The last time the Ohio State quarterback ran off the field for the sanctity of the room at Memorial Stadium, he was blowing kisses to an Illinois crowd giving him the business. This time, he was accompanied by head team physician Chris Kaeding and concerned that he could be out for the remainder of the season after injuring his left leg.
He would return to the field after missing seven plays and help the Buckeyes eke out a 24-13 victory on a blustery afternoon.
"I was nervous that I was going to miss the series and miss some plays," he said. "That's the last thing I wanted. If I would've gone down and we lose the game, I'd feel (bad)."
Instead, Pryor suffered what both he and head coach Jim Tressel termed a strained quadriceps muscle in his left leg. Neither said they expect the quarterback to miss time next year, pointing to his return in this contest as proof.
The injury came with the Buckeyes nursing a 14-10 lead early in the third quarter. Facing second and 8 from his own 17-yard line, Pryor spied an opening to his left and rushed that way. As he was about to turn the corner, his leg appeared to wobble and he went down near the Illinois sideline.
Dropping the ball as he fell, Pryor laid on his back while a teammate quickly called for the trainers. Time was called, and he limped to the OSU sideline while being assisted by two trainers.
"I was in a full stride," Pryor said. "I thought I was going to go to the house on it. All of a sudden I felt and heard something pop and I was like, ‘Man, what the hell? What's going on?' That's when I stumbled and just let the ball go. It was probably the worst pain I've had in a while."
As junior Joe Bauserman entered the game in relief, Pryor limped to the locker room alongside Kaeding. Bauserman directed the offense for seven plays spread over two series, completing 1 of 2 passes for a yard and tossing an interception.
"Our guys gave Joe Bauserman every pat on the back," Tressel said. "We threw an interception there and I feel bad because the route that we called wasn't open so we put him in a situation where he felt like he needed to help the team yet we didn't help him with the route called. He tried to force one, and a great lesson for him. He needed to throw that one away."
In the locker room, Pryor said he had a sense of what was going on outside.
"I just heard some roars," he said. "Then I looked outside and saw an Illinois fan (with his head in his hands). Then I heard a big roar and knew it wasn't our fans. I was getting anxious. I was like, ‘man, I've got to get out there.' "
Pryor said his run back onto the field felt like a shot of adrenaline as the OSU fans in attendance rose to their feet and cheered.
Last season, Pryor suffered what was later revealed to be a torn PCL in his left knee that would require offseason surgery. Since then, he was worn a protective brace that he said has saved him from injury a few times already this season.
That injury took place on a similar-looking play, and Tressel said he thought it might be a similar injury.
"From where I was, I wondered if he fell on that knee the same way he had fallen on it a year ago and re-aggravated something there," the coach said. "Once I got over there and they were starting to have him get up and go obviously I felt a lot better. The shorter a guy spends on the ground, the better it is for the coach."
Once Pryor returned to the game, he was tasked with doing little but handing the ball to junior running back Dan Herron, who finished with 23 carries for 95 yards. He completed 3 of 4 passes the rest of the way for 28 yards and carried the ball one more time for no yardage.
On the day, Pryor was 9 of 16 for 76 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He picked up 104 yards on 11 carries to serve as the game's leading rusher.
As the final seconds ticked off, he headed straight to the locker room showing a slight limp. He did not join his teammates in the opposite corner of the stadium to sing "Carmen Ohio" with the OSU faithful.
Assuming he makes a speedy recovery and is back in action next weekend against Indiana, they will probably give him a pass.
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