Terrelle Pryor got the last laugh.
The sophomore quarterback and Pennsylvania native silenced a hostile crowd Nov. 7, 2009, at Beaver Stadium and led the Ohio State football team to a 24-7 victory against Penn State. Pryor and the Buckeyes were almost perfect, committing zero turnovers, outrushing the Nittany Lions by nearly a 3-to-1 margin and controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football.
The native son had returned and avenged a 2008 home loss to the Nittany Lions, one that Pryor took extra hard after his fourth-quarter fumble led to the game-winning touchdown in a 13-6 PSU victory. The lasting image from that night was Pryor sitting in the Ohio State bench with his head in his hands.
The image led to some pregame controversy a year later when a PSU student marketing group started selling a T-shirt depicting Pryor with the Nittany Lions’ mascot arm-in-arm with the lion holding a box of tissues above the heading “The Nutcracker: A Terrelle Cryer Story.” The shirts were recalled almost as quickly as they were released, but it served to motivate Pryor. The sophomore even told reporters before the game that he hoped to acquire one.
There was no crying for Pryor after the game. In fact, he was all smiles.
“It’s all fun and games,” he said in the Nov. 13, 2009, edition of Buckeye Sports Bulletin. “When you go somewhere else, they’ve got to find something to rag on you. I did mess up last year, and you learn off that kind of stuff.”
It did not take long for Ohio State to jump out to a lead and quiet the white-clad fans in Happy Valley. The teams traded three-and-out series before OSU senior Ray Small returned a Jeremy Boone punt to the PSU 9-yard line. Two plays later, Pryor went back to pass but pulled the ball down when pressured by Nittany Lion linebacker Navorro Bowman. He eluded Bowman and defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu before racing around right end and diving into the end zone for a touchdown at the 11:47 mark of the first quarter.
Penn State answered the touchdown with its lone trip to the end zone early in the second quarter. Quarterback Daryll Clark scored a 1-yard touchdown on a fourth-down run – although replays showed that he might not have reached the goal line – and the ensuing PAT tied the game 7-7 with 12:28 left before halftime.
Ohio State quickly answered with a 10-play, 61-yard drive that ended with a 37-yard field goal by Devin Barclay. It gave the Buckeyes a 10-7 lead at halftime.
Ohio State finally broke open the game with a big play in the third quarter. The Buckeyes extended their lead to 17-7 on a 62-yard touchdown bomb from Pryor to fellow sophomore DeVier Posey. OSU then added an exclamation point on their victory in the fourth quarter when Pryor connected with tailback Brandon Saine with a 6-yard TD pass with 9:37 left in the game.
Pryor completed 8 of 17 passes for 125 yards and two scores but did most of his damage with his feet. The sophomore ran for 50 yards on five carries. Three of those runs went for first downs and another resulted in a touchdown.
Tailbacks Saine and Dan “Boom” Herron combined for 126 yards on 36 carries. Meanwhile, the OSU defense had one of its best performance of the season. The Buckeyes limited the top-ranked offense in the Big Ten to a season-low 201 yards, including only 76 on the ground. Clark completed 12 of 29 passes for 125 yards with no touchdowns and an interception, and tailback Evan Royster was held to 36 yards on 13 carries.
Junior defensive end Cameron Heyward led the effort with 11 tackles, including three for a loss and two sacks. Junior linebacker Ross Homan had 10 tackles and the game’s lone interception.
“This was a gratifying game,” OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. “It’s hard to come over here and win. You play Penn State anytime and it’s hard. But being gratified is halted the minute you start thinking about what’s next because we’ve got Iowa coming in. They’re the Big Ten co-leaders. You know how much respect we have for them.”
The game against Iowa took on added importance before the Buckeyes beat Penn State. Earlier in the day, the then-unbeaten Hawkeyes were upset 17-10 at home by Northwestern. Iowa starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi also suffered an ankle injury in the loss and was reported to be out for the rest of the regular season.
That meant the Hawkeyes would have to rely on a backup quarterback in a game at Ohio Stadium that would determine the Rose Bowl.