The Ohio State Buckeyes are smelling the roses once again. In a memorable battle which was reminiscent of a heavyweight slugfest, Head Coach Jim Tressel and his team overcame a very game Iowa Hawkeyes squad in overtime to clinch a fifth straight Big Ten championship and a bid to the Rose Bowl.
The Ohio Stadium crowd of 105,455 witnessed an amazing contest which featured many momentum shifts and outstanding coaching by both Tressel and his Iowa counterpart, Kirk Ferentz.
Iowa freshman Quarterback James Vandenberg, thrust into the spotlight after starter Ricky Stanzi was injured a week earlier against Northwestern, played with poise and determination far exceeding his level of experience. Understandably nervous, Vandenberg was able to shake off the jitters and establish himself as a star of the future for the Hawkeyes.
The game was a defensive struggle early, with neither team giving an inch. With Iowa unable to establish a running game against the vaunted "Silver Bullets," Vandenberg was forced to throw the ball early, and he did so with impressive precision. He connected with eight different receivers throughout the game and would have had better statistics if not for several dropped passes. Iowa was unable to find the endzone, but a 32 yard field goal by Daniel Murray gave them a 3-0 lead after one quarter of play.
The second quarter saw a shift in the game, as Ohio State was able to establish control with running backs Daniel "Boom" Herron and Brandon Saine. A field goal by kicker Devin Barclay and a 22 yard TD run by Saine gave the Buckeyes a 10-3 halftime lead. The first half was smashmouth football, but not incredibly exciting. The second half would prove to be one of historic proportions.
Iowa again battled back, and after a 9 yard touchdown reception from Vandenberg to Marvin McNutt, the score was even at 10-10. It appeared as though the Hawkeyes had regained control. But the Buckeyes were not giving up, and the final quarter would prove to be a battle of wills.
Ohio State scored 14 points in the first four minutes of the quarter, both on explosive runs by Herron and Saine respectively, and appeared to have the game in hand. Fans in the stadium were making travel plans to Pasadena. But, as the old adage goes, "It ain't over till it's over."
On the kickoff following Saine's 49 yard run, Iowa kick returner Derell Johnson-Koulianos mishandled the ball, but picked it up and ran past the Buckeyes for a 99 yard touchdown. A hush fell over the crowd, who have seen their beloved Buckeyes struggle in big games in recent years. With the score 24-17, things were a little too close for comfort.
On offense, Ohio State was unable to add to their lead. Iowa showed amazing determination and, with 2:42 remaining in the game, James Vandenberg connected with Marvin McNutt for the tying score. The once excited crowd was now incredibly nervous.
Both Ohio State and Iowa were very conservative with their final possessions in regulation, much to the dismay of the crowd. This game was going to overtime.
The Buckeyes won the coin toss and elected to go on defense first. They wanted to know what they would need to do in order to win. As it turned out, their stout defense would be a determining factor in the outcome.
Iowa was unable to produce any type of offense, and were knocked from field goal range following a sack by OSU senior Doug Worthington. Now it was up to the offense to pull out the victory.
Not wanting to make a crucial mistake, Tressel ran the ball three times and elected to kick a field goal for the win. But this was by no means a given. Kicker Devin Barclay, in his second collegiate game after replacing number one rated senior kicker Aaron Pettrey, had never been in a position like this before. The former professional soccer player who had never played football at any level prior to joining the Buckeyes had a chance to make history. And he took advantage of his moment in the spotlight, nailing a 39 yard field goal to win the game and send his team back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1996.
When asked after the game about his feelings on Barclay's field goal, Tressel replied, "Obviously I hoped he would make it, but I was talking to our offense, getting ready to go back out if it missed." No such back up plan was needed, as Devin Barclay kicked his way into Ohio State history, and the Buckeyes into a record eighth BCS Bowl Game.
With their postseason plans made, the Buckeyes head to Ann Arbor next week to square of against rival Michigan. Iowa, with a chance to earn a share of the Big Ten championship and a major bowl game invite, finish thier season at home against Minnesota.