Injury-plagued Buckeyes fend off Illinois in Big Ten opener
Published: Saturday, October 2, 2010
Updated: Saturday, June 16, 2012 00:06
Clinging to a slight, third-quarter lead, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor fell to the ground, clutched his left thigh and grimaced in pain.
A nervous panic swept across Buckeye Nation as the Heisman trophy candidate then disappeared into the locker room.
All week, OSU coach Jim Tressel emphasized that Big Ten play is a different beast.
The No. 2 Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0) found that out the hard way in their conference opener, as they narrowly edged Illinois (2-2, 0-1), 24-13, in their first road test of the season at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill.
For the third straight year, OSU keeps Illibuck, a wooden turtle trophy awarded to the winning team.
But it didn't come easy, and the centerpiece of the OSU offense is still in pain.
OSU struggled to find an offensive rhythm all afternoon, and when Pryor suffered a mild left thigh strain on a third-quarter run, it only made matters worse for the Buckeyes.
"In the first Big Ten road game, you know you're going to have a lot of blows, a lot of battles," defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said. "I think we handled it pretty well, but there's a lot of things we need to correct in the future."
Looking to add to a 14-10 lead, Pryor took off down the left sideline, only to stumble to the ground and grab his leg.
"I was in full stride and all of sudden I felt and heard something pop and was like, 'What's going on?'" he said. "I was in full stride and I stumbled and I just let the ball go. It was probably the worst pain I had in a while."
The Buckeyes relied heavily on the running game after the turnover, even when Pryor returned from the locker room. At one point, OSU ran the ball on 11 consecutive plays.
"The worst thing was when I came back and the guys said I was alright and they were saying, ‘Come on, Terrelle, lead us,'" Pryor said. "It was hard because I knew I couldn't do anything about it. There's no way I could do anything about it, except to hand the ball off and get a couple passes. But it kind of hurt even dropping back."
With Pryor on the mend, running back Dan Herron took over, finishing with 23 carries for 95 yards. His 6-yard touchdown with 1:49 to play sealed the win for OSU.
"'Boom' is a great runner,'" punter Ben Buchanan said. "He's earned that name. He's fast, but he lowers the boom and he's a good back for us."
Before Herron's score, Illinois nearly matched OSU play for play.
After the Buckeyes went three-and-out on their first possession, the Illini marched down the field on a 9-play drive that culminated in a 3-yard touchdown run by quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
The Buckeyes held Illinois' dual-threat quarterback to 11 carries for 12 yards and 12-of-22 passing for 109 yards and an interception.
OSU struck back with an 8-yard touchdown, thrown by Pryor to running back Brandon Saine. A 66-yard sprint by Pryor set up the game-tying score.
Pryor finished with 11 carries for 104 yards. He completed 9 of 16 passes for 76 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.
Both defenses dug in after the early burst of offense.
Following a 27-yard field goal by Illini kicker Derek Dimke, the Buckeyes answered with a 57-yard touchdown drive before the end of the first half.
Pryor found receiver Dane Sanzenbacher in the left corner of the end zone for an 11-yard score and a 14-10 halftime lead. Sanzenbacher hauled in four touchdowns in last week's 73-20 mauling of Eastern Michigan.
"They might have blown the coverage," Sanzenbacher said about the Illinois defense on his touchdown. "I was too open for that to be the coverage. Terrelle took advantage of it and we made it happen."
Pryor missed seven offensive snaps while in the locker room. Upon his arrival to the sideline, he was handed his helmet and immediately inserted into the lineup.
"It didn't look like it was something that was too serious," Sanzenbacher said. "We were hopeful that he was going to get back."
In Pryor's absence, backup quarterback Joe Bauserman tossed an interception, the second pick of the game by Illini cornerback Trulon Henry.
"We have confidence in Joe," Sanzenbacher said. "But, obviously, when Terrelle can be out on the field, we want him out there."
After the teams traded fourth-quarter field goals, the Illini moved the ball inside the OSU red zone, needing a touchdown to tie the game. Instead, the Buckeye defense held Illinois to a field goal with 4:36 remaining.
The Illini wouldn't get another possession until the game was out of reach.
"We just said, ‘We're not going to let them score,'" Heyward said. "We took great pride in that. … We were kind of ticked that we let them score the first time."
Herron's fourth-quarter touchdown run provided the final difference.
Although the Buckeyes dispensed of Illinois, 30-0, last season, many of the teams' recent matchups have come down to the wire.
In 2007, the Illini upset No. 1 OSU at the Horseshoe, 28-21. In 2002, the Buckeyes needed overtime to escape Champaign with a victory, keeping their run to the national championship game intact.
"Illinois has been proven to give us a fight every time we've played them," Sanzenbacher said. "So we knew coming in that it was going to be tough."
OSU returns home to host Indiana at noon on Oct. 9.