The Ohio State senior returned Jeremy Boone's first punt 41 yards to set up the first Ohio State touchdown, then he helped the Buckeyes slam the door with a 45-yard jaunt late in the third quarter that let his offense take over in Penn State territory for a drive that would yield the game's final touchdown.
"It was big," Buckeye quarterback Terrelle Pryor said. "Ray Small, no one understands how big of a player Ray Small is. He's small but he makes a lot of plays, and he's so fast. For him to take it down there and for us to punch it in and take care of the opportunity, it was huge for us to go up 7-0."
The type of punt did not matter much to Small, either, as the first long return came after a low, short kick that did not give the coverage time to get set up and the second was a boomer that allowed Small to get going before coverage could get on him.
Both times Boone made the tackle, looking as if he had been in those situations before.
2. Can Terrelle Pryor keep his poise?
On his first return to his home state as a college football player, Pryor had a few misses but never looked out of control, and even with a bad wheel, he made more than enough plays for his team to come out on top.
The Jeannette product sailed his first pass way over the head of his intended target, part of a 3-for-9 passing line in the first half, but he never seemed to have his head out of the game.
He kept his cool while dodging linebacker Navorro Bowman then dashing into the end zone for Ohio State's first touchdown of the day, then later Pryor made up for an earlier long bomb that was off the mark by connecting with DeVier Posey for a 62-yard touchdown pass that gave the Buckeyes a commanding 17-7 lead in the third quarter.
All the while, he had time to have a little fun with the fans, too.
"I was sitting on the bench playing around," Pryor said. "I was talking back at them. Not in a smart way. They would say something like, ‘Who's going to win?' and I'd say, ‘Steelers.' They messed around with me pretty good today, but it's all fun. I had a lot of fun today. It was very fun, talking to those guys and trying to concentrate on the game. I was concentrated on the game but sometimes they were laughing back and everything. It was fun."
3. Which team will win in the trenches?
If Penn State's first offensive play of the day was any indication, this matchup might have been over when the Ohio State defensive line got off the bus.
Three Buckeyes, led by Cameron Heyward, were in the backfield the first time Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark dropped back to pass. Heyward threw him for a loss while Todd Denlinger and Thaddeus Gibson were closing in as well.
Heyward later sacked Clark again, and there was constant pressure on the senior quarterback.
Running the ball was not a great option, either, for Penn State, which managed just 76 yards on the ground.
Ohio State linebacker Ross Homan confirmed a pregame belief the OSU front could dictate the action.
"Oh, definitely," he said. "We came into the game knowing it was going to be won in the trenches, and that's how it turned out. Our d-line did a great job for us."
On the other side of the ball, the maligned Ohio State offensive line paved the way for 228 yards rushing against a team that entered the day allowing a Big Ten-low 84.1 yards on the ground this season in all games but 111.8 (good for No. 5 in the league) in conference games.
Just as importantly, the Buckeyes did not allow a sack after Pryor faced heavy pressure throughout much of Penn State's 13-6 win last season in Columbus.
"We always watch the last couple films from the previous two or three years, so we were aware we needed to step up to be able to play with those guys, and I thought we did all right," Ohio State guard Justin Boren said.
4. Who will win the turnover battle?
For once, the Ohio State-Penn State game did not turn on a turnover.
The only one of the game came when Homan intercepted Clark in the fourth quarter with Ohio State holding a commanding 24-7 lead.
"I kinda dropped two, so I had to at least get one, but once again it was pressure by our d-line (that forced it)," Homan said.
5. Can the Ohio State offense sustain drives?
The Buckeyes were equally content to score quickly or methodically in Happy Valley.
They scored on their second play of their second possession (thanks to Small's first long punt return) and later dinged the Nittany Lions from 62 yards out on the opening play of a third-quarter drive, but there were also a pair of 10-play efforts that yielded a total of 10 points.
Tressel predicted before the game Penn State would force the Buckeyes to march down the field in small bits against them, but afterwards Dane Sanzenbacher said they were surprised at how often they were able to get behind the Nittany Lion secondary.
"On film, we could see they were a team that didn't want to give up that big play," the Buckeye receiver said. "A lot of soft coverage, so it was a little bit surprising, but we had to take advantage of it when things opened up like that."
The biggest shot came with Pryor's deep ball to Posey, one Sanzenbacher had a nice view of as he ran a post from the slot while Posey went deep down the sideline.
"I think the safety stayed on me for long enough for it to open up for DeVier," Sanzenbacher said. "I think that's what ended up killing them in the end, the little indecision by the safety. DeVier was already behind the corner so that was the only guy he had to beat."