Friday, January 9, 2009

OSU Football: Pryor's growth is critical for Bucks success

I can't remember any high school football player ever getting more publicity and hype than Terrelle Pryor.

Coming out of Jeannette, Pennsylvania, the 6-6, 230-pound Pryor had the athletic skills to cure a dude with lock-jaw. From the moment he stepped onto the field in the first quarter of the Buckeyes' opening game with Youngstown State, he demonstrated his knack for the dramatic.

Shoot, by the Buckeyes fourth game of the season, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel had no choice but to pull the ultra-talented kid off the pine, and hand him the reins for the rest of the season.

In nine games as a starter, the freshman signal caller led the Buckeyes to an 8-1 record and a share of the Big Ten title. On the year, Pryor put up decent numbers, going 100-of-166 passing for 1,311 yards and 12 touchdown tosses. However, it was his legs that made Pryor so dangerous to opposing defenses, as he rushed for 631 yards and six touchdowns, giving him nearly 2,000 total yards on the year.

But as good as Pryor played during his freshman season with the Buckeyes, one can't get away from the fact that his inability to see downfield in the passing game, is what prevented the Buckeyes from winning another outright Big Ten championship. It also cost them a Fiesta Bowl victory.

Early on in Monday night's Fiesta Bowl game with Texas, the Buckeyes managed to successfully move the football against the Longhorns defense. But once Ohio State got it into Texas territory, the offense stalled. Much of the reason why the offense faltered so many times was the fact that Pryor wasn't able to find the open receiver. And believe me, there were many times his receivers were wide open.

No better example than in the first half, when Pryor was being rushed from the backside and forced to roll right. Being the great athlete that he is, Pryor simply out ran the oncoming defender for a 12-yard gain and a Buckeyes first down in Texas territory.

However, on that very play, OSU senior receiver Brian Robiskie, had broken off his route when Pryor escaped the pocket, and was streaking down the sideline — with the closest Longhorns player being more than 10 yards behind him. Pryor didn't see him and instead of hitting Robiskie on a sure 53-yard scoring strike, the frosh simply ran it to the sideline.

OSU would end up missing a 51-yard field goal.

In the second half, it seemed that Pryor had lost all confidence with his arm, throwing for just 16 yards in the final 30 minutes of action. His inability to make plays with his arm, forced Tressel to re-insert Boeckman at quarterback for most of final quarter of play. Pryor was moved to receiver.

Now, before everyone decides to overthrow Pryor as next season's quarterback, let's remember back to the early days of Troy Smith.

Smith, like Pryor, was an athletic phenom who could make plays simply by tucking the ball under his arm and grinding out yardage with his feet. Both were unpolished coming out of high school, mostly because their coaches were more interested in winning games than making sure they became ready for the next level.

That's no knock on Ted Ginn Sr. or Ray Reitz — Smith and Pryor's respective high school coaches — it's just stating a fact.

Just like Smith did a few years ago, Pryor will need to use the offseason to work harder on becoming a more polished passer, and that comes with tech drills and boatloads of film study.

There is no doubt that Pryor will do what it takes to become a great quarterback, because he understands that his growth will determine whether the Buckeyes become a national championship caliber team or just another Big Ten squad that plays the role of national punching bag.

Knowing Pryor — I'll bet on the prior.