The Buckeyes got a shocking dose of reality during the second half of their recent win at Illinois -- a painful snapshot of just how miserable life without Terrelle Pryor might be like.
Pryor, who had ripped off a brilliant 66 yard run early in the game and was directing Ohio State to another methodical victory on a gusty day in Champaign, took off in the third quarter on a called running play. He had gained about 10 yards before stumbling awkwardly, without contact, and then crashing to the turf.
When Pryor did not get up, and lay wincing in pain on the Illinois sideline, everything changed for the Buckeyes. A sixth straight Big Ten title, an undefeated regular season, a trip to the national title game -- it all seemed to be so tenuous. He missed only seven plays and returned to finish the game, but the Pryor-less Buckeyes struggled without him in the huddle.
This is not a one-dimensional, one-man team, but there are few places in the country where the quarterback and his role carry more importance. The ultra-athletic Pryor is a much-improved passer, and his skills as an open-field runner cannot be exaggerated. In multiple plays this season, Pryor has simply run away from people, once he gets some available pasture in front of him.
As the Buckeyes move on in the Big Ten, they remain the favorites, but their vulnerability if Pryor is out of the picture is significant. The backups are barely capable, a product of the difficulty in recruiting quality quarterbacks when they know the resident signal-caller is a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Ohio State will have to do a lot of things in order to meet those lofty goals of winning a sixth straight Big Ten title, and playing in the national title game. But the most critical element in the formula will be keeping Pryor healthy and active.
--QB Terrelle Pryor is 24-3 as Ohio State's starting quarterback. Pryor went 8-1 in 2008 and was 11-2 record in 2009.
--After rushing for 104 yards in the win over Illinois, QB Terrelle Pryor is now second all-time in career rushing among Ohio State quarterbacks.
--The Buckeyes have five straight seasons with at least 10 wins and are trying to become the first Big Ten team to put together six straight seasons of 10 or more wins.
SERIES HISTORY: Ohio State leads 66-12-5 (last meeting, 2009, 33-14 Ohio State).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Buckeyes had to grind one out at Illinois when faced with gusty winds, rain, and then a hobbled QB Terrelle Pryor. The huge question here is just how much Pryor's strained left thigh will limit his ability to perform. With a healthy Pryor, this is not a close game. With a Pryor that is not able to run, the load shifts to RB Dan Herron, who was key down the stretch at Illinois.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The concern here is over the thinning ranks in the secondary, where "star" Tyler Moeller has been lost for the season after tearing a pectoral muscle in the win at Illinois. With Indiana leading the Big Ten in passing, the focus shifts up front where senior DE Cameron Heyward needs to lead a robust pass rush to keep the heat off Ohio State's defensive backfield.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got a lot of receivers we like to get the football to. We've got a quarterback we'd like to run seven to 10 times, and a couple tailbacks who we think are very good. So there just aren't that many balls left." -- Ohio State coach Jim Tressel on why his third and fourth team tailbacks have not had many opportunities this season
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Indiana at No. 2 Ohio State, Oct. 9 -- The Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) have dominated the Hoosiers, winning 15 straight in this series, but Indiana's 3-1 start and QB Ben Chappell's Big Ten leading 342.5 passing yards per game are reason enough to think this one will not come without considerable effort.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Indiana leads the Big Ten in passing yardage so the Buckeyes will rely on their defense to get pressure on the quarterback and force some mistakes. Ohio State will also need to demonstrate the adeptness at running the ball that the Buckeyes displayed in the second half at Illinois. Grinding out the yardage will keep Indiana's offense on the sideline, and prevent it from establishing any continuity.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
DB Christian Bryant -- Pressed into service when senior "star" Tyler Moeller was knocked out of the Illinois game with a torn pectoral muscle, Bryant now takes over after the news that Moeller is done for the season.
QB Terrelle Pryor -- After injuring his thigh in the win at Illinois, Pryor is undergoing rehab and preparing to play against Indiana. If the muscle strain limits his running ability significantly, Indiana's defense makes a gain strategically.
DE Cameron Heyward -- The senior will direct the pass rush, a key element in this week's game since Indiana is the Big Ten's passing leader. A few sacks, a few hurries, and spending the afternoon in the face of Indiana QB Ben Chappell allows Heyward to be a difference-maker in this one.
--TE Jake Stoneburner missed the Illinois game with a high ankle sprain suffered the previous week against Eastern Michigan. His availability for the Indiana game is still uncertain. Fellow sophomore Reid Fragel replaces Stoneburner in the lineup.
--DB Tyler Moeller is lost for the season after leaving the Illinois game in the first half with a torn pectoral muscle. Moeller will likely need surgery, and is expected to apply for a hardship ruling from the NCAA to gain another year of eligibility. He is replaced by freshman Christian Bryant.
--QB Terrelle Pryor is rehabbing a strained left thigh muscle he suffered in the third quarter against Illinois. OSU coach Jim Tressel said he expects Pryor to practice during the week, and "be fine" for the Indiana game.
--DB Donnie Evege, a special teams regular and a backup cornerback, remains sidelined with a dislocated elbow suffered in the win over Ohio.
Scouting Report - No. 2 Ohio State
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