This was obviously an extremely frustrating loss. Our defense showed both flashes of greatness, yet flashes of absurdly poor play and execution. Our offense displayed flashes of well executed and very effective plays, yet also displayed often times poor blocking and inconsistency when passing the football. Special Teams ironically played one of their best games of the season, in what was unfortunately a losing effort.
Yet there were numerous things that will make this a LONG off season in anticipation for next year.
First and foremost, the stellar play of Kenny Rowe more than exceeded my expectations. Going into this game, we all knew that Kenny Rowe was our best pass rushing specialist (when he is in coverage of Brandon Saine, not so good), and he played what was undoubtedly his best game of the season. He consistently got needed pressure on Pryor, and by my count (I have not been able to find defensive stats anywhere) he sacked Pryor 3 times. Come next season, I expect Kenny Rowe to be an even greater force causing havoc on the right side of our defensive line. If we can add a few defensive line recruits to rush (Dominique Easley, cough cough) the passer opposite of Rowe, we will have one destructive defensive line tearing through Pac-10 offensive lines for years.
Kenjon Barner's official Special Teams breakthrough game was of course when we played UCLA. However, this was without any doubt his best game of the season on both offense and Special Teams. He simply played one of the most consistent return games of any player I have ever seen, EVER. He did not manage to take a kick or punt to the house, however every time he had the ball in his hands he was electric. I have been saying for months now, that Kenjon Barner would fill the void of official Special Teams stud on this team. Kenjon's performance in the Rose Bowl solidified his spot as one of the most dangerous return men in the NCAA. When Kenjon Barner was not tearing through the Buckeye's special teams unit, he was playing the position of TZR beautifully. He finished the night with 7 carries for 54 yards, and 1 reception for 13 yards. Every time he was in motion, he either commanded attention and opened up holes for others, or he took off downfield for a great gain. I can hardly wait until next season to see him play special teams and TZR.
Cliff Harris/Jon Boyett in the secondary. Who knew that either of the two smallest players on defense could hit like TJ Ward? I know that I did not. When Cliff Harris was in the rotation at corner, he played great coverage. I can hardly contain my excitement to see him play next season, after going through spring practice and putting on about 10-15 pounds of muscle. I believe that he played his best game since Washington, and of course was responsible for the massive hit. If Cliff Harris can play as physical as he has been playing next season, an additional 15 pounds of muscle will allow Harris to transform into WT3 #2.
We all knew that Sir Jonathan Boyett the thrid had exceptional cover and ball hawking skills, but we witnessed that he can hit like a hammer. Dane Sanzenbachers face is still planted in the Rose Bowl turf after what Boyett was able to do to him. Boyett came down with another clutch ballhawk interception, playing as if he was a center fielder. Boyett also surpassed my expectations in run support, although he is not by any means the biggest safety in the world, he could very well be the surest tackler on our defense. I am looking forward to watching Harris and Boyett patrol the secondary for another 3 years.
Most importantly, I am looking forward to the maturation and increased productivity of this offensive line. Ohio State was the first team since Boise State to consistently beat our offensive line. With a season of experience under their belts, this group should be an exceptional unit for a few more years to come.
So all I ask, Is it September yet?