NEW ORLEANS — Terrelle Pryor passed for 277 yards and two touchdowns and Solomon Thomas made a huge interception with about 58 seconds left, preserving No. 6 Ohio State’s 31-26 victory eighth-ranked Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl on Tuesday night.
The Buckeyes (12-1) might want to send a thank-you note to the NCAA, which allowed Pryor, Thomas and three others to play even though they will have to serve five-game suspensions next season for selling memorabilia and getting discounted tattoos.
Four of those Buckeyes made huge plays. DeVier Posey caught a touchdown pass and Dan Herron ran for a score as Ohio State built a 31-13 lead. Arkansas (10-3) raced back and had a chance for the win after a blocked punt turned over the ball at the Buckeyes 18 with 1:09 remaining.
But Thomas surprised Ryan Mallett by dropping into coverage from his defensive end position. Mallett never saw him and Thomas picked off the pass to seal the win.
After three quarters, Pryor passed for 221 yards and two touchdowns, including a 43-yarder to Posey late in the second quarter, and Herron rushed for a 9-yard score.
Pryor, Herron and Posey were among five players — along with All-Big Ten offensive tackle Mike Adams and backup defensive end Solomon Thomas — who violated NCAA rules by selling memorabilia and getting discounts on tattoos.
The Buckeyes led by as much as 28-10 at halftime, but after both teams exchanged 46-yard field goals in the third quarter, the Razorbacks (10-2) cut it to 31-19 when Ryan Mallett lofted a 22-yard touchdown pass that hit Jarius Wright in stride in the end zone. Arkansas then went for 2, with D.J. Williams making a short catch and stretching the ball across the goal line while being wrapped up by Jermale Hines on the 1.
Mallett had 234 yards passing and two touchdown tosses, including one to Joe Adams, who had nine catches for 120 yards. Knile Davis rushed for 136 yards, including runs of 16 and 11 yards on Arkansas’ touchdown drive in the second quarter.
Pryor rushed for 78 yards on nine carries and Herron had 66 yards on 16 carries.
Dane Sanzenbacher caught Pryor’s first scoring strike, making a diving, 15-yard catch for his second TD of the game in the second quarter.
Earlier, Sanzenbacher opened the scoring when he recovered a fumble for a touchdown after Pryor lost the ball on the Arkansas 3 during a weaving, tackle-shedding, 34-yard scramble. Two Arkansas players collided as they tried to recover and the ball squirted into the end zone.
Arkansas quickly struck back after Ohio State’s attempted surprise onside kick was recovered by the Razorbacks at their own 49. Soon after, Mallett hit Williams over the middle for an 18-yard gain to the 17, where Williams appeared to fall flat on top of linebacker Ross Homan before rising to his feet without being ruled down and scampering the rest of the way for a touchdown.
After the play was reviewed, officials ruled Williams’ wrist touched the turf, drawing boos from Arkansas fans who had just gleefully completed their “Woo Pig Sooie!” chant.
One play later, though, Mallett went straight for the end zone, where Adams hauled in the scoring pass just before stumbling out of bounds.
Arkansas, playing in its first BCS bowl, dropped two passes on its opening possession, including a deep throw to Adams that might have gone for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
Mallett also was under heavy pressure for much of the first half. He was sacked three times and hit often as he threw.
Only after Posey’s TD made it 28-7 did the Razorbacks begin to find their rhythm on offense again. Mallet was able to drive Arkansas 83 yards in less than 2 minutes to the Ohio State 3. The drive included a dropped pass by Adams in the end zone, which likely cost the Hogs four points. With only a few seconds remaining, Arkansas settled for Zach Hocker’s 20-yard field goal to make it 28-1 0 at halftime.