Close, but no cigar……..again!!!

By Bill Livingston
Updated: September 13, 2009

COLUMBUS, Ohio — This time, the kid with the cold heart and the hot hand was named Matt Barkley, a true freshman. He popped up in the Horseshoe Saturday night seemingly a few minutes after his high school’s senior prom.

But you have seen this plot before.

Texas’ Colt McCoy drove the Longhorns down the field, with the Buckeyes holding the lead but gasping for air, and McCoy beat them in the last minute in the Fiesta Bowl.

Before that, Texas’ Vince Young drove another Longhorn team, one destined to win it all, down the field to victory. The ground was quaking under the sonic barrages from the stands that Saturday night four years ago too. But the last salvo came from the visitors.

This time, Southern California beat Ohio State, 18-15, before 106,033 fans, the largest crowd in Ohio State history. It was the sixth straight game in which OSU has come up short against a top-5 ranked team.

The Buckeyes lost because they were plagued by near-misses. They were supposed to bring the “Kick Me” signs and Southern California was supposed to bring the stardust.

The only chance for OSU was supposed to lie in the ability of sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor to turn lead into gold, broken plays into glory, and to do it all with an athletic alchemy that has drawn comparisons to that of Texas’ Young.

But USC brought rushers from the edge and denied Pryor the outside room he needed for miracle working. The Trojans dared him to beat them with his arm. Other than a couple of fourth-quarter dashes on quarterback draws — Pryor once converted third-and-15 with a 17-yard run — they took away his legs.

And Ohio State hurt itself by settling for field goals instead of touchdowns.

Instead, Barkley made the plays the nation’s fans will talk about.

He drove USC 86 yards, officially, for a touchdown, reaching the Buckeyes’ end zone in the last 65 seconds. He overcame second-and-19 from his own 5 in the process. He is now the young prince of college football.

The Buckeyes took a 15-10 lead into the final minutes, a surprise after an awful beginning. The second pass Pryor threw came back at him in the form of a 250-pound Southern California linebacker named Chris Gallipo, and when Pryor wrestled him down, the ball was at the Buckeyes’ 2. It was exactly the wrong way for the underdog to begin. Although it took the Trojans four plays to score their first touchdown, degree of difficulty doesn’t matter. Points do.

The Ohio Stadium crowd, fretful that another high-profile game was about to become a trip to the principal’s office, fell under a familiar pall.

Already, the revenge rematch against the Trojans had reached a moment of crisis. Adversity is the template for all the qualities that we celebrate in sports, such as perseverance and resilience. Pryor answered by giving Ohio State a 10-7 lead. He threw to Dane Sanzenbacher for 56 yards on a touchdown drive and then air-mailed a spot-perfect 34-yarder to DeVier Posey on a drive for a field goal.

Pryor left points on the field on the latter drive, missing tight end Jake Ballard on first-and-goal from the 2. Daniel “Boom” Herron should have scored on second down anyway, but he danced into what seemed like a big-enough opening to fit six points into and was held to a 1-yard gain. Herron simply had to get into the end zone then.

So many times Ohio State had the Trojans in tough down-and-distance situations. But the Buckeyes could not finish the job.

Now Ohio State, with its season severely damaged, especially given its recent past of defeat after defeat in national showcase games, will wait till next year. There could be big things in store then in a schedule heavy on home games, with the toughest opponents — Miami, Michigan and Penn State — having to come here.

But tomorrow seemed very far away Saturday night in Central Ohio.