COLUMBUS (AP) - All of Ohio was on edge on Saturday afternoon and it had nothing to do with the hotly contested upcoming statewide elections.
This was serious stuff: Ohio State was on the ropes.
The second-ranked Buckeyes led 14-10 midway through the second half at Illinois with standout quarterback Terrelle Pryor in the locker room getting treatment for an injured leg.
It was then that coach Jim Tressel decided to control the ball with his running attack and rely on his defense. It's an approach that has resulted in lots of wins while confounding critics who believe Tressel plays such games way too close to the sweater vest.
''We kind of got that momentum going with the two-back looks,'' Tressel said of his conservative approach after Pryor went out with a strained left thigh muscle. ''If there was a moment where we felt like, 'Hey, we needed to do something movement-wise with Terrelle to make the difference in the game,' we would have (done it). But we just didn't see the need.''
Pryor returned but the Buckeyes were going to play it safe. They were content to feed the ball on almost every snap to physical tailback Dan Herron, who helped Ohio State control the ball for almost 9 minutes in the fourth quarter and hang on for a 24-13 victory.
Herron had four carries for 6 yards at halftime, but was called on 19 times in the second half, gaining 89 yards.
It was vintage Tressel: milk the clock, stay on the ground, frustrate the defense, trade field position and make the lead stand up.
At times, he even used seven offensive linemen to gain control of the line of scrimmage. It was as if the Buckeyes turned the clock back to the mid-1970s, with Archie Griffin scissoring through tiny holes for big yards behind a massive front wall.
''We couldn't have won that ballgame had we not started running the ball better, especially with the nature of that game,'' Tressel said after running his Ohio State record to 99-21. ''That was an old-fashioned Big Ten slugfest.''
With the Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0) hosting Indiana (3-1, 0-1) on Saturday, circumstances might force Ohio State to follow that familiar template once again.
After the game Pryor said that the injury limited his effectiveness in the fourth quarter, opening the door to putting the outcome in the hands of the running game.
Tressel said Pryor hasn't really been tested this week. The Buckeyes went through drills and weight lifting on Sunday, then had Monday off.
''I would expect every day he'll get closer to 100 percent,'' Tressel said of his junior quarterback. ''I think he'll be fine.''
Elsewhere, the Buckeyes are not so fine. One of the emotional leaders of the defense, fifth-year senior defensive back Tyler Moeller, was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.
Moeller had earned a starting spot in the spring of 2009 before he was sucker-punched in a Florida bar while on vacation with his family. He suffered a fractured skull and brain trauma that resulted in surgery to alleviate pressure. As a result, he suffered headaches and short-term memory loss. He also had to avoid all contact, meaning he watched from the sideline throughout the season.
After rehabbing from the injury, he won back his starting job at ''star'' - Ohio State's term for the nickel back - in August and was off to a strong start. But now he's gone for another season.
''To watch him recover, come back and get after it in the weight and film rooms, do all the right things, and then all of a sudden one play goes wrong and then he's out for another year ...,'' defensive lineman Dexter Larimore said, shaking his head. ''It's sad to see that happen to a guy like that. It's a tremendous loss for us.''
Tressel said Ohio State would appeal to the NCAA to ask for Moeller to receive a sixth year of eligibility due to medical hardship.
''You just feel sick for him because you saw the pain he was in last year not being able to help his teammates and now he was having fun,'' Tressel said. ''It's very disappointing and obviously it hurts us.''