching a number of short slants and bubble screens while absorbing the pounding he's become known for in Buckeye Nation, Posey proved he might be close to stardom. After two deep touchdowns against Minnesota, another against Penn State and a couple of near misses against Michigan, such a showing shouldn't have been a huge surprise.
Posey snagged a big 36-yard catch to allow the Buckeyes to answer an Oregon touchdown early in the second half, then put himself into OSU's Rose Bowl lore with a touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.
It was a carbon-copy play of a pass Posey had dropped earlier in the game, but this time he made a twisting snag in the front corner of the end zone on a back-shoulder fade from Pryor to set the final margin and put one of the nails in the Ducks' coffin.
"Everyone makes mistakes," Pryor said. "I couldn't get mad at him. You can't spend time worrying about that. Next time you see him again, you can't nor throw it to him. It was 1-on-1 again, I knew it and I said, ‘I'm going to DeVier.'"
"I feel like I'm the type of player that can make those plays, and he trusted me," said Posey, a five-star recruit in the class of 2008 out of Cincinnati La Salle. "I guess he feels like I can do that. I guess it's a little confidence booster."
Both Posey and Sanzenbacher were in their first years as starters in '09, but the final numbers shows the pair had solid performances. Posey emerged as an all-around receiver, a big target with speed who could get open downfield and near the line of scrimmage. When the year was over, he had 60 grabs – the most for a Buckeye wideout since Michael Jenkins had 61 in 2002 – for 828 yards and eight touchdowns.
Sanzenbacher also proved he could do a variety of things too, working out of the slot as both a short and deep option for Pryor. His year included 36 catches for 570 yards – giving him a sterling average of 15.8 yards per grab – and six touchdowns, with a long catch of 76 yards coming against Toledo.
Apparently those numbers weren't enough to concern the Ducks' defense going into the Rose Bowl, but a quote from Pryor afterward was both a retort and perhaps a warning to 2010 opponents when it comes to the Buckeyes' growing targets in the passing game.
"You saw what happened today," Pryor said. "They had to start worrying about it."