Ohio State Football: Best 10 Wins of the Vest Era, Part II
I brought you part one (numbers 6-10) of my top 10 nearly four weeks ago.
It has admittedly taken me longer than I anticipated to find the time to bring you the top five, so without further ado, here they are. I hope you find this climax to the series worth the wait.
In 2005, Ohio State may have been a Ryan Hamby dropped touchdown catch away from putting the nail in the Texas coffin and knocking off Vince Young and the eventual national champion Longhorns.
The Buckeyes led 19-16 halfway through the third period when Justin Zwick's pass bounced off of a wide-open Hamby, then up in the air, and just as Hamby was about to have a second opportunity to potentially seal the win, a Texas defender knocked Hamby and the ball harmlessly to the end-zone turf.
The Buckeyes instead had to settle for a field goal, and the rest is history, as Texas went on to win the game, 25-22 .
A year later, No. 1 Ohio State traveled to Austin to complete the home-and-home series, seeking revenge against No. 2 Texas and new starting quarterback Colt McCoy.
Despite their top-ranking, not every expert believed that Ohio State would win in Austin. After all, they could not defend their own home turf the previous year—not to mention, Ohio State QB Troy Smith was recruited as an athlete, not as a QB, and was not as highly-coveted coming out of high school as McCoy was.
It was Smith who was poised and precise, outshining McCoy on that day however, passing for 269 yards and two scores in the Buckeyes' 24-7 win.
McCoy and the Texas offensive line had no answer for the Buckeyes' defense, which had replaced nine starters from the previous season.
Led by All-American linebacker James Laurinaitis, they held a Texas team that had scored at least 40 points in 12 consecutive games to a single touchdown and McCoy to only 154 yards passing with one touchdown and an interception.
The Buckeyes went on to finish the 2006 season a perfect 12-0 before their sad effort and poor showing against Florida in the BCS title game.
The 41-14 loss was surely one of the poorest Ohio State efforts under the vest (one we all want to forget), but that is another article altogether.
No regular season game had more meaning during the 2009 season for the Buckeyes than the Iowa game.
No. 11 Ohio State (8-2) hosted No. 10 Iowa (9-1) with at least a share of the Big Ten championship and a potential BCS berth on the line for both teams.
The game plan for the Buckeyes would be no great secret.
Tressel and Co. stuck to their bread and butter—playing great defense, winning the field position battle, and running the football—and in the end, it paid off.
It also didn't hurt their chances when Iowa lost starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi one week earlier in their stunning upset loss to Northwestern, meaning redshirt freshman James Vandenburg would have the daunting task of making his first career start against one of the best defensive units in the nation.
Surprisingly, Vandenburg played beyond the expectations of Buckeye fans as he passed for over 200 yards with a couple of touchdowns. Fortunately for Ohio State, he also threw three interceptions that would prove costly for Iowa.
He did, however, help lead the Hawkeyes back from a 24-10 deficit in the fourth quarter, throwing a touchdown pass to Derrell Johnson-Koulianos with under three minutes left to tie the game at 24 apiece.
That would be the score at the end of regulation, and the game went to overtime.
Iowa had the ball first and on first down, Vandenburg threw an incompletion. On second down, freshman running back Adam Robinson was thrown for a 6-yard loss by Austin Spitler, and Doug Worthington sacked Vandenberg for a 10-yard loss on third down.
Now out of field goal range on fourth-and-26, Vandenberg lofted a long pass into the end zone that was picked off by Anderson Russell.
The Buckeyes then "Tressel-balled " their way from the 25-yard line to the 23-yard line on three straight short-gain carries. On fourth and 8, on came kicker Devin Barclay, who had only taken over the kicking duties after starter Aaron Pettrey injured a knee a few weeks earlier.
The oldest player on the Buckeye roster, the 26-year-old Barclay, a former soccer player, nailed the 39 yard game-winning field goal in overtime to seal the win, and send Ohio State to college football's oldest bowl game—the granddaddy of them all —the Rose Bowl.
"Tressel-ball " doesn't always sit well with fans. Some fans were calling for Tressel to be fired, believing the home loss to USC in 2009 was a direct result of his ultra-conservative game planning and play calling.
Those critics felt justified after the shocking week seven loss to Purdue last season, but from that point on were quieted by the genius that is Tressel.
Coming off the worst performance of Terrelle Pryor's career to date as the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes, Tressel tightened the leash on Pryor, instead opting for his textbook style and approach, aka "Tressel-ball ".
In the final five games of the season, the coach relied on his defense, special teams, and the running game. The defense allowed only 48 total points over that span, and the Buckeyes averaged more than 200 rushing yards per game in finishing off the season 5-0, earning their trip to the 2010 Rose Bowl to face the high-flying Oregon Ducks potent spread offense.
The Ducks plan was to stop the run and force Terrelle Pryor to throw the ball. Little did they know, this played right into the hands of the Vest.
After his mid-season handcuffing of Pryor, Tressel had decided it was time to unleash Terrelle and for Pryor to step up and become what he came to Ohio State to become—a real quarterback.
That being said, Pryor did have 20 carries for 72 yards, but he wasn't specifically looking to run first as he did when he first came to Columbus.
He had his best passing day to date, throwing for 266 yards and two touchdowns. He did throw one interception in the third quarter, but the defense held Oregon to two yards on the series, forcing a punt.
In fact, the defense held Oregon down practically the entire game—considering that the Ducks had scored 37 or more points in nine of their 12 games during the regular season.
They had beaten USC, a team the Ohio State lost to at home by a score of 18-15, by a final of 47-20.
Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was held to just 9-of-20 passing for 81 yards and an interception, while tailback LaMichael James was limited to 70 yards rushing on 15 carries.
Ohio State outgained Oregon in total yardage 419 to 260 and in time of possession with a 41:37 to 18:23 advantage, and most importantly on the scoreboard, 26-17.
Tressel knew the timing was right, and that Oregon, and the nation, would be blind-sided by Pryor's emergence as an efficient and effective pass-first quarterback.
His Rose Bowl performance earned him the bowl MVP and was dubbed Terrelle Pryor's coming-out party. Tressel finally had the same faith in Pryor that he had had in Troy Smith back in 2006.
If Pryor can continue to build off of his bowl performance and validate what the coach sees in him, 2010 could potentially culminate as a championship season for the Buckeyes.
Every Ohio State-Michigan game matters. Throw out the records, because it is pure passion and hatred personified.
No meeting was ever more important or hyped than the 2006 contest when No. 1 Ohio State hosted No. 2 Michigan with the Big Ten title and a trip to the BCS title game on the line.
It marked the fourth time in the 100+ year history of "The Game" that the teams would play when both were undefeated, but the first time they were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively.
The game was played just one day after the death of former Michigan head coach (and Ohio State assistant coach under Woody Hayes) Bo Schembechler.
The teams couldn't have honored his memory with a better game, although it certainly wasn't the brand of football he and Woody coached when they battled one another for the decade now referred to as "The 10-Year War".
"There were a lot of good playmakers out there today," Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel said afterwards. "It was a fast-break game the whole way."
For two teams each allowing less than 20 points per game on the season, defense went out the window as each team struggled to stop the other all night long, with the offensive units combining for 900 total yards.
Michigan was led by QB Chad Henne's 267 yards and two touchdown tosses and RB Mike Hart's 142 yards and three scores.
Not to be outdone, Ohio State QB Troy Smith passed for 316 yards and threw four touchdowns, while RB Antonio Pittman rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown.
Both teams put on a show for the nation and proved why this is the best rivalry in all of sports. Ohio State poured on all the offense they had, and Michigan stayed right on their heels the entire game.
Ultimately, it was the Buckeyes who played their way into the national title game with a dazzling 42-39 win over the Wolverines (pushing Tressel's win/loss record to 5-1 in the series) in what was one of the best college football games ever played, and certainly the best-ever game in the storied rivalry.
The 2006 Ohio State-Michigan game almost earned the top spot, so you know that No. 1 has to be a pretty big deal to have outranked that one.
I'm pretty sure by now most of you know that my No. 1 greatest win of the Jim Tressel era is the 2003 Fiesta Bowl game against the "unbeatable" and No. 1-ranked Miami Hurricanes for the BCS championship.
The double-overtime battle became in instant classic and is still considered the best championship game of the BCS era.
The game outcome was not without controversy , although Dennis Dodd, who is generally no friend of the Ohio State program, eventually came to the defense of official Terry Porter , who had made the late, controversial pass interference call that allowed the Buckeyes to eventually force the overtime periods.
At the end of the fourth quarter, the game was tied 17-17.
"It was just like two great heavyweights slugging it out," winning coach Jim Tressel said.
There was no quit in either team—no one wanted to finish second.
With the 31-24 victory, the second-ranked Buckeyes, 11½-point underdogs entering the game, ended the Hurricanes' try for a second straight title and their winning streak at 34.
Hurricane QB Ken Dorsey passed for 296 yards and two touchdowns, but also had two interceptions. Before suffering a gruesome knee injury , Miami RB Willis McGahee scored one touchdown and rushed for 67 yards.
In the first overtime period, Kellen Winslow caught a 17-yard pass from Dorsey to put Miami up 24-17.
Buckeye QB Craig Krenzel answered back for Ohio State with a one-yard dive into the end zone to keep Ohio State's hopes alive.
In the second OT, Maurice Clarett scored on a five-yard rush to give the Buckeyes a 31-24 lead.
The championship all came down to one of the best defensive stands in college football history.
Miami had the ball 1st and goal at the two yard line. Jared Payton, son of the late-great Walter Payton, ran up the middle on first down for a minimal gain.
On second down, Dorsey's pass to his practically wide open TE sailed wide at the goal line.
On 3rd and goal, a fullback trap up-the-gut pushed the ball just inside the one, bringing up fourth and goal.
This was it—one last play for the game and the championship.
At the snap, Dorsey found himself under immediate and heavy in-your-face pressure from the Buckeye blitzing defense, and as he was nearly dragged to the ground, he had no choice but to throw a misdirected prayer into the heart of the Buckeye defense, where it was harmlessly knocked to the turf.
The Buckeyes had clinched their first national championship in 34 long years and the vest had become a legend in only his second season on the job.
It's no secret that Tressel has owned Michigan (he is 8-1), which also boosts his legacy, but if he is to have a chance at passing Woody Hayes as the greatest coach in Buckeye history, he would help that cause immensely by adding a couple more national titles, hopefully starting in 2010.
Let's hope that I have to revisit this series in a few years and update my top 10 after the vest delivers at least a couple more national titles to the Buckeye Nation.
Thanks for taking time to read my article, and please post your thoughts in the comment section.
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