Ohio State quarterback's will as good as his thrill
What the country saw in Terrelle Pryor last weekend, Jim Tressel saw long ago. That, not his gifted athleticism and strong arm, is what first got the Ohio State football coach’s attention.
Starting his first must-win game in a hostile environment at Camp Randall Stadium, Pryor didn’t flinch after the Badgers took a 17-13 lead with six minutes to play. There was a look of confidence in his face as Pryor knew what had to be done.
The 18-year-old freshman quarterback nodded his head a couple of times, put his mouthpiece in, grabbed his helmet and carried his team to a 20-17 win. That’s the can-do attitude Tressel recruited.
“There’s no question about it. When you watched Terrelle compete in high school -- whether it was football or basketball -- he was a determined, competitive young guy,” Tressel said. “He’s that way in practice. When he doesn’t do something as well as he thinks he can, that disappoints him.”
Pryor didn’t do much wrong in the winning drive. He completed passes of 19, 27 and 13 yards during the 12-play, 80-yard possession. He recognized Wisconsin’s defense was confused, got the ball snapped, faked an option pitch to Beanie Wells and ran into the end zone for an 11-yard game-winning score.
That was Wisconsin’s first home loss at night since 1995, and it snapped a 16-game home winning streak.
Pryor’s will is as good as his thrill.
“That type of thing -- especially from a field general, from a quarterback -- can certainly infect the rest of the group,” Tressel said.
Following the lead of a young player, a true freshman at that, isn’t easy. The Buckeyes have seven players with two dozen starts. They also have 11 true freshmen who have played. That’s an unusual mix of youth and experience.
Many players, including Wells, have compared Pryor and Heisman Trophy quarterback Troy Smith’s leadership abilities. Smith never feared getting in a teammate’s face or challenging him in front of the team.
“Terrelle and Troy are very different,” Tressel said. “Yet I think they do have some similar characteristics, and that might be one of them. They’re highly competitive, hold their teammates accountable and are not bashful.”
The win seemed to bring back Ohio State’s swagger. The Buckeyes had lost a little of that confidence after the beating at Southern Cal earlier this year.
“Tough wins are the most fun,” Tressel said. “Just like anything in life, anything that’s tougher is more rewarding.”
Ohio State comes back home Saturday, and the 12-ranked Buckeyes will try to continue their march toward a Big Ten championship and an outside shot at a national championship game. Unranked Purdue won’t propel OSU into the top 10, not without plenty of upsets, but the Buckeyes need to continue to improve offensively.
Since Pryor took over, the offense has taken baby steps in national rankings. OSU’s offense was hanging around the high 90s. Behind Pryor the last three games, the Buckeyes are 81st in total offense.
“He’s done a lot of things very well,” Tressel said. “Ohio State is a tough place to play quarterback, whether you’re a freshman or a fifth-year senior, and I think he’s handled the expectations. Sometimes coming off the recruiting hype, guys have a hard time living up to what everyone said they might be like. He’s handled that well.
“He has the ability to throw and run and lead and a lot of those things that you love in your quarterback.”
There were plays against Wisconsin where Pryor’s growth and comfort level were obvious. The game-winning run was one. Another, Tressel pointed to, was OSU’s first third-down play.
The Buckeyes were in an empty set, Wisconsin in cover two. The Buckeyes hadn’t seen the Badgers use a specific blitz against an empty set.
“They happened to use that blitz ... and I mean from the snap, he knew where the hole was,” Tressel said. “He knew he could hit Dane (Sanzenbacher) for about 17 yards. And I’m thinking, he never did that once in his life.”