Pryor struggled throughout most of the game, but was clearly ready for prime time when his team needed him the most. Taking over deep in his own territory with 6:26 on the clock, Pryor moved the Buckeyes down the field using both his legs and his arm, finally running the ball into the end zone with a little more than one minute left in the game to give Ohio State the lead. A Malcolm Jenkins interception then eliminated any chance for a Wisconsin comeback.
For Pryor, it was another step in the maturation of the young future star. Being able to pull out a road win in only his third college start can only add to the aura that now surrounds Pryor. Teammates, and opponents, know that Ohio State is never out of a game as long as Pryor has time on the clock. It's even more remarkable when you have to guess that Pryor probably didn't have too many late-game heroics in high school, where most of his games were routs. He was three for four passing the football on the final drive before keeping the football on an option play for the game-winner. His poise in the face of great pressure was more than impressive.
Offensively, the Buckeye offensive line played its best game of the year collectively. Freshman center Mike Brewster played his finest game of his career, in also his third career start. Brewster was key in springing Beanie Wells for many of his game-high 168 rushing yards. Tackle Alex Boone also played at a level most Buckeye fans were expecting at the start of the season. Even though the Badgers loaded the box in attempt to slow down the Buckeye running game, Ohio State still managed to average 4.6 per rush, and actually out-gained the Badgers on the ground.
Chris "Beanie" Wells showed once again that when he's healthy, he's as good a tailback as there is in college football. Wells makes the entire Buckeye offense better when he's on the field. He demands so much attention that it's reasonable to expect the Buckeye passing attack to improve greatly as Pryor becomes more comfortable in the pocket. A healthy Wells makes Ohio State one of the top teams in college football, and maybe the team to beat for the Big Ten title. He was dominant against the Badgers, a sight the Buckeyes have longed to see all year.
Defensively, the Buckeyes were inconsistent in stopping the Badger running game, although defensive coordinator Jim Heacock gambled more in the second half, committing more people to the run, and held the Badgers to less than 100 yards in the final two quarters.
With a defensive line struggling to stop the Badger running backs, the Buckeyes needed strong performances out of the back seven, and they didn't disappoint. Wisconsin only managed one long drive in five second half possessions, taking the lead 17-13 late in the fourth quarter. The other four possessions saw the Buckeye senior stars, James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins, raise their level of play to help secure the victory.
Jenkins not only sealed the win with a late interception, but he also had a key pass break-up on Wisconsin star Travis Beckum late in third quarter of a tie game. Shifting Jenkins to Beckum was a key adjustment by Heacock, knowing Beckum was the only real Badger threat.
Laurinaitis had ten tackles, but more importantly, never missed any tackles, and didn't allow any five yard gains to turn into 25-30 yard runs. It was the kind of game that Laurinaitis was needed to be strong in the middle of the defense, and he received little help from his mates up front, so his performance was a key to the victory.
Fellow linebacker Ross Homan might have played his best game as a Buckeye, also totaling ten tackles. Homan has now had three good games in a row, and appears to be turning into the type of player he was thought to be coming out of high school.
For the Buckeyes it was a another step in the right direction, their third, since losing big to USC. The Buckeyes are attempting to re-tool their entire offense while still winning every week. The addition of Brewster and Pryor to the starting lineup, combined with the return of Wells, has made the Buckeye offense more diverse and unpredictable.
The ability to get his team to get better throughout the season has long been a staple of a Jim Tressel-coached team. The Buckeyes need to keep progressing offensively, while trying to find a way to shore up an inconsistent run defense.
Pryor makes this team a more confident, more explosive offense. The ability to win on the road is a must, especially with tough road tests at Michigan State and Illinois on the horizon. This week's home game against Purdue will once again give the Buckeyes a look at a spread team that will try to throw 50 passes. It's a game the Buckeyes should win provided there is no letdown in intensity, and they don't get caught looking ahead to the Michigan State game.