Ohio St. beats Penn St., ties for Big Ten lead
Quite the happy homecoming Saturday for the dual-threat phenom from western Pennsylvania.
Pryor threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in his first game back in his home state and No. 15 Ohio State reclaimed control of the Big Ten race after beating No. 11 Penn State, 24-7 in a duel of the league's top two defenses.
As an added bonus, the Buckeyes (8-2, 5-1) vaulted into a tie for the conference lead with Iowa after Northwestern handed the Hawkeyes its first loss of the season earlier Saturday.
After a demoralizing loss at Purdue last month, Ohio State's hopes for a fifth straight league title look much brighter. A showdown with Iowa at the Horseshoe awaits next week.
"November is for contenders, we always say that," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "It's hard to get too ecstatic right now because you know the Hawkeyes are coming to town."
They'll head home to Columbus with a confident Pryor, the native of Jeannette who came up with several clutch plays against the team he turned down as a highly touted high school prospect.
On Saturday, Pryor showed Happy Valley why he was such a prize. He finished 8 for 17 passing for 125 yards, and rushed for 50 yards and a 7-yard TD on five carries.
"It was huge. They were making a big deal about it and people were doubting us, 'Buckeyes can't do this or this.' A lot of that stuff motivates us, but we knew we could do it," Pryor said.
Ray Small burned Penn State (8-2, 4-2) with two long punt returns, and Ohio State's defense held dangerous Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark in check with constant pressure.
The Buckeyes scored the game's final 17 points to silence the crowd of 110,033, the fourth-largest in Beaver Stadium history.
"We broke down on a kicking play, had a couple tough penalties, we didn't get any field position," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. "It was a tough ballgame for us, it really was, against a good football team."
Leading by three, Pryor connected with open receiver DeVier Posey in stride down the left sideline for a 62-yard touchdown pass with 1:47 left in the third to extend the lead to 17-7.
A pumped Pryor rushed down the field to meet Posey, then skipped back to the sideline in delight.
"This was my first time to lead the team and lead the offense and score some touchdowns against another big team," Pryor said. "It felt pretty good to lead the team."
After another three-and-out by Penn State offense, Small lit up the Nittany Lions' porous punt coverage unit for a 45-yard return to the Nittany Lions 47 to end the third quarter.
Getting good protection, Pryor led the Buckeyes again on a drive with two third-down conversions before rolling right to hit Brandon Saine for a 6-yard TD pass on another third down play to give Ohio State a 17-point cushion.
Fittingly, Saine dove into corner of the end zone in front of the sliver of cheering Buckeye fans dressed in scarlet gear that stood out in the sea of blue and white.
For the most part, Pryor played mistake-free football, and his offensive line kept the defense away from the most-sacked QB in the Big Ten.
"We failed ... Our game plan was to go in and stop him," Penn State defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu said. "We didn't do it on a consistent enough basis, so I would say we failed."
Pryor's 7-yard TD run in the first quarter was set up by a 41-yard punt return by Small to the Penn State 9. Special teams, especially the punting unit, has been a season-long problem, though the Nittany Lions have been able to overcome those woes against less-talented teams.
Not against Ohio State, though.
Ross Homan's diving interception of Clark with 9:20 left - Penn State's first interception in four games - sent Nittany Lions fans scurrying for the exits.
Clark's touchdown plunge from a yard out on fourth down capped a nice second-quarter drive to tie the game at 7. It was the 21st rushing score of his career, breaking the mark for a Penn State quarterback set by his mentor, Michael Robinson.
Otherwise, Penn State struggled all day.
The Buckeyes smothered Clark's receivers except for Graham Zug (seven catches, 96 yards), and pressured him up front. Cameron Heyward had two sacks and 11 tackles.
Clark finished 12 of 28 for 125 yards and the interception. He ran for 20 yards on 11 carries. Evan Royster managed just 36 yards on 13 carries, and a couple dropped passes didn't help the offense, either.
"It's just hard to put points on the board when you don't have a consistent rhythm," Clark said.