PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- 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.
With Ohio State nursing a two-point lead in the fourth quarter, he took charge during a 13-play, 81-yard drive eating up more than six minutes -- part of the Buckeyes' Rose Bowl-record 41:37 time-of-possession advantage.
Pryor converted a third-and-13 play near midfield with about nine minutes to play on a 26-yard catch by tight end Jake Ballard, who leaped high to snatch it. After another third-down conversion, Posey made an impressive TD catch, turning both directions and snagging Pryor's pass away from his body before tumbling over the goal line.
"I guess everybody knows he can throw now," Ballard said with a grin.
Posey had eight catches for 101 yards, and Brandon Saine caught an early TD pass for the Buckeyes, making their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1997.
Ohio State's defense did some of its best work in an altogether dominant year, limiting the Ducks' no-huddle offense to its worst passing game of the season. Masoli threw for just 81 yards and LaMichael James rushed for 70, but a series of big plays and kick returns by Kenjon Barner kept Oregon (10-3) close until Pryor sealed it.
"Definitely the whole night we were just a little bit off," said Masoli, who was 9 for 20. "We didn't really open up the playbook regarding the air attack. I don't know why. I wasn't calling the plays."
Oregon made a remarkable comeback from its season-opening loss to Boise State to win its first Pac-10 title since 2001, but the Ducks haven't won the Rose Bowl since the game's third edition in 1917, back when the Granddaddy of Them All was a toddler.
In its first Rose Bowl since 1995, Oregon ran for 179 yards, the second-most allowed by Ohio State this season, but fell far short of its lofty point totals from its recent games. Masoli's 1-yard TD run put Oregon up 17-16 early in the third quarter, but the Ducks' powerful offense never scored again, repeatedly corralling Masoli and his tailbacks.
"They did a great job of taking (Masoli) away and not letting him run a lot of our read stuff," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "They had a guy assigned to our quarterback, so he has to hand the ball off, and that's what they wanted us to do. Part of trying to defend us is you have to take something away, and they tried to take away the quarterback."
After Oregon's Morgan Flint missed a 44-yard field goal -- his first miss since Oct. 3 -- with 5:10 to play, Pryor drove the Buckeyes one more time, gaining a first down with a 12-yard run right after Oregon called its final timeout before kneeling on a clock-killing 11-play drive.
"T.P. took this game seriously, at a whole different level," Ohio State defensive lineman Doug Worthington said. "He was amazing with his arm and his legs. On the defense, we were just trying to get the ball back to him to make plays."
LeGarrette Blount scored an early touchdown for the Ducks on his first play of the Rose Bowl, but the once-suspended tailback also fumbled out of the end zone in the third quarter, ending a potential scoring drive. The cheers Blount received on the way on and off the field highlighted a tumultuous season for the bruising tailback, who was suspended for eight games after punching a Boise State player in frustration after the Ducks' season-opening loss.
Ohio State marched 19 plays for a short field goal 1:05 before halftime, and Ross Homan's 20-yard interception return moments later put the Buckeyes in position for Aaron Pettrey's 45-yard field goal at the gun to make it 16-10.