CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- When Terrelle Pryor sprinted out of the locker room late in the third quarter, the sound that came from several thousand red-shirted Buckeye fans was pure relief.
Pryor was back and the game, surely, was in hand.
Good thing they didn't realize how bad Pryor's left quadriceps felt.
The Heisman Trophy candidate returned from a leg injury that briefly knocked him from the game, then led No. 2 Ohio State on two drives that sealed a come-from-behind, 24-13 win over Illinois on Saturday.
"The worst thing was when I came back and the guys thought I was all right and they were saying, 'Come on Terrelle, lead us,' " Pryor said. "There was no way I could do anything but hand the ball off and maybe get a couple passes."
Pryor was helped by the pounding of tailback Dan Herron and a Buckeye defense that held Illinois to 251 total yards and, after the first quarter, a pair of field goals.
The Ohio State quarterback said after the game he isn't sure how bad the injury is, but he expects to play next week against Indiana. Coach Jim Tressel said he also didn't know how seriously his junior quarterback was hurt.
"I was in full stride and all of a sudden I felt and heard something pop and I was like 'What's going on?' " Pryor said. "It was probably the worst pain I had in a while."
After being helped from form the field and limping to the locker room, his replacement, Joe Bauserman, threw an interception to Illinois safety Trulon Henry.
The Illini went three-and-out, though, and Pryor came back a few minutes later, running to the sideline to Buckeye fans' loud cheers -- and scattered boos from Illini fans. The momentum didn't change right away, but it only took the Buckeyes a couple of possessions to get moving.
On a 14-play, 59-yard drive that chewed up almost eight minutes of the third and fourth quarters, Pryor and the Buckeyes' backfield finally pounded the Illini out of the game.
Herron, called "Boom" by his coach and teammates, carried the ball on eight of those plays for 18 hard yards, draining the clock and wearing the Illini out.
"Boom is always ready to be that physical back you want him to be," Tressel said. "He took that fourth quarter, and really parts of the third when we were against the wind ... and Boom did a good job of running physically."
Illinois (2-2, 0-1) marched inside the Ohio State 20 with 4:16 to play, trailing 17-10, but coach Ron Zook decided to kick a field on fourth-and-7 with 4:36 to play. Zook was hoping that a defense that had held Ohio State most of the game could do so one more time.
"I just felt like we should take the points we will for sure have and then count on the defense to get the ball back," Zook said.
The Illini never got another chance.
Ohio State (5-0, 1-0) marched down field and Herron put the game out of reach with a 6-yard touchdown run with under 2 minutes to play.
Illinois traditionally plays the Buckeyes tough -- winning 11 of the last 25 meetings before Saturday, including an upset that ended Ohio State's bid for a perfect season and national title in 2007 -- and made clear early that the they were in for a struggle.
Taking over at their own 45 after a short punt into a steady wind, the Illini drove 55 yards -- 23 of it on a tricky pass play from quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase to Jarred Fayson and back to Scheelhaase. The redshirt freshman then ran 3 yards for a touchdown to make it 7-0.
Pryor struck right back, running 66 yards before hitting Brandon Saine on an 8-yard TD pass that tied the game with 6:17 left in the first quarter.
Illinois had a chance to move back on top, but Derek Dimke's 41-yard field goal try came up short in the steady wind. It looked like it was headed through the uprights but slowed, then stopped and fell to the turf a couple of yards short.
Ohio State's defense held Illinois to 251 total yards, and Mikel Leshoure to 80 yards on 19 carries after entering the game with four straight 100-yard rushing games. Scheelhaase was 12 of 22 for 109 yards passing. Eight of his completions were to Fayson, who had 83 receiving yards.
"It's all really about discipline. I think early on we kind of didn't have that," Ohio State defensive lineman Dexter Larimore said. "We kind of thought [we knew] what they were going to come out in and what they were going to play, but once we made the adjustments, we started playing better, smarter and a little bit faster."