Terrelle Pryor's fumble in the fourth quarter of ninth-ranked Ohio State's knock-down, drag-out showdown with No. 3 Penn State in Ohio Stadium proved to be the play that changed momentum the most. The Nittany Lions drove down the field to score the winning touchdown on the way to a 13-6 win in front of a stadium-record crowd in Ohio Stadium and a national television audience on ABC.
Afterward, Pryor certainly was despondent while meeting with the media, taking full blame for the miscue.
"I didn't hold the ball," he said of the play in which Penn State safety Mark Rubin punched the pigskin out of the true freshman's grasp. "There was the end zone, and I didn't hold the ball."
Up until that point, the Buckeyes looked to be asserting control of the top-10 donnybrook. After a missed PSU field goal, Ohio State was ahead 6-3 and faced a third-and-1 situation at the 50-yard line. A first down would have helped the Buckeyes continue bleeding clock and moving for what might have been a game-clinching score.
The coaching staff went for the safe, smart call, choosing to call a quarterback sneak for the 6-6 Pryor. That's when things started to go haywire.
The Nittany Lions brought the house up the gut, and Pryor chose to bounce the ball outside to the right side of the line.
"It was a sneak up the middle, and I took it outside," he said.
That might have been a good choice, as Rubin was the only white shirt separating Pryor from plenty of open space, except for one simple fact. As Pryor tried to juke by the senior safety, Rubin's left arm punched the ball from Pryor's grasp.
"I could have got the first down on the QB sneak for like half a yard," Pryor said. "I could have punched it in. I saw all the Penn State guys there just pinched in. I knew they were going to come in because they knew the quarterback sneak was coming, so I knew I had the edge. All I had to beat was No. 9, and I got stripped."
That set off a melee for the football. Nittany Lions linebacker Tyrell Sales pushed Chris Wells away from the bounding ball, which continued going backward. It nearly bounced perfectly for Brian Robiskie, but the Buckeye captain had was unable to control it in the commotion.
"It bounced right to me," Robiskie said. "I landed on it. (I was thinking) ‘Just get on it.' That's the biggest thing. But there are guys flying around, the ball is bouncing around."
It eluded the usually sure-handed senior and actually bounced back toward the line of scrimmage before Penn State linebacker Navorro Bowman finally fell on it at the OSU 38-yard line with 10:38 to play.
Pryor said he knew at that point that the Nittany Lions would march down and score, and that they did, putting the ball across the line, ironically enough, on a 1-yard quarterback sneak by reserve quarterback Pat Devlin.
Head coach Joe Paterno was happy that the game's pivotal bounce went his team's way.
"One turnover was the ballgame," the coach said.
Meanwhile, Ohio State was left to make sense of the crucial mistake. Head coach Jim Tressel had an assessment that was as equally to-the-point as Paterno's.
"It was unfortunate," he said.
Members of the Buckeye offense refused to say that the lost ball eventually cost the team the crucial league contest that vaulted the Nittany Lions into first place alone in the league. Twice the team bogged down inside the Penn State 40 and was forced to punt, and the two farthest encroachments into Penn State territory ended in three-pointers.
"It was a big play, but we had other chances and other opportunities in the game to make plays, and we didn't," wideout Dane Sanzenbacher said.
Pryor, though, seemed to accept the blame, saying that the fumble – which he said provided him with the worst feeling of his life – and a game-sealing interception with 27 seconds to play cost the Buckeyes the game. He also admitted that he knew bouncing the quarterback sneak away from its designed area probably was a mistake.
"I figured I would take a chance," he said. "I knew I would probably get in trouble in the film room for it, but I just wanted to make a play."
Left tackle Jim Cordle couldn't blame the freshman, who had proven surprisingly adept at taking care of the football through his first five starts, for trying to make a play, however.
"On the quarterback sneak he was trying to make the play, trying to make the first down," Cordle said. "You can't fault him."