EVANSTON, Ill. -- With Northwestern's defense coming at him on a third-and-16 and his receivers bottled up, Terrelle Pryor calmly stayed in the pocket, waiting, waiting and waiting for what seemed like minutes before finally letting fly for a 44-yard pass.
If anyone wondered how the freshman would rebound from the gutwrenching loss to Penn State, that play on Ohio State's first possession was quite an answer.
The freshman phenom showed the savvy of a veteran Saturday, throwing for three touchdowns and turning several jams into big plays as No. 11 Ohio State routed No. 24 Northwestern 45-10. He got some help from Chris "Beanie" Wells, who broke free for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
"I felt real comfortable today," said Pryor, who was 9-of-14 for 197 yards. "I have a lot more I want to accomplish and get better at. Keep progressing. Keep progressing."
It was Ohio State's fourth victory in a row over Northwestern, and it delighted the sellout crowd that appeared to be two-thirds Buckeyes fans.
More importantly, the win keeps the Buckeyes' chances for a fourth straight Big Ten title alive. Ohio State (8-2, 5-1) needs to win out and get some help from Penn State and Michigan State, who play each other in the season finale.
Mike Kafka got another start for Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) with C.J. Bacher still nursing a hamstring injury. But Kafka couldn't duplicate his big day from last week, when he set a Big Ten quarterback record with 217 yards rushing. Kafka finished with 83 yards rushing and a score and was 18-of-27 for 177 yards, but the short-handed Wildcats were no match for the bigger, stronger Buckeyes.
"There's not a guy hanging his head in our locker room," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "We got what we deserved."
At least this one was closer than the past three games, when Ohio State outscored Northwestern 160-24. And that was with Ohio State scoring after a fake punt in the fourth quarter and again with 7 seconds left.
"I've got nothing to say about that," Fitzgerald said, when asked if the fourth-quarter scores were poor sportsmanship. "We need to go out and play better for us to win, and we didn't do that."
Pryor apologized to his teammates after the loss to Penn State, saying his mistakes cost them the game. His fumble set up Penn State's go-ahead touchdown, and the Nittany Lions sealed the victory with an interception. With last weekend's bye giving him an extra week to stew about the loss, some wondered how the freshman would recover.
Quite nicely, thank you.
"I was so down on myself," Pryor said. "I needed this two-week break."
Pryor was sacked once, but never came close to a turnover. Several times he found himself in spots that would have made most other quarterbacks throw the ball away or, worse, turn it over. Yet he always managed to come up with the big play, particular on third downs. The Buckeyes converted eight of 13 chances on third down.
"That's what he can do," Wells said. "The thing about Terrelle is that he's a guy that always wants to get better."
Pryor's most impressive escape came on Ohio State's fifth scoring drive, when he was chased from his own 32 all the way back to about the 20 on third-and-8. Northwestern linebacker Quentin Davie even got a hand on him, but Pryor shrugged it off. After scrambling forward for a few yards, he lofted a pass to Hartline down the sideline for a 46-yard gain, his longest throw of the day.
Three plays later, Pryor connected with Rory Nicol for a 6-yard touchdown that put Ohio State ahead 31-10.
"It was a windy day, it wasn't the easiest day to be throwing the ball around," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "He did some good things. Every time he is out there, he is going to get better."
Wells hasn't been as explosive as he was last year, missing three games with a foot injury, and was held to just 55 yards in the loss to Penn State. But he broke loose in a big way against the Wildcats, matching his entire output against Penn State on one scoring run in the second quarter that turned the game in Ohio State's favor.
Taking the ball from Pryor, he ran into a pile at the line of scrimmage. But he found a hole, rumbled through it and had an open path to the end zone. Northwestern cornerback Jordan Mabin finally caught up to Wells around the 3-yard line and got a hand on the big back's shoulders. That had all the effectiveness of a gnat, as Wells brushed him off and continued into the end zone, doing a little hop over the goal line to give Ohio State a 14-7 lead.
"They hit me and I bounced back and I just kept my feet moving," Wells said. "I kept the effort and I got a great outcome."
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