Sunday, October 5, 2008

On Location: The Pryor Legacy Begins at Camp Randall


The Wisconsin Badgers could have used a “fifth quarter” to pull out a win tonight in the absence of their heralded marching band, known for putting on the so-named post-game concert. Camp Randall drenched in moonlight is not an inviting place for any quarterback, let alone a true freshman. But Terrelle Pryor of visiting Ohio State proved to be an exception to the rule, driving his offense 80 yards on 12 plays in the waning minutes for a game-winning, come-from-behind touchdown.

Statistically, this game could not have been closer: [Ohio State vs. Wisconsin] first downs (17 vs. 19), rushing yards (183 vs. 179), passing yards (144 vs. 147), red zone scores (three-for-three both teams), and time of possession (30:32 vs. 29:28). The difference for Ohio State was converting at key moments and simply making the last score of the game.

Pryor (13-of-19, 144 yards, one interception) and the offense took the gridiron to start the game and immediately marched down the field, mostly on the ground. They hit pay-dirt with a 33-yard dash by Beanie Wells (22 carries,168 yards, one touchdown), which gave the impression Ohio State’s offense was going to score early and often. But the youth of Pryor started to surface – the next three Buckeye possessions ended with an interception by Wisconsin cornerback Allen Langford at the Badger’s four-yard line, a sack, and a sack. It seemed that Wisconsin’s defense had settled in as they confused Pryor with different looks and pressured him into making key mistakes on those third down attempts.

As much as the defense had hit their groove, the Badgers’ offense sputtered out of the gate. On Wisconsin’s first three possessions, Badger quarterback Allan Evridge (13-of-25, 147 yards, one touchdown, one interception) failed to convert on third down, ending two drives with incomplete passes and the next by a fumble. However, on their fourth possession of the game, the Badgers compiled a “Wisconsin-esque” drive, eating up over eight minutes of game clock. The offense mixed up the play-calling, picking up yards in large chunks on the ground and through the air. They marched down to Ohio State’s nine, and Evridge found an open Mickey Turner in the flat for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7. After the teams traded fruitless possessions, Wisconsin then ran an efficient one-minute offense – 77 yards in 52 seconds – kicker Philip Welch connected on a 20-yard field goal to give the Badgers 10-7 lead at the half.

For Ohio State, the first possession of the second half mirrored their efforts of their first possession opening the game: Beanie Wells (pictured) rattled off a 54-yard run after a tough stiff arm just past the line of scrimmage to land the Buckeyes deep in Wisconsin territory. Coach Jim Tressel seemed to reel in the offensive game-plan for Pryor in the second half, asking him to connect mostly on short hook and out patterns. Pryor responded well, moving the ball down to Wisconsin’s three-yard line where kicker Ryan Pretorius chipped in a field goal to tie the game at 10.

After another Pretorius field goal, this one in the fourth quarter, Wisconsin responded with a 63-yard drive of their own, led by freshman running back John Clay (10 carries, 69 yards). But near the end zone, the Badgers handed the ball to their horse P.J. Hill (16 carries, 64 yards, one touchdown) who plowed up the middle to put Wisconsin up 17-13 with 6:31 left in the game. It was really the first impact Hill had on the game as the Buckeyes were effectively keying on him from the opening snap.

Despite being on the road, and despite being down late in the contest, Ohio State remained poised. The Buckeyes started from their own 20-yard line and put together an 80-yard drive, finessed by several Pryor run improvisations and crisp passing over the middle. Wide receiver Brian Hartline (three receptions, 57 yards) made his catches mostly over the deep middle on dig routes where the zone linebackers repeatedly pressed the underneath receivers. Ohio State regained the lead for good with just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, as Pryor took an option keeper 11 yards to the left pylon to make it 20-17. Wisconsin’s hopes for a last minute, game-saving drive were quickly dashed as Evridge threw a first down interception to seal it for the visitors.

Previously 18-0 when taking a lead in to halftime, Coach Brett Bielema and Wisconsin, 0-2 in the Big Ten, have now lost halftime leads against Michigan (19-0) and Ohio State (13-10) in consecutive weeks. The Buckeyes, unbeaten thus far in conference play at 2-0. snapped the country’s second longest home winning streak, which was held by the Badgers at 16 games.

Photo Credit: Collegiate Images