Terrelle Pryor – Championship Quarterback?

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There’s a question that has hung over the 2010 Ohio State Buckeyes like a yellow cloud since April. The question is still fraught with significance in late October as the team prepares for another back alley brawl with the Wisconsin Badgers. Reporters spring the question on every member of the Ohio State football program: Jim Tressel, Dane Sanzenbacher, Brandon Saine, Cameron Heyward, Devin Barclay. After the games or on media day, no one is spared the question, “How do feel about the development of Terrelle Pryor as a quarterback?”

By Hans Hetrick

The attention given to Terrelle Pryor’s development is unequaled in college football and quite possibly the entire sphere of American sports. It seems that no matter what kind of performance Pryor puts in, the words “development” or “growth” or “progress” follow his name in every postgame. Are the teammates of Ryan Mallet, Kellen Moore, and Andrew Luck barraged with questions about the development of their team’s quarterback?

Why is Terrelle Pryor’s development perceived to be incomplete compared to other blue chip quarterbacks in the country? Pryor is far from being wet behind the ears. The Wisconsin game this Saturday will be his 30th career start.

No one can claim that Terrelle Pryor has underperformed at Ohio State. After last week’s Indiana game, the junior quarterback moved into ninth place on Ohio State’s all-time passing yards list, fourth place on OSU’s total offensive yards list, and he tied Joe Germaine for first place with his sixth game of over 300 yards in total offense.

It seems absurd to ask about the development of a guy setting records at a university with a history as rich as Ohio State. But the sentiment bears weight. Pryor does seem incomplete. And the Buckeye nation desperately wants to believe that Terrelle Pryor will fulfill his potential.

And these days, the Buckeye nation is a skittish bunch. The multiple beatdowns the Buckeyes have suffered at the hands of Florida, LSU, and USC in recent years have relegated the Ohio State football program to the B team of college football powerhouses. We crave redemption. Terrelle Pryor could be our Moses or he could be our Fran Tarkenton.

Maybe the biggest contributor to the perception of Terrelle Pryor as only partially formed is his staggering potential. He stiff arms defensive lineman to the turf as if they were toddlers. He outruns defensive backs. And he can throw the deep ball with surprising touch.

Pryor has made significant strides in the first half of the 2010 season. He’s grown into a good game manager. He’s limited his turnovers by going through his reads and making a definitive decision to run once he pulls the ball down. Jim Tressel has rewarded his quarterback’s patience with more four and five man routes. When Pryor stays with pass longer, there’s few secondaries that can cover DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher.

I was talking to a good friend this week, and he asked me that familiar question, “How do you feel about Pryor?” After I hemmed and hawed about his happy feet in the pocket and his short-armed throws into Sanzenbacher’s cleats on short slants, my Minnesotan friend replied, “You Buckeyes sure are hard on your quarterback.” He’s right.

In 29 starts, Pryor has piled up a litany of impressive accomplishments and given Buckeye fans more than our fair share of spectacular moments. What right do we have to complain? Pryor has done nothing but score touchdowns, and he continues to improve. Still, I don’t remember this uneasy feeling when Troy Smith and Craig Krenzel took snaps for the Bucks.

But it’s not what Terrelle Pryor has done that troubles stomachs across the Buckeye nation, it’s what he hasn’t done. Despite his mountains of yards and his legendary-sized potential, Terrelle Pryor has yet to step up in a crucial moment of a tight game against a top notch opponent and lift the Buckeyes to victory. He hasn’t proven that he is a championship quarterback. At the same time, he hasn’t proven that he isn’t.

In his 29 starts, only seven games have been decided by seven points or less. Compare that with Craig Krenzel, Ohio State’s last championship quarterback, and his 26 starts with 12 games decided by seven points or less. In his seven close games, Pryor did little to determine the outcome, and he had little opportunity to do so.

In his freshman year, Pryor led the Bucks on a winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter drive against Wisconsin, and his fumble late in the Penn State game cost the Buckeyes the game. Last year, Pryor couldn’t put much offense together against USC in their 18-15 loss. Other than those three games, Terrelle Pryor hasn’t had a chance to prove his mettle.

Craig Krenzel, minus the physical abilities of Terrelle Pryor, willed the Buckeyes to victory on a regular basis. His list of game-winning moments are as long as Pryor’s list of impressive statistics. His poise and determination has become legendary. Krenzel became a warm Buckeye blanket when victory seemed uncertain. He out-dueled Phillip River’s in a triple-overtime 44-38 victory. He completed a 4th and 14 in overtime against Miami in the National Championship game. He shrugged off two Illini defenders for a crucial first down late in a nail biter.

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He checked off two short routes and threw a game winning touchdown pass to win against Purdue.

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Pryor has yet to record one moment like these.

It’s hard to imagine the 2010 Buckeyes going to the National Championship, becoming an A team football powerhouse, and winning redemption for the Buckeye nation without Terrelle Pryor conjuring up some of that Krenzel poise and determination. The time will come when Terrelle Pryor will be called upon to step up and win a football game. Until then, Buckeye fans will have that uneasy feeling in their gut. It’s gonna be fun to find out what he’s got, and I’m betting on the Bucks.

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