Thoughts after the Buckeyes' 31-26 victory over Arkansas Tuesday night in the Sugar Bowl.
1. OSU loses if the suspended five don't play. It was stunning how much they contributed to the victory: QB Terrelle Pryor (15 runs for 115 yards, 14 of 25 passing for 221 yards and two TDs), WR DeVier Posey (3 catches for 70 yards, 43-yard TD), RB Dan "Boom'' Herron (24 carries for 87 yards, 9-yard TD), DL Solomon Thomas (game-saving interception with 58 seconds remaining), along with OT Mike Adams.
2. At least twice in the second half, I thought the game was over and the Buckeyes were doomed to lose. The first was when Herron lost the ball vaulting the line on a fourth-and-1 play. The other was when Arkansas blocked a punt, with the Razorbacks taking over at the OSU 18 with 1:09 to go.
3. It wasn't the first time this season OSU had been outplayed on special teams. After the blocked punt, I was getting ready to label the Arkansas victory 'The Revenge of John L. Smith'. The former Michigan State coach now handles Arkansas special teams. Arkansas' ability to down punts inside the 5 also led to an Arkansas safety and kept the Buckeyes in bad field position the entire second half.
4. Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett has one of the best arms in the country and looks like a first-round pick if the redshirt junior decides to come out early. If only the receivers could catch. dropping eight passes. The Razorbacks should have been up 7-0 in the opening seconds. Twice Mallett threw the fade into the end zone and put it over the receiver's outside shoulder where only he could get it. That's the sign of an NFL-ready quarterback to me. Not so sure about his intangibles, though.
5. OSU coach Jim Tressel must have been watching too many Browns games, if the surprise onside kick in the first quarter was any indication. Questionable timing.
6. Pryor apologized profusely after the game for selling memorabilia that resulted in a five-game suspension to start the 2011 season and said in the post-game press conference that he and Tressel have a plan for next year. He acknowledged that he has much to work on before being ready for the NFL. Some of the things I saw: Another high throw to Dane Sanzenbacher, hung out to dry by Pryor all season. Carried the football like a Nerf ball. Got into a shoving match after an Arkansas defensive stop on third and 2. Poor clock awareness when he was nearly intercepted on the last play of the third quarter. Pacing behind the bench before the last possession instead of trying to rally the troops. Pryor did make great plays with his legs at the end that enabled the Buckeyes to win. But he'll have to make more with his arm to succeed in the NFL.
7. Cameron Heyward made himself a lot of money with that performance. The son of the late NFL running back Craig "Ironhead'' Heyward, had been average to good this season. Before Tuesday, it appeared that he would have gone higher in the draft if he had not returned for his senior year. But Heyward was a man possessed last night. He also showed he could play inside or outside and still be a force. Can only imagine what a veteran NFL defensive line coach like the Browns' Bryan Cox could do with Heyward. Browns fans need to root for him to slip into the second round.
8. Every year I have one or two Buckeyes I would want on my NFL team. This year there's no question, it's Sanzenbacher and Heyward. Sanzenbacher won't be a No. 1 receiver, but his awareness on the fumble recovery and ability to sell out his body for balls makes him the kind of guy I covet.
9. If there was a Razorback I'd select in the draft, it wouldn't be Mallett, but tight end D.J. Williams, the Mackey Award winner. Williams showed amazing balance on a play when he had the run after the catch taken away. I'm not just being swayed by the amazing story of he and his mother, who left an abusive relationship and moved to Little Rock, which Williams blindly picked out on a map. Williams looked to be one of the smartest guys on the field and one of the most gifted.
10. Co-defensive coordinators Jim Heacock and Luke Fickell turned up the heat with a fierce pass rush after cornerback Chimdi Chekwa left with a wrist injury in the second quarter. But OSU seemed to sit on its lead in the second half, allowing Arkansas to get back in the game. It may be the most maddening part of Tressel's style -- refusing to keep the pedal to the metal for an entire game.
11. My friends were stunned when Tressel said on the post-game telecast that they were flying home after the game. Even the ESPN crew was amazed that there would be no celebration on Bourbon Street. Tressel said matter-of-factly: "We're in school.'' That might not have applied to team members who have already graduated and might have been allowed to make their own travel arrangements.
12. Kent State received some free publicity when Tressel mentioned the fact that they were losing an assistant, Darrell Hazell, who was becoming head coach at Kent State. Those full-page ads with the three NFL Pro Bowlers -- Joshua Cribbs, James Harrison and Antonio Gates -- might not have reaped as many benefits as Tressel's two plugs. It also showed how much Tressel thinks of Hazell.