What a difference a week makes.
It took a half for No. 19 Ohio State (6-2, 4-1) to shake off the effects of last week’s 26-18 letdown at Purdue, but the Buckeyes bounced back by punishing Minnesota (4-4, 2-3), 38-7, Saturday at The Horseshoe.
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor connected with DeVier Posey on a pair of long touchdown strikes, and only a late score against the Bucks’ backups prevented OSU from recording its third shutout of the season.
Pryor threw for 239 yards and piled up 104 more on the ground. He turned the ball over just once- on an interception late in the first half- a far cry from his four miscues a week ago.
“I thought he did a good job making decisions,” coach Jim Tressel said. “The one interception, he really feels it was a poor decision. … He wishes he had that one back. But I really thought he made some good decisions on checkoffs and throwing the ball.”
After another sluggish start, the offense picked up in the second quarter. Posey snuck past the Gopher secondary and Pryor lofted a pass his way, resulting in a 62-yard score.
“We didn’t think that the play would open up like that,” Posey said. “All week in practice, it really wasn’t easy to throw. I guess we got lucky.”
Despite racking up 278 total yards in the first half, OSU’s advantage remained 7-0.
Minnesota returner Troy Stoudermire fumbled the opening kickoff after halftime and the Buckeyes recovered. Three plays later, Pryor scrambled 15 yards down the right sideline and into the end zone.
The sophomore quarterback picked up the rushing slack after starter Brandon Saine left in the second quarter with a possible concussion. Already missing Dan Herron, out with a sprained ankle, the Buckeyes were forced to turn to true freshman Jordan Hall and redshirt freshman Jermil Martin.
The running attack, however, never lost steam, even without “Boom” and “Zoom,” as Hall netted 38 yards on 10 carries, and Martin gained 75 yards on seven carries, including a 39-yard touchdown.
“You never have enough tailbacks because tailbacks take a pounding unlike any other position,” Tressel said. “We obviously weren’t excited about the prospects of playing the second half without Brandon. Jordan stepped up, which we think Jordan has done well since he’s been here, and Jermil did a heck of a job.”
OSU’s 509 total yards of offense were the second-most the team has gained all season, and were more than the team accumulated in the previous two weeks combined.
“Anytime you get 500 yards of offense and the starters are off the field in the fourth quarter, that’s a really good game,” Pryor said.
A large chunk of the total yardage resulted from the pair of Pryor-to-Posey connections. Leading 21-0 late in the third quarter, Pryor rolled out to his left and hit the wide-open sophomore receiver in stride for a 57-yard touchdown.
“When you get open like that, you just concentrate like it’s a punt,” Posey said. “You hope to just catch it and don’t drop it.”
The offensive line also turned in its best performance of the season, as Pryor was sacked just once for a loss of two yards. He had been sacked 10 times in the previous three contests.
Minnesota never really posed a threat to score until its final drive. Defensive end Thaddeus Gibson led the way with three sacks.
“I don’t think I’ve done anything like that since high school,” Gibson said. “It felt great- have to credit the rest of my line, they made my job a lot easier.”
Senior captains Kurt Coleman and Austin Spitler contributed with an interception apiece as the Bucks forced four Gopher turnovers.
“To hold an explosive offense like that to only seven points is really impressive,” junior linebacker Brian Rolle said. “Our heads just weren’t in the game for some reason last week, but we were fully focused on the task at hand today.”
Burying the Gophers helped to dispose of the sour taste left in the Buckeyes’ mouths after last week’s loss, Pryor said.
“To be a great team, you have to face adversity,” he said. “We were being criticized an awful lot, our whole team, as one, and I think we bounced back as one.”
The Buckeyes step away from conference play on Saturday as they welcome New Mexico State to Ohio Stadium at noon.