COLUMBUS - Ohio State found itself wounded, bloodied and gimpy. The Buckeyes were receiving shots from all directions in the wake of last week's shocking loss to Purdue, and the experts and armchair quarterbacks alike were taking turns trying to dissect, bisect and further dismember the ailing offense.
Enter Minnesota, and the seemingly critically ill patient makes a miraculous recovery.
No. 18 Ohio State scored four second-half touchdowns and flattened the Gophers 38-7 Saturday, allowing the Buckeyes to remain in solid contention in the Big Ten championship race.
Sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who had four turnovers at Purdue and took the brunt of the criticism volleys, threw one interception against Minnesota, but passed for 239 yards and a couple of scores and rushed for 104 yards and another touchdown.
"Terrelle played well," Ohio State junior wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said. "I know he took a lot of heat this week, but we know what he is capable of."
Pryor and the Buckeyes (6-2, 4-1) were sluggish at times in the first half, with their first three possessions producing one 78-yard drive which ended with Aaron Pettrey missing a 30-yard field goal try. Early in the second quarter, Pryor found DeVier Posey wide open behind the Minnesota defense and the two hooked up for a 62-yard score, and Pettrey's kick made it 7-0.
The same two connected on a 57-yard touchdown play in the third quarter, when the Buckeyes scored three times to put Minnesota away. Pryor, who had been intercepted in the end zone as Ohio State was threatening in the final moments of the first half, got a touchdown on a 15-yard run after Minnesota fumbled away the opening kickoff of the second half. That gave the Buckeyes a 14-0 advantage.
Another Minnesota fumble, forced when freshman defensive tackle John Simon hit Gophers quarterback Adam Weber, was recovered by Thaddeus Gibson at the Minnesota 22. Freshman Jordan Hall, filling in for Brandon Saine after Saine suffered a possible concussion late in the first half, burst through the right side for an 11-yard touchdown that pushed the lead to 21-0 with six minutes left in the third quarter.
After Pryor's second long TD pass to Posey, the Buckeyes went up 28-0. Pryor, who turned the game over to backup Joe Bauserman in the fourth quarter, went 13-of-25 passing and ran the ball 15 times.
"We really went out and tried our hardest today," Posey said. "Everything we practiced, we utilized to the max in this game. The touchdowns feel good, but I'm only half of the equation. Terrelle made great passes."
Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said the Gophers allowed Pryor to get comfortable, and that's when the 6-6 sophomore did most of his damage.
"We can't let Pryor scramble around or sit in the pocket, and hope that our coverage is going to hold on for that long," Brewster said. "It puts too much stress on our secondary."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said Pryor was determined to play better than he did against Purdue. Tressel said that over the tumultuous past week, Pryor demonstrated his commitment to helping the Buckeyes be successful.
"There were some things affirmed that I did know - that it's very, very important to him to do well for his team," Tressel said. "Not many guys feel any worse than he does if he doesn't provide what the team needs. I thought he just went to work this week, and knew that the criticism was there, because that's the position he plays … that's part of the deal. The longer you're around it, the more you'll know that's just the way it is."
Seldom-used redshirt freshman Jermil Martin got Ohio State's final touchdown on a burst up the middle that went for 39 yards, and Pettrey added a 44-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter. Minnesota (4-4, 2-3) scored its only touchdown with about four minutes left and Ohio State's backup defenders in the game.
"It was a great win for us," Ohio State linebacker Brian Rolle said. "To hold an explosive offense like that to only seven points is really impressive. Our heads just weren't in the game for some reason last week, but we were really focused on the task at hand today."
Minnesota played most of the game without the Big Ten's leading receiver, senior Eric Decker who had been averaging 104 yards in receptions through the first seven games. Decker sprained his foot in the first half and finished with just three receptions for 27 yards.
"I thought we put some things together today," Tressel said. "Everyone picked up their game, and we all got a little bit better.
If we keep taking steps, we'll see if we can compete for the Big Ten."
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