'End Of The World' Shaped Pryor

Terrelle Pryor had a successful freshman season, but one crippling mistake proved to be a teaching tool for the Ohio State coaches. The loss to Penn State not only taught Pryor a few lessons, but it showed those around him what kind of competitor he is.

In a career full of highlights and accolades, it was arguably the lowest point for Terrelle Pryor.

His 10th-ranked Ohio State team had just dropped a 13-6 home defeat to No. 3 Penn State, and the freshman quarterback was taking it hard. In a game that proved to be a meeting of two stout defenses, it was Pryor who made the critical mistake. Facing third and 1 at midfield with his team clinging to a 6-3 lead early in the fourth quarter, the quarterback tried to make a big play rather than simply move the chains and keep the drive alive.

It was safety Mark Rubin who knocked the ball loose for the game's first turnover. Seven plays and 38 yards later, the Nittany Lions had set the final score in the 2008 contest.

"I took the Penn State game my freshman year so (hard) it was like it was the end of the world that we lost," Pryor said.

A western Pennsylvania native, Pryor grew up in Jeannette and heavily considered the Nittany Lions before eventually signing with the Buckeyes. Following the contest against his home-state school, Pryor was nearly inconsolable.

But the following morning, Pryor placed a call to his former coach to talk about a different game. One night prior to the PSU game, Jeannette had dropped a regular-season contest to Greensboro Central Catholic and it was the loss suffered by the Jayhawks – not the Buckeyes – that the quarterback wanted to talk about.

"I felt bad because we got beat and I watched what happened with him and I felt bad," former Jeannette head coach Ray Reitz told BuckeyeSports.com. "He called me the next morning and said, ‘Coach, what happened?' He was more concerned with what happened to his teammates at Jeannette."

That came in stark contrast to the figure Pryor presented during post-game interviews. The last player to meet with media, he sat behind a table flanked by quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano and sports information director Shelly Poe. Describing it as "the worst feeling of my life," a downcast Pryor continually blamed himself for the defeat while Siciliano and Poe attempted to console him. Defensive lineman Dexter Larimore said he tried to pick up Pryor's spirits in the locker room as well, adding that he pointed out that the defense had allowed the game-winning touchdown, not the offense.

Back home in Jeannette, Reitz said he felt sick as soon as he saw the football pop out on the ill-fated sneak attempt.

"If he gets by that kid, it's probably a (50)-yard run," said Reitz, now the head coach at nearby Latrobe. "That's what I felt bad about. He was trying to make a play. He's a competitor. He was trying to make a play and he just fumbled the ball."

As the final seconds of the game ticked off, Pryor sat alone on the OSU bench, helmet-clad head in his hands. Among those watching was Roy Hall, Pryor's quarterbacks coach in high school and the current Jeannette head coach.

The next time the two spoke, Hall offered some advice.

"I said, ‘Terrelle, listen. It's not like you went out and laid down. You tried. The guy knocked that ball. Maybe if the guy doesn't knock that ball out you go for a touchdown and win the game. But don't sit there like that and keep your head down. Pick your head up and go back at them. You don't want your opponents to know that you're down because then they tend to do things to keep you down like that. Pick your head up.' "

The sting of that loss no longer clings to Pryor. Speaking with reporters Wednesday night, he said the fact that he led an OSU victory in Happy Valley last season helped wash that stain from his hands.

Looking back, Siciliano said plays like the fumble against the Nittany Lions come with the territory when starting a freshman at a demanding position like quarterback.

"You look at the plays he made and you've got to take the good with the bad," the coach said. "I don't think I'd change a thing. I feel bad for those seniors that year that we didn't win that game, but I wouldn't change a thing about that play. It's a learning experience, and the only way you get better in this business is those learning experiences. And sometimes unfortunately that means failure."

Since that loss, Pryor has fashioned a 22-3 record as a starter. Through nine games this season, his passing efficiency rating of 165.2 ranks fifth-best in the nation and would be a single-season school record.

Reitz, who said he has not spoken to Pryor in about a year but still watches all his games, said he is proud of how the quarterback has grown from such situations.

"When you get in clutch situations everybody wants to be the man, but when you get down to it in that situation a lot of kids don't want to step up and be the man," he said. "(Pryor's) not like that. He's a man. He's going to lead, and if it doesn't work he's going to take blame. That's why he's so good.

"I think he grew from that and it revealed his character."

Now two years wiser, what would Pryor do in the same situation – third and 1 from midfield in the fourth quarter of a tight game?

"He'd get the first down," Siciliano said. "Part of the quarterback position is understanding the situation at hand. I think you learn a little bit more of the game as you grow older and understand that our defense is playing their butts off, we just moved the ball for two first downs and we've got another chance to get one with nine minutes on the clock."

Said Pryor: "First downs lead to touchdowns. I'd go for the first."

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