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Pryor, defense lead OSU to Rose Bowl win

PASADENA, Calif. — Right about the same time Terrelle Pryor put down his helmet and clutched that first rose between his teeth, Jeremiah Masoli was trudging disconsolately into the Rose Bowl locker room.

Ohio State’s quarterback had just performed brilliantly on the biggest stage of his young career, while his Oregon counterpart had endured his worst outing of an otherwise charmed season.

Both Pryor and Masoli could agree: the difference was defense in the eighth-ranked Buckeyes’ 26-17 victory over the No. 7 Ducks in the 96th Rose Bowl on Friday.

The Buckeyes’ Big Ten bruisers never allowed Masoli and his creative Ducks to take flight, while Oregon couldn’t keep up with Pryor at the controls of Ohio State’s surprising aerial approach.

“We have a great defense that causes turnovers, and then our offense ends up scoring,” said Pryor, who passed for a career-high 266 yards and two touchdowns. “We owe a lot to those guys. We score the points, but they put us in that position.”

Pryor also rushed for 72 yards and threw a 17-yard scoring pass to DeVier Posey with 7:02 to play, putting Ohio State in prime position to end its three-game BCS skid while closing the 10-year gap since the Big Ten’s last win in the Rose Bowl.

And Ohio State (11-2) did it in a most unlikely manner while running 89 offensive plays to the Ducks’ 53. Pryor came out flinging it from the opening possession, completing a career-high 23 of 37 in an aggressive, inventive plan for an offense that often stayed safe and ground-bound this season, worried about Pryor’s ability to live up to his enormous potential.

“We felt like we really needed to come in flinging it around,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. “I thought (Pryor) made good decisions. He was engaged in the game, talking between series. (He) knew what they were doing, and why they were doing it.”

From the opening days of bowl preparation, Pryor’s teammates sensed a new focus in their sophomore leader, whose much-publicized recruitment had led to two solid seasons, but not the transcendence many expected from the mobile passer. With a Rose Bowl effort that evoked memories of Vince Young’s breakout performance in the same stadium four years ago, Pryor shook off his early mistakes and led the Buckeyes confidently through a tense fourth quarter.

Turns out nothing was wrong with the Buckeyes’ quarterback that winning the Rose Bowl couldn’t cure.

“I think he wanted to have a game that puts him out there in the national ranks, puts him on the map,” said receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, who had nine catches for 64 yards. “You could see it with Terrelle in the huddle. He kept his poise and kept us moving. It’s something we see in practice all the time, but everybody else can see it now, too.”

After arriving in Los Angeles, Pryor disclosed he’d been playing with a partially torn knee ligament, and he came up limping early in the game. But Pryor said the knee didn’t bother him, and nothing in his game betrayed any impediment.