Ohio State fans that had been longing to see Terrelle Pryor and Chris “Beanie” Wells in the same backfield finally got their wish and the result was the Buckeyes’ best offensive output in a month.
OSU successfully kicked off defense of its Big Ten championship by piling up more than 400 total yards and rolling to a 34-21 victory over previously undefeated Minnesota.
Pryor and Wells took center stage in the contest. The freshman quarterback accounted for 167 yards and three touchdowns running and throwing while Wells knocked the rust off a three-game absence to run for 106 yards.
Perhaps best of all, the 6-1, 237-pound junior seemed to show no ill-effects from the toe injury that had kept him shelved since the season opener against Youngstown State. Wells carried 14 times, and one point late in the second quarter vaulted over a Minnesota defender in the open field during a 21-yard run.
“I thought he did all right,” OSU head coach Jim Tressel said of Wells’ comeback performance. “I wasn’t real pleased after the first couple of carries – we had a so-so carry and then a turnover. After that, I thought he got warmed up and got his confidence back. He was anxious to get back in there and get the rust off, and I thought his last 10 carries were where he needed to be.”
While the Buckeyes were beginning to click on offense, the defense played well for much of the game until surrendering a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. Minnesota entered the game No. 4 in the nation in turnover margin but gave away three possessions.
Junior cornerback Donald Washington picked off a pass midway through the second quarter to set up an OSU field goal. Just before halftime, junior safety Anderson Russell forced a fumble and recovered it himself just before halftime. The Buckeyes turned that into a touchdown. And late in the third period, senior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins forced a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Ross Homan and the Buckeyes cashed in for another touchdown.
Still, Tressel was bothered by what he thought was a lackluster effort down the stretch.
“I thought we got a little bit sloppy in that last quarter and a half,” the OSU coach said. “I thought we lost our edge in the back half of the third quarter and in the fourth, but I thought our kids played hard.”
Ohio State wasted no time getting on the scoreboard first, moving 75 yards in just five plays with the game’s opening possession. On the fourth play of the drive, Wells broke off a 28-yard run over left end, and then Pryor finished things off with a 33-yard scamper around the other side.
OSU kicker Ryan Pretorius added the extra point and the Buckeyes were off and running with a 7-0 lead at the 12:47 mark of the first period.
Minnesota got its first points midway through the opening quarter when Wells fumbled at his own 24 and the Gophers turned that into a 33-yard field by kicker Joel Monroe.
It stayed 7-3 until the Buckeyes got a pair of Pretorius field goals in the second quarter. The senior kicker had a chip shot for 22 yards at the 9:45 mark and added a 44-yarder with 4:10 left to go before the half to push OSU’s lead to 13-3.
The 44-yarder came after Washington’s interception, and when Russell stripped Minnesota tight end Jack Simmons at the Gophers 35, the Buckeyes were in business again. Wells broke off his 21-yard run, leaping over safety Kyle Theret in the process, and two plays later, Pryor found senior receiver Brian Robiskie in the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown. Pretorius added the PAT to give the Buckeyes a 20-3 advantage at the break.
The teams traded scores to open the third quarter. Minnesota got a 28-yard field goal from Monroe to cut its deficit to 20-6 at the 10:40 mark of the third period, but Ohio State responded with a 74-yard drive that took over six plays and less than three minutes. Big plays in the drive were a 22-yard pass from Pryor to junior split end Brian Hartline and a 26-yard burst up the middle by tailback Dan “Boom” Herron.
Two plays after Herron’s run, Pryor scampered around right end for a 1-yard touchdown run. Pretorius added the extra point to give the Buckeyes a 27-6 cushion with 7:37 left in the third period.
OSU stretched it out to 34-6 on the first play of the fourth quarter when senior co-captain Todd Boeckman relieved Pryor and threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie.
The Gophers made things interesting with a pair of touchdowns late in the fourth quarter. Wide receiver Ralph Spry took a pitch from quarterback Adam Weber and tallied a 3-yard run at the 8:24 mark and the Gophers got a 22-yard scoring pass from Weber to receiver Da’Jon McKnight with 1:13 remaining.
Weber finished the game with 23 completions in 36 attempts for 187 yards and a touchdown. Freshman running back DeLeon Eskridge was the Gophers’ leading rusher with 18 carries for 76 yards.
Meanwhile, Pryor completed 8 of 13 attempts for 70 yards and a score while Boeckman added a 5-for-9 performance, good for 65 yards and a score.
In addition to Wells and Pryor, Herron added 50 yards on 10 carries to help give the Buckeyes rush for a season-high 279 yards. In total, the Buckeyes totaled 414 yards of offense to 268 for the Gophers.
OSU linebacker James Laurinaitis once again led his team with a game-high 12 tackles while Homan added 10. Minnesota was led on defense by cornerback Traye Simmons, who had eight stops.
The Buckeyes (4-1, 1-0) will be back in action next Saturday when they visit Wisconsin. The game is scheduled for an 8 p.m. Eastern kickoff and will be televised by either ABC or ESPN2. The network is scheduled to make its determination on which station will handle the telecast by Monday morning.