Saturday, October 2, 2010

BUCKEYES GRIND OUT 24-13 VICTORY IN BIG TEN OPENER AT ILLINOIS

Ohio State tailback Dan Herron runs in the game-clinching touchdown during Ohio State's 24-13 win at Illinois on Saturday. (AP Photo/Robin Scholz)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — It wasn't pretty, but then again, it never usually is in the Big Ten.

The No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) got things done Woody Hayes-style on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, using a punishing defense and a pounding run game to take down Illinois (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten), 24-13, in the Big Ten season opener.

Ohio State used the legs of junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor early on, as the Heisman Trophy candidate ran for nearly 100 yards in the first half, and led the Buckeyes offense on two scoring drives before halftime — both ending on short touchdown passes to seniors Brandon Saine and Dane Sanzenbacher.

The Buckeyes would lead 14-10 at the break.

Then it happened.

Early in the second half, after a 10-yard run which garnered an OSU first down, Pryor came up lame causing every heart in the state of Ohio to stop beating. It appeared at the time that Pryor had re-injured his left knee — which he suffered last season — but after going to the locker room briefly, it was diagnosed as a quadriceps strain and the Buckeye leader returned to action a couple drives later.

"I was in full stride and I thought I was going to go to the house," Pryor laughed about the play he was injured on. "I was in a full stride and all of a sudden I felt something pop, and I was like what the heck, what's going on? It was probably the worst pain I've had in awhile."

But instead of Pryor jumping back in the saddle and continuing his assault of the Illini, the offensive reins were handed to junior tailback Dan "Boom" Herron.

Herron was the catalyst for the Buckeyes offense following the injury to Pryor, running the football 19 times for 89 yards including the game-clinching touchdown from six yards out with 1:34 remaining. Herron finished with 95 yards on 23 carries in the win.

Pryor only ran the ball once (for two yards) following the injury, and put it in the air just four times.

Terrelle Pryor (AP Photo)
OSU head coach Jim Tressel said that after Pryor went down he knew it was time to turn Herron loose.

"He just has that ability to spark you," Tressel said of Herron. "He's physical and he has that ability to raise up everyone around him with his personality. The types of things we were doing are the things he does best. So, all that put together, he was the man for the job."

As for tightening the reins on Pryor?

"It was a quad strain," Tressel said. "Obviously he came back and he was able to play, but I think anytime you lose some momentum and get banged a little bit, especially on a day like today, it makes it more difficult to get back up and going."

Pryor admitted that he was limited in what he could do after going down.

"The worst thing was when I came back and the guys thought I was alright and we're saying 'come on Terrelle, lead us,'" Pryor said. "It was just hard because I couldn't do anything about it, and there was nothing I could do about it. It hurt just dropping back."

Of course, Pryor didn't need to be the hero on Saturday — that role belonged to Herron.

After Illinois pulled the Ohio State lead to 17-13 with 4:36 remaining in the game, the Buckeyes marched 53 yards on six plays for the game-clinching touchdown. The Buckeyes ran nearly three minutes off the clock by pounding the Illini defense the entire six plays with the man they call "Boom."

Herron said that he knew once Pryor went down, it was time for him to take over.

"We knew we had to get the running game going," Herron said. "It's Big Ten football, that's what the Big Ten's known for so we definitely had to get the run game going.

"Terrelle's a great player and a great leader for our team," he continued. "We had to step up. Our offensive line did a great job and obviously we got it going."

Pryor finished the game with 104 yards rushing on 11 carries, while also completing 9-of-16 passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns.

Illinois came out with authority in the first quarter, getting the best of Ohio State's defense early on by going 55 yards on nine plays during the opening series. The Illini capped off the impressive drive with a three-yard touchdown run by freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaasse.

The Buckeyes defense would put the clamps down after that, giving up just two field goals the rest of the way.

"Our defense, early on, you could see (Illinois) came up with a couple things. They hit a little misdirection pass, they hit the fullback to the quarterback," Tressel said. "They had some gadgets that worked against the things we do. But when our defense settled in and it came down to just basic first, second and third down plays, I thought our defense kept playing. In the second half, we were winning the third downs and getting pressure on the quarterback."

IT WASN'T CHICAGO, BUT IT WAS THE WINDY CITY ... Ohio State's offense has been killing teams this season with their wide-open attack, scoring 49 points per contest coming into Saturday's game. 

However, strong winds prevented the Buckeyes from airing it out during Saturday's game, forcing them to revert back to the I-formation, pound it out style that OSU fans have come to despise.

Tressel said that fans can definitely thank mother nature for the change of offensive strategy.

"Now you know I'm not a golfer but if you listen to golfers they'll tell you 'we can play in rain all day, but wind will kill us,'" Tressel said. "Football is no different. The wind is difficult, it affects so much of your game. All of your special teams, your passing game ... It has quite an effect."

MOELLER INJURED ... During the first quarter of Saturday's game, OSU nickelback Tyler Moeller left the game with a shoulder injury and didn't return.

Tressel said that the injury seems to be more of a muscle problem than anything else.

"I think it's a muscle (injury)," Tressel said. "You get real nervous when it's joints with knees, ankles and shoulders."

Tressel said he doesn't know if Moeller will miss any time as of yet.

True freshman Christian Bryant filled in for Moeller at the star spot and did quite well in his absence.