NEW ORLEANS -- Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor may have maneuvered himself into the crosshairs of the NCAA by signing and selling Ohio State memorabilia, an offense that earned him a five-game suspension that starts with the 2011 season, but Tuesday night he placed his personal signature on the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
And he did it with bold, flourishing strokes.
The Buckeyes' embattled junior quarterback used his entire athletic package to power No. 6 Ohio State (12-1) to a 31-26 victory over No. 8 Arkansas (10-3). The victory not only was a personal statement by Pryor, but also a collective exorcism for both the Buckeyes and the beleaguered Big Ten.
It was Ohio State's first bowl victory against an SEC team after nine consecutive losses, and it helped erase some of the sting of the Big Ten's Black Saturday, when member schools went 0-5 in bowl action.
Pryor threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns in the first half as the Buckeyes built a 28-10 lead, and Ohio State had just enough defense to hold off a furious rally by Ryan Mallett and the Arkansas offense.
After exchanging field goals to start the second half, Ohio State led 31-13 with 4:13 left in the third quarter. But that's when the Buckeyes' offense went stale and Arkansas ran off 13 unanswered points -- a 22-yard TD pass from Mallett to Jarius Wright, a two-point conversion on a pass to D.J. Williams, a safety on a tackle by linebacker Anthony Leon and a 47-yard field goal by Zach Hocker -- to trim the deficit to 31-26 with 8:55 left.
Pryor made two monster scrambles to keep a Buckeyes drive alive, but on fourth-and-one from the Ohio State 37, coach Jim Tressel elected to go for the first. It almost backfired when safety Tramain Thomas forced a fumble by Dan Herron, who attempted to jump over the pile.
But with a first down at the Buckeye 38, Arkansas could not punch it in.
Still, the game was far from over. Down to the final 70 seconds, Arkansas' Julian Horton broke through to block a Ben Buchanan punt, and Arkansas had the ball at the Ohio State 18 with 64 seconds left. But on second down, Mallett threw under duress into double coverage, and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas picked off a pass intended for Jarius Wright to seal the victory.
Pryor struck first for Ohio State, taking a high shotgun snap on third-and-nine from the Arkansas 37 and finding a seam on the right side for a 27-yard gain and a first down. But as he approached the 10, he lost his footing and flailed out his arm, making the ball an easy target for Arkansas' Thomas, who was trailing the play and swatted the ball free.
As the ball rolled toward the goal line, Arkansas safety Rudell Crim and defensive end Tenarius Wright collided and knocked each other off the ball, sending the ball squirting into the end zone, where wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher gobbled it up for a 7-0 Ohio State lead.
Ohio State's attempt at an ambush onside kickoff backfired when Arkansas recovered near midfield. It took Mallett just five plays to tie the game, 7-7, with a 17-yard strike to Joe Adams on a fade route that was well-defended by cornerback Travis Howard.
Pryor's ability to thwart the Arkansas blitz with his quickness was one of the keys of the first half. In leading the Buckeyes to four touchdown drives on their six first-half possessions, Pryor consistently bought time for himself in the pocket and found open receivers downfield.
Pryor, who completed 13-of-19 passes for 203 yards in the first half, set up the go-ahead TD with a 31-yard completion to Sanzenbacher on a deep post. Herron made it 14-7 by scoring untouched on a nine-yard draw against an Arkansas blitz that failed to get close.
Arkansas failed to convert a critical fourth-and-one from the Ohio State 30 when Coach Bobby Petrino decided to have Mallett attempt a pass rather than pound it with Knile Davis, who gained 82 yards in the first half. Ohio State's Cameron Heyward made the unusual play call fail by batting down Mallett's pass over the middle.
Pryor then drove Ohio State 70 yards in eight plays to take a 21-7 lead. The Buckeyes decided to speed up their tempo in between plays, and the pedal-to-the-metal tempo seemed to keep Arkansas on its heels. Pryor hit a wide-open tight end Reid Fragel for 43 yards to the Arkansas 28, and he got the payoff four plays later by beating a blitz and hitting a diving Sanzenbacher in the end zone from 15 yards out.
Ohio State extended its lead to 28-7 on Pryor's 43-yard bomb to DeVier Posey, who spun his body around in the end zone to outmuscle Thomas for the ball.
Arkansas got a 20-yard field goal from Hocker as time expired in the first half to draw the Razorbacks within 28-10, but Ohio State was firmly in control. Ohio State gained 338 yards in total offense and converted 6-of-8 third down attempts in the first half.