OSU freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor carried the No. 14 Buckeyes to a 20-17 victory over the No. 18 Badgers, putting Wisconsin in a hole early in the Big Ten season. The loss snapped Wisconsin's home winning streak at 16 games and was the first loss at Camp Randall in head coach Bret Bielema's career.
Pryor, starting in just his third career game, didn't put up big game numbers (144 passing yards and 20 rushing yards), but showed tremendous poise for a 19-year old by leading the Buckeyes on two crucial fourth quarter drives.
"He was able to keep the ball in Ohio State's hand and be able to go down the field," said Bielema of Pryor. "My hat goes off to him."
Pryor also had help from running back Chris Wells, who ran for 168 yards and a touchdown.
Pryor orchestrated a scoring drive on the Buckeyes' first possession of the game, but the Badgers soon figured him out as Wisconsin put the pressure on with four sacks and five tackles for negative yardage.
With a heavy dose of both John Clay (69 rushing yards) and P.J. Hill (64), Wisconsin was able to go into halftime with a 10-7 lead. But come fourth quarter, Pryor took over and showed why he was the No. 1 recruit in the nation last year.
Tied 10-10 going in the final quarter, Pryor was able to put Ohio State in position for a 34-yard field goal to go up 13-10.
However, Wisconsin was able to answer right back on the ensuing possession, using a ground-orientated attack. Nine of the 10 plays on the drives were runs as P.J. Hill was able to punch in a two-yard touchdown to go up 17-13.
But with 6:26 remaining on the clock, the Badgers left too much time for Pryor to march down the field and regain the lead. He connected with wide receiver Brian Hartline for gains of 19 and 27 yards before he slipped into the endzone on a 11-yard run for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.
"At times we did some good things (on Pryor), but he's elusive." Bielema said. "He presents a challenge in that we did good some of the time, but in the end on the last play we weren't good enough."
Wisconsin quarterback Allan Evridge wasn't good enough on the next possession, either, as he threw an interception on the Badgers' first play, allowing the Buckeyes to run out the clock and end the game.
"I just dropped back and didn't want to take a sack, so I was trying to check it down and didn't see (Malcolm) Jenkins," Evridge said. "That's my job and I have to see him and they came and made a great pick. It's just frustrating."
It was Pryor's first big test of his career – his other two starts coming against Troy and Minnesota – and Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel was more than pleased with his performance.
"Every snap he gets, he learns from," said Tressel of Pryor. "He was under duress tonight. They were playing hard, they were coming after him, they were going to make him do things with lots of his people in his face and he's coming of age."
But for Wisconsin, it puts the goal of a Big Ten title at a long shot as the Badgers are doing in the standings early with a 0-2 conference record. Things don't get much easier next week versus the Penn State Nittany Lions, who were ranked No. 6 this week before beating Purdue 20-6.
At least Bielema is taking some solace in knowing he's been in this position before.
"Last year we lost two games back-to-back and we were able to come back and get a little bit of a roll," Bielema said.
"To be dealt a loss is going to be tough to overcome," he added. "But I do like the response mechanisms they've shown me up to this put and we still have a chance to be a good football team and win a bunch of football games this year."
However, some of his players may be losing faith already.
"I could come out and say, ‘Yeah, I am satisfied with how we played,' but we lost and that is what it comes down to," said UW tight end Travis Beckum, who played in his first full game after a nagging hamstring injury early this season. "When deciding my goals and wanting to win Big Ten Championships but then losing ball games, it kind of taking that faith away.
"It is kind of shooting ourselves in the foot."