Andy Gottesman / Lantern photographer
Terrelle Pryor admitted he doesn’t have the most talent or the glitziest numbers. But he proved Saturday he can make plays when it counts.
The junior quarterback rallied Ohio State (10-1, 6-1) to a fourth-quarter comeback to escape Iowa City, Iowa, with a 20-17 victory and keep the Buckeyes in the hunt for their sixth straight conference title.
“I might not be the best quarterback or have the best stats,” Pryor said, “but I guarantee I can bring my team back and make them believe that we were coming back.”
It wasn’t pretty.
Pryor scrambled for 14 yards to convert a fourth-and-10 at midfield to revive a game-winning drive that was on life support.
Five plays later, running back Dan “Boom” Herron punched in a 2-yard touchdown to cap the 12-play, 76-yard march and give OSU a 20-17 lead with 1:47 remaining.
“Our guys don’t panic,” coach Jim Tressel said. “They believe and keep fighting. We felt like it was going to be a four-quarter heavyweight bout.”
Herron rushed for 69 yards on 20 carries. The junior has scored at least one touchdown in 10 consecutive games.
Iowa’s final crack at tying or winning the game was short-lived. Defensive lineman Cameron Heyward sacked quarterback Ricky Stanzi to force the Hawkeyes into a fourth-and-22, which they couldn’t convert.
“I think we knew we really needed a stop,” Heyward said. “The defensive line just took that personally and went out there and played.”
Pryor raved all week about OSU’s offensive game plan for Iowa, but aside from the go-ahead series, the Buckeyes struggled to muster up any sort of offensive rhythm.
The junior signal-caller tossed a pair of costly interceptions, and officials flagged the Buckeyes eight times for 73 yards, including three false start penalties.
“Throughout the game, a lot of things were going on,” Pryor said. “A lot of dropped passes, a lot of bad throws, a lot of inaccurate throws. We lived for another day.”
Pryor’s miscues nearly cost OSU the game.
Facing third-and-10 with the score tied 10-10 in the fourth quarter, Pryor, looking for receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, threw into double coverage off his back foot. Iowa’s Shaun Prater collected the errant throw after a deflection, returning the pick eight yards to the OSU 27-yard line.
The pick “was kind of B.S.,” Pryor said. “It kind of bounced off Dane and bounced up. They made a great play on that.”
Two plays later, running back Marcus Coker scored the first touchdown of his career from one yard out to provide Iowa a 17-10 edge.
Coker totaled 70 yards on nine carries as he started in place of Adam Robinson, whom Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz benched for the first quarter for what he called “academic indigestions.”
“He didn’t do anything wrong, illegal or what have you,” Ferentz said. “But just not dotting the ‘I’s and crossing the ‘T’s.”
Robinson, who gained 27 yards on nine carries, left the game on Iowa’s final drive after taking a brutal hit from OSU safety Jermale Hines.
With 7:38 to play, Devin Barclay converted a career-long 48-yard field goal to cap an 11-play, 30-yard drive that cut OSU’s deficit to 17-13.
One play before Pryor rescued the Buckeyes on fourth down, receiver DeVier Posey, all alone in the end zone, let a downfield heave fall through his fingers. He strutted back to the huddle, hands on his helmet, shaking his head.
“Was I pissed? Yeah, I was mad,” Pryor said. “But we had a fourth-and-10 to get to or we were going to lose another game. I hate losing with a passion.”
Pryor atoned for Posey’s drop and his own mistakes on the next play, as Tressel opted against punting on fourth down from midfield with more than four minutes left.
Instead, the notoriously conservative coach put his trust in an offense that tallied just three points in the first half.
“When it was fourth-and-10 and (Pryor) went scrambling, I almost threw up on myself,” linebacker Brian Rolle said. “I held my breath the whole play.”
On the Buckeyes’ final possession before halftime, Pryor tried to squeeze a pass into triple coverage for receiver Taurian Washington. After a deflection, Iowa safety Micah Hyde snagged the ball with one hand while falling to the ground to preserve the Hawkeye lead.
Following the play, Pryor pleaded his case with Tressel and quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano, insisting that the turnover wasn’t his fault.
“He was probably upset about the fact he threw an interception,” Tressel said. “But in the heat of a game when you’re screaming and yelling at each other, there’s no place for the meek and mild. You need to be screamed at and you need to scream.
“I don’t know if I was screaming at him or if he was screaming at me or if we were screaming at each other, but we still love each other.”
Pryor completed 18 of his 33 pass attempts for 195 yards.
He found backup tight end Reid Fragel for a 5-yard touchdown to cap a 12-play, 77-yard drive to start the second half and turn a 7-3 deficit into a 10-7 advantage. The score was the first of Fragel’s career.
Iowa responded with a 10-play, 65-yard march of its own, which culminated in a 31-yard field goal to tie the game.
Last season, the teams also entered the fourth quarter knotted at 10-10. Herron and running back Brandon Saine scored touchdowns early in the quarter before Iowa erased a 14-point deficit to send the contest into overtime.
After Iowa failed to score, Barclay punched the Buckeyes’ ticket to Pasadena, Calif., with a 39-yard field goal.
OSU hosts rival Michigan at the Horseshoe at noon Saturday. A victory would clinch the Buckeyes at least a share of the Big Ten title.
Michigan State and Wisconsin remain tied with OSU atop the Big Ten standings with one conference loss. The Badgers beat Michigan, and the Spartans rallied to defeat Purdue.