CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Terrelle Pryor returned after an injury briefly knocked him from the game, then led No. 2 Ohio State on a clinching touchdown drive in the closing minutes of a 24-13 victory over Illinois on Saturday.
Pryor ran for 104 yards and was 9 of 16 for 76 yards and two touchdowns through the air, but he gave Ohio State fans a scare when he needed help off the field early in the third quarter. He spent a couple minutes in the locker room before returning to the game.
Illinois (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) put a scare into the Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0) with under 5 minutes to go when it marched down field, but coach Ron Zook elected to kick a field goal on fourth down that made it 17-13, rather than go for the tying touchdown.
The Buckeyes responded by going the length of the field for the clinching score.
Illinois traditionally plays the Buckeyes tough — winning 11 of the last 25 meetings before Saturday — and made clear early that the they were in for a struggle.
Taking over at their own 45 after a short punt into a steady wind, the Illini drove 55 yards — 23 of it on a tricky play from Nathan Scheelhaase to Jarred and back to Scheelhaase — and the redshirt freshman quarterback then ran 3 yards for a touchdown to make it 7-0.
Pryor struck right back, running 66 yards before hitting Brandon Saine on an 8-yard TD pass that tied the game with 6:17 left in the first quarter.
Illinois had a chance to move back ahead, but Derek Dimke's 41-yard field goal try came up short in the steady wind, even though it looked like it was headed through the uprights.
Ohio State's defense held Illinois to 251 total yards, and Mikel Leshoure to 80 yards on 19 carries after entering the game with four straight 100-yard rushing games. Scheelhaase was 12 of 22 for 109 yards passing.
Pryor left the game on a first-down run in the third quarter, dropping to the ground without any serious contact. After being helped from form the field and limping to the locker room, his replacement, Joe Bauserman, threw an interception to Illinois safety Trulon Henry.
The Illini went three-and-out, though, and Pryor came back a few minutes later to loud cheers from the strong contingent of Ohio State fans at Memorial Stadium.
He didn't change the game right away, but it only took him a couple of possessions to get the Buckeyes moving again. On a 14-play, 59-yard drive, Pryor and the Buckeyes backfield finally pounded the Illini out of the game.
Illinois managed to keep them out of the end zone, but Devin Barclay's 23-yard field gave the Buckeyes a 17-10 lead. Illinois then marched inside the Ohio State 20 but ended up settling for a field goal on four-and-7 from the 13 with 4:36 to play.
Zook was hoping that a defense that had held Ohio State most of the game could do so one more time, but instead, the Illini never got another chance. Ohio State marched down field and Dan Herron put the game out of reach with a 6-yard touchdown run.