USC-Ohio State: A Postmortem Examination of the 2009 Classic

travler8Correspondent ISeptember 13, 2009

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 13:  Head coach Pete Carroll and Matt Barkley #7 of the Southern California Trojans leave the field after defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes 18-15 on September 13, 2009 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

As promised, T8 is here on the "Sunday After" to provide a breakdown and analysis of the instant classic that played out in front of a record-setting crowd at the "Shoe" in Columbus, Ohio.

Let there be one, undeniable, conclusion we all agree upon: The Ohio State Buckeye program has turned a corner since the blowout losses to LSU, Florida, and USC from last year.

The Buckeyes have returned and earned a place at the table with the other "elite" teams in college football.

This should not come as a surprise. OSU has always recruited great players. There are enough Buckeyes playing in the NFL right now that they could form their own team: just Buckeyes. There's a reason that Jim Tressel has one of the top winning percentages in the country.

The turnaround was evident as of last year's Fiesta Bowl.

Simply put: OSU had Texas beaten in last year's Fiesta bowl.

In the lead-up to the USC/OSU showdown in the Shoe, I argued with a passionate OSU fan (Jakob, I think) about why I felt that OSU had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. I emphasized the critical important of proper clock management and was ridiculed for it.

I hope Jakob watched last night's game, because if so, then he saw how a team can eat away the life of the opponent with skilled clock management.

When the dagger got thrust into the heart, there was no time left to effect a rescue.

Many today will say that OSU had USC beaten. This is false. OSU was very fortunate to stop two drives into its own territory where USC's O-line was beginning to dominate. This game could have been won 28-7 by USC.

To say OSU played "even up" with USC is plausible, although the raw numbers don't really back it up.

Ohio State secured 10 first downs.

Not bad.

USC had 18.

Ohio State rushed for 88 yards.

Not horrible.

USC ran for 131 (less 13 for the punt/safety).

The difference was USC's ability to contain Terrelle Pryor and OSU's inability to contain Matt Barkley when it mattered.

The ability to FINISH is the hallmark of a champion.

Pryor had one nice run, late in the fourth, just before the game ended, for 17 yards. His other nine rushes netted just 19 yards. Yep, Pryor averaged just two yards per rush on 90 percent of his running plays.

That's not playing even with USC. That's getting dominated by the USC defense.

Barkley, meanwhile, was given the script to an epic, instant classic. Every boy's dream: late in the fourth quarter, in front of a hostile, record-setting crowd of 106,000, in his first-ever collegiate road game, as a freshman: second-and-19 from your own 5-yard line.

Down by five points. A field goal won't do it.

Barkley had his back against a wall. His command of the offense would now become essential. There were no second chances. No do-overs.

Barkley had to step up and deliver first down after first down until the ball got punched into the OSU end zone to silence the crowd.

OSU didn't play even with USC on this drive.

Matt Barkley delivered, time and time again on critical third downs. He read the defenses and made the right plays. It's that simple. Barkley, the 19-year old, delivered when it mattered on the biggest of stages.

He methodically drove his team down the field. OSU burnt its final timeouts. The kid smiled through the commercial breaks. This is easy. This is what he was meant to do.

Touchdown USC. A Hollywood ending.

In the end, Matt Barkley completed more passes (at a nominally higher percentage rate) for more yards than Pryor.

Pryor's marginal production wasn't for a lack of trying. Contrary to popular myth, OSU's game plan was not nearly as "conservative" as Tressel's critics would suggest. Pryor threw the ball 25 times and recorded 10 rushes.

The USC defense simply wouldn't let Pryor win this game.

In my opinion, Ohio State has the moxie to beat Penn State in Happy Valley. Tressel doesn't lose to Michigan. I'm calling on the Buckeyes to go 11-1 this season and be playing in the Rose Bowl in January.

Who knows, it might be against the Trojans, either for the Rose Bowl crown or the BCS national title. Good luck to both teams.


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