Apologies that this is late. After a couple of hours' sleep and a busy day at the "real job," only a good game kept me awake through the Sugar Bowl.
In what will likely be the biggest game of his collegiate career, Ryan Mallett made close throw after after nearly perfect throw that his normally sure-handed receivers did not catch. But it was his last pass, an interception by Ohio State's Solomon Thomas, that cost Mallett's team the game and ended the SEC's nine-game bowl winning streak against the Buckeyes.
And just. A safety in the fourth quarter and an Arkansas field goal had cut the Ohio State lead from 10 to five, and it seemed likely that an improbably collapse would leave one of SEC fans' least favorite Big Ten(+1, almost +2) teams without a postseason win against the conference. It seemed almost certain when Ben Buchanan blocked an Ohio State punt at the Buckeye's 18-yard line with the Hogs' offense warming up and just about a minute left.
But on the second play of what was to be the game-winning drive, Mallett threw his first pick of the night. Ohio State only needed to take a knee twice without disaster to win.
Give credit to Terrelle Pryor, who got the help Mallett didn't from his receivers en route to a 14-of-25, 221-yard, two-touchdown night while running for 115 yards. Agree with it or not, you can see why bowl organizers and Jim Tressel wanted Pryor to play the game. Dan Herron added 87 rushing yards for the Buckeyes.
And don't blame Mallett or Knile Davis, who rushed for 139 yards on 26 carries, for the Razorbacks' loss. Despite Joe Adams' nine-catch, 120-yard night, he and the rest of the receiving corps dropped several critical passes that derailed the normally unstoppable Arkansas offense. (Of course, they still put up 402 yards in the game, so "derailed" is a relative term here.) The offensive line also didn't do much to make Mallett's game any easier. He was under almost constant pressure during the game, with Ohio State ringing up four sacks and five quarterback hurries.
Maybe it was the bright lights on what might have been the biggest stage of Arkansas' time in the SEC. We've seen other programs not used to the limelight sputter this season, the closest to home being South Carolina's error-filled loss to Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. That's part of the downside when new players emerge in a conference; they have to get used to carrying the banner with more people watching.
Staying there, at least without interruption, will be one of the challenges for Arkansas. One of the two transplants the helped the Hogs get to the Sugar Bowl is likely leaving, with Mallett's NFL stock as high as its ever going to get. As for transplant Bobby Petrino, the Arkansas administration might have finally crafted a contract that he couldn't get out of even if he wanted to -- and, in fairness, he hasn't shown any real signs of wanting to.
But just being in New Orleans on Tuesday night was sign enough that things are headed in the right direction for Arkansas. If Petrino can continue his usual success with quarterbacks, the Razorbacks might soon enough have a chance to start a new losing streak for Ohio State in another bowl against the newest BCS star for the SEC.