MADISON, Wis. — Terrelle Pryor was supposed to make a rash of freshman mistakes on his first road trip in the Big Ten and turn the ball over at critical times.
He was supposed to wilt when he waded into the red sea of rabid Wisconsin fans at Camp Randall Stadium and then fail in this harshest of environments.
Instead, Pryor parted the Badgers' defense as he scored on an 11-yard touchdown run with just over a minute to play to complete the game-winning drive in Ohio State's 20-17 victory. After taking the Buckeyes nearly the length of the field in the closing moments, Pryor froze the Wisconsin defenders with an option run, before striding through them and into the end zone.
'With Terrelle, with every snap he gets, he learns from it. He was under duress tonight. They were coming after him — but he's coming of age,' Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said about his young quarterback.
The win keeps the 14th-ranked Buckeyes' hopes of winning a fourth straight Big Ten championship very much alive. Pryor ran the ball 15 times and had 57 yards in gains and passed 19 times, completing 13 for 144 yards.
'I want to show people I'm a pretty decent football player,' Pryor said. 'There were great fans here tonight, and it was just a great atmosphere.'
Pryor got strong support from junior tailback Chris 'Beanie' Wells, who had 168 yards on 22 carries and told Pryor in the huddle before the final touchdown play, 'You're stepping into manhood here.' Wells averaged 7.6 yards per carry in the game.
'This was a tough football game in a great atmosphere, and we were fortunate to make some plays,' Tressel said. 'I'm awfully proud of the way we fought.'
With Ohio State trailing 17-13 with about six minutes to play, Pryor, in just the third start of his college career, used his throwing arm and his instinctive running ability to get the Buckeyes down to Wisconsin's 11-yard line. After Pryor's touchdown run from there, the 12-play, 80-yard drive left 18th-ranked Wisconsin just over a minute to try and recover.
On the Badgers' first play following Pryor's go-ahead score, Malcolm Jenkins intercepted a Wisconsin pass to secure the victory for the Buckeyes (5-1, 2-0).
The win has significance for Tressel, since in his seven previous seasons as coach at Ohio State, the Buckeyes had won the Big Ten championship in the years they defeated the Badgers (2002, 2007) and not won the league crown in the years they have lost to Wisconsin (2001, 2003, 2004). The two teams did not meet in 2005 and 2006.
Last night, Ohio State temporarily took some of the life out of the raucous crowd at Camp Randall by taking the opening possession of the game and driving 71 yards in six plays for a touchdown. Pryor had a slick 11-yard run to start the drive and then converted a third down pass to Dane Sanzenbacher for a 17-yard gain over the middle.
The score came two plays later when Wells broke through the left side of the line, accelerated past the first wave of Wisconsin defenders, and then froze a defensive back with a fake. Wells went 33 yards on the play, and with the extra point from Ryan Pretorius, Ohio State led 7-0 just over three minutes into the game.
After stuffing the Badgers (3-2, 0-2), Ohio State took over near midfield and went for the home run ball, but Pryor's deep throw to a well-covered Brandon Saine was picked off by Wisconsin's Shane Carter.
Early in the second quarter, the Badgers gave a demonstration of Wisconsin football, driving 91 yards in 15 plays, most of them straight ahead running plays. The Badgers scored on a 12-yard pass from Evridge to tight end Mickey Turner that tied the game at 7 with 4:35 left in the first half.
Ohio State's next possession had the Buckeyes start with excellent field position after a 35-yard kickoff return by Maurice Wells. A Pryor pass to Sanzenbacher gained 23 yards to the Wisconsin 32-yard line, but Sanzenbacher fumbled when he was hit simultaneously by three Badger defenders.
The Central Catholic graduate stayed on the Camp Randall turf for several minutes and had to be helped from the field. Ohio State did not release any information on his condition, but Tressel said after the game that Sanzenbacher was up and walking around.
After an exchange of punts, Wisconsin got pinned at its own 20 with under a minute left in the half after a 67-yard punt by Ohio State's A.J. Trapasso. But two pass plays quickly moved the ball to the Ohio State 43 and a penalty on the Buckeyes got it to the 38. Evridge then had plenty of time to wait for Kyle Jefferson to get open over the middle inside the OSU 5.
Before time ran out, Wisconsin got a 20-yard field goal from Philip Welch for a 10-7 halftime advantage.
Ohio State tied the game midway through the third quarter after Wells broke through the Wisconsin line, shed a tackle, and ripped down the Ohio State sideline on a 54-yard run that set the Buckeyes up at the Badgers' 26. Ohio State got as close as the Wisconsin two before stalling and settling for a 21-yard field goal from Pretorius that made it 10-10.