ORLANDO, Fla. — After a week of hype as a potential offensive shootout, Saturday's Citrus Bowl turned into a defensive battle that Ohio State linebacker Pepper Johnson says may have provided a look into the Buckeyes' future.
"We wanted to start a new tradition of Ohio State's defense being strong," Johnson said after the 17th-ranked Buckeyes intercepted four of Robbie Bosco's passes and stopped ninth-ranked Brigham Young, 10-7.
"We had to put on our best performance ever," added Johnson, voted defensive player of the game. "For the seniors, it was a last memory. For the younger guys, it was a start on next year."
Ohio State, which lost its last two games of the season, to Wisconsin and Michigan, to fall out of the Rose Bowl and national-championship picture, finished at 9-3. Brigham Young, 13-0 last season when it won the national championship by beating Michigan in the Holiday Bowl, finished at 11-3.
Ohio State linebacker Larry Kolic intercepted two passes and returned one of them 14 yards for the game-winning touchdown only 68 seconds into the second half. He lined up as a nose tackle on the play but dropped back into pass coverage.
"With the offenses these two teams had, I'm surprised there weren't more points scored," said Kolic, a senior who quit the Ohio State team twice as a junior.
"But with all the talk about the offenses, I think the defenses played much harder," added Kolic, the game's most valuable player honors.
Together, Brigham Young and Ohio State entered the game averaging nearly 900 total yards and 62 points a game. The seven points marked BYU's lowest point-total in seven years.
"And I hope it's another seven years," Cougar Coach LaVell Edwards said.
"We've always had a bit of a problem in bowl games, in getting our timing down, mainly because we don't have a large enough area at home to work out indoors. It's very difficult, especially to come down here and try to get it back in four or five days."
Kolic's interception wiped out Brigham Young's 7-3 halftime lead, which came when Bosco connected with David Miles on a 38-yard touchdown pass with 52 seconds left in the half. Kolic also intercepted a Bosco pass midway through the third period and returned it nine yards to the BYU 14, only to see the Buckeyes' offense--which got a 47-yard field goal from Rich Spangler in the first half--lose its second fumble deep in Cougar territory.
"The difference was turnovers--BYU had six and we had two," Ohio State Coach Earle Bruce said. "Our defense did all we could expect. Johnson and Kolic were outstanding."
Kolic and his teammates applied heavy pressure to Bosco with a relentless pass rush that played havoc with BYU's offense, which had was averaging 500.2 yards and 33.5 points a game. Bosco completed 26 of 50 passes for 261 yards.
The Buckeyes also recovered two first-half fumbles to foil BYU scoring opportunities. In addition, cornerback William White came up with an interception in the end zone to kill a Cougars' threat with 3:38 to go, and Terry White's end-zone interception with three seconds to go secured the victory before an Orlando Stadium crowd of 50,920 and a national television audience.
The BYU defense kept it close by stopping an Ohio State drive that consumed the final 7:13 of the third quarter and ended at the BYU four when tailback John Wooldridge, filling in injured star Keith Byars, was tackled for no gain on fourth down to start the fourth period. Byars, who missed eight games with a broken bone in his right foot, started against BYU and carried twice for five yards on Ohio State's first possession, But he did not return after that.
BYU, embarrassed by Ohio State, 47-17, three years ago in the Holiday Bowl, also turned back another threat to give Bosco a chance to bring the Cougars back with just over six minutes left.
The Cougars moved from their 13 to the Ohio State 37 before William White leaped high in the rear of the end zone to intercept a pass intended for Mark Bellini.
BYU got one more shot at the Ohio State defense in the final minute. Bosco moved the Cougars to the Buckeyes 30, but then came Terry White's interception.
Brigham Young led, 7-3, at halftime after a sloppy first half that saw the Cougars squander two scoring opportunities with fumbles.
Vai Sikahema returned Tom Tupa's punt 38 yards to the Ohio State 23 to set up Brigham Young's first scoring opportunity.
The 5-foot-8, 186-pound senior halfback took a handoff on the play and plowed his way to the 16, where he fumbled and Buckeye linebacker Pepper Johnson recovered.
With his team trailing, 3-0, Bosco--held to 13 yards passing in the first quarter--used completions of 11 yards to Lakei Heimuli, 12 yards to Bellini and 17 yards to David Miles to move BYU to a first down at the Ohio State 6.
The Buckeyes appeared to dodge a bullet two plays later when Greg Rogan, a sophomore cornerback, intercepted a Bosco pass intended for Miles in the end zone. A face-mask penalty against Ohio State nullified the play, however, and BYU went back to work from the Buckeyes' three-yard line.
Sikahema carried toward the end zone, where he was met just shy of the goal line by Ohio State's Terry White and Eric Kumerow, who forced a fumble that Rogan recovered in the end zone.
The Buckeyes turned back that threat, but by that time Bosco had BYU's offense on track. The Cougars drove 73 yards on their next possession to take a 7-3 lead on Bosco's touchdown pass to Miles.