Ask a die-hard Ohio State fan. Most of us expected Pryor to redshirt. Nobody expected Todd Boeckman to continue his turnover barrage. Pryor's last 10 starts in '08 came as a surprise, to the fans, and probably to Jim Tressel. In hind-site, it's the best thing that could have happened.
The thought of a dual-threat quarterback, and one with unbelievable raw talent(not like Greg Bellasari mind you - no offense Greg), appealed to the senses of Buckeye fans. 'Three yards and a cloud of dust' may have been the reputation, the history, but we didn't necessarily want it to be the future. Watching a Qb chunk-off ten yards at-a-time, shaking-off 300 pound defensive linemen, was something new, something exciting, but it didn't take long for us to realize that he had to pass the ball for the offense to be effective, especially against the Nations elite.
We remembered the reason that Pryor gave the fans/media for coming to Ohio State. He said he felt that Jim Tressel and Company would better prepare him for the next level as a quarterback. TP carried the title of running-quarterback, freakish-athlete, but nobody mistook the guy for Joe Montana. We didn't know if he was serious. We didn't know if he could become a great quarterback, not just a guy that could mend broken plays, not just a guy that could win at this level, but a real, certified quarterback. All we could do was watch, and hope that he progressed as a passer.
How do you live up to those expectations?
If he was going to excel at the position, if he was going to stay at the position, he was going to have to learn the passing game. He was going to have to develop his footwork, and improve, quickly. Could he? Would he? We just didn't know.
2009 was a weird season. The USC game was close. Sure, USC didn't turn out to be what we expected, but they're still USC. They have loads of talent, and they beat Ohio State 18-15 on their final drive. It wasn't a blowout, not like the haters called before the game(they called for the same blowout against Texas in the Fiesta, and Oregon in the Rose Bowl - boy, those guys aren't much for covering spreads).
The Purdue loss reminded me of the LSU loss. Penalties and turnovers cost us that game. Against Purdue last season we had 9 penalties and 5 turnovers. Against LSU in January 2008, the Buckeyes had 7 penalties(4 of the 15-yard variety) and 3 turnovers. We weren't being outplayed - we were making mistakes. Tressel-ball wasn't faltering - the players were. And to live through all the hate-mail, over-rated, 'can't win the big one' crap stung even worse knowing that this team was in position to win their last 22 ballgames. They won 19 of 'em. The three losses were by a combined 14 points. No other team in the country can say they played to the wire or won in their last 22, nobody(well, I stand corrected, NO OTHER BCS TEAM).
Pryor wasn't asked to do much in the latter part of '09. Fact is, the Ohio State offensive line was running the show. An effective passing game wasn't even needed. Tressel sat back, took the pressure off his still-young quarterback, and watched as the offensive line led Ohio State to 6 straight victories. Down the stretch-run of the BigTen season, OSU put up 270 on the ground against Minnesota, 228 on Penn St., 229 on Iowa, and 251 on Michigan, and all of them knew it was coming. If Pryor was developing as a passer, not much of it was happening during the actual games, but we did start to notice the little things.
Pryor looked more comfortable behind Center. I think it was the PSU game when I stood up from the couch in amazement after watching him roll-out, go through his progression, feel pressure, and throw the ball away! I spilt my beer. I called my friends and family and started drinking from the Tressel/Pryor well of Scarlet Kool-Aid. He was tucking it away too, protecting the rock. Where did this come from? When he did pass it, he was accurate. In the last 4 games of '09 he hit 61%, and I distinctly remember 6 or 7 terrible drops in that stretch. I remember two breadbasket touchdowns being dropped(thanks Devier - need to improve those hands baby). A few weeks earlier I was standing next to the Haters, Mark May, and the SEC faithful, calling for Tressel's head, and asking for Pryor to be moved to WR(well, No I didn't go that far, but many did). In the Oregon game, Pryor looked fantastic, almost as if he had it in him the whole time. Apparently, it wasn't needed until we played someone who could actually threaten us with their offense. He rushed for 72, and passed for 266 in the Rose Bowl, all while nursing a torn knee ligament. It started to make me wonder.
Is Jim Tressel a genius? Is Tressel-ball nothing more than a psych-out? He idles his way to victories against the inferior competition, and then puts the pedal to the metal against the Big Dogs. Pardon the cliche's, but is the heart of tressel-ball nothing more than picking-your-poison, cherry-picking, or the latest rendition of Kenny singing, " know when to hold 'em, know when to fold'em, know when to walk away, know when to run".
Two-times he's opened the play-book over the last two years, once against Texas in the Fiesta, and again against Oregon in the Rose Bowl, not-so-coincidentally, the two most explosive offenses we've faced in that time frame. Was this a conservative coach, or just a mid-life crisis suburbanite with a new corvette in the garage? You know the one. They drive it about 13 times a year, protect it like their own child, hope that it retains it's value, and then one day, later in life, they pull up next to some teenager with a custom Japanese-job, sport-muffler, blow-it-away, go home, and put their 'baby' back in the garage. Nothing reverberates more to me heading into this football season as much as Kirk Herbstreits words prior to the Rose Bowl, "Tressel is going to take the cellophane off the young quarterback".
Pryor continued to progress in the spring. The one thing that stood out in the spring game was his footwork. The old 'running-quarterback' was starting to look like an NFL quarterback. I never thought the kid would have that potential, I didn't. I always thought of him as a good college qb with no future at the position, an athlete who couldn't develop the techinique required. Now, I'm doubting myself. I'm starting to wonder if 'the kid' is actually capable of 3,000 yards in the air. Better yet, I know he is. Now, will Tressel put him back in the garage, or is he going to turn the kid into an everyday driver? That's the million-dollar question.
Terrelle has been referred to by his coach as a tire-less worker, a competitor, a player that will not be under-prepared. As Tressel said at the BigTen media days, ' (Pryor) has been working on the little things, he already has the big things'. The problem with Terrelle as a quarterback hasn't been his arm strength. The issues have been with his ball-protection, his progressions/reads, and his footwork. All areas where we saw considerable improvement in the quiet, latter part of 2009. The casual football fan might not have seen the metamorphosis, they just looked at the statistics, but we did. Oregon wasn't a one-hit wonder.
Pryor has been getting better since the day he arrived on campus. Now, he's a junior, with 10 starters coming back on offense. He's dropped about 15 pounds(to around 225). His progression as a quarterback, his sheer talent, his surrounding cast, and more than anything, his growing confidence, has Terrelle and Jim ready for the race to Glendale. The cat is out of the bag, or should I say, the car is out of the garage.