NEW ORLEANS — Terrelle Pryor passed for 277 yards and two touchdowns and Solomon Thomas made a huge interception with 58 seconds left, preserving No. 6 Ohio State's 31-26 victory over No. 8 Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl on Tuesday night.
The Buckeyes might want to send a thank-you note to the NCAA, which allowed Pryor, Thomas and three others play even though they will have to serve five-game suspensions next season for selling memorabilia and getting discounted tattoos.
Those four made huge plays. DeVier Posey caught a touchdown and Dan Herron ran for a score as Ohio State (12-1) built a 31-13 lead. Arkansas (10-3) raced back and had a chance for the win after blocking a punt and recovering it at the Buckeyes' 18-yard line 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, Ohio State's first in 10 tries against SEC opposition in bowl games.
"When you play in these BCS games, you're playing great teams, and a lot of them are SEC teams," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said.
Pryor threw for two touchdowns, including a 43-yarder to Posey late in the second quarter, and Herron rushed for a 9-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
All-Big Ten offensive tackle Mike Adams was the other player who violated NCAA rules. All five were allowed to play after pledging to Tressel that they would return next season and not skirt the NCAA's punishment.
Ohio State salvaged a bit of pride for the Big Ten, which had a dismal performance on New Year's Day, going 0-5 including three losses to SEC schools.
The Buckeyes led 28-10 at halftime, but after the teams exchanged 46-yard field goals in the third quarter, the Razorbacks cut it to 31-19 when Mallett lofted a 22-yard touchdown that hit Jarius Wright in stride in the end zone. Arkansas went for the two-point conversion, with tight end D.J. Williams making a catch and stretching the ball across the goal line while being wrapped up by defensive back Jermale Hines on the 1.
Mallett also had a touchdown to Joe Adams, who had nine catches for 120 yards. Knile Davis rushed for 139 yards, including runs of 16 and 11 on Arkansas' touchdown drive in the second quarter.
Pryor rushed for 115 yards on 15 carries but hurt his ankle late in the fourth quarter and limped off briefly. He had a teammate on either side of him helping to support him as he spoke to ESPN after the game.
Herron had 86 yards on 24 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.
"We've got a lot of lessons to learn but our kids fought like crazy tonight," Tressel said.
Posey's TD catch in the second quarter made it 28-7 before the Razorbacks began to find their rhythm on offense.