Although the Ohio State offense had struggled in two of its first three games of the 2008 season, the Buckeyes were expected to at least approach their average of 393.7 yards of total offense from one season prior. Those plans were thrown out the window as the team prepared for a week-four game against Troy when the coaching staff opted to switch quarterbacks.
Now several months removed from the situation, offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said whether the transition was a success is up for debate.
"You're never happy losing three ballgames, so in that regard no," he said when asked if the transition had been a success. "I guess it depends on your relative evaluation of what success is. Yeah, we were Big Ten champs, but were we outright Big Ten champs? No. Did we win a bowl game? No. Those are things that we've got to keep working on and keep getting better at."
In the final 10 games of the year, OSU averaged 348.1 yards of total offense to finish the year at 342.7 yards per contest – figures tempered by an anemic showing in week two against Ohio University and a throttling absorbed one week later at the hands of the Trojans.
It was the lowest average per game since the last time the Buckeyes endured a quarterback change. During the 2004 season, OSU averaged 320.8 yards of total offense per game. However, one year later that total spiked to an average of 422.3 yards – the highest total recorded by the Buckeyes since head coach Jim Tressel took over prior to the 2001 season.
That jump was largely thanks to a young offense that grew around eventual Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith at quarterback – a comparison that might not be too far removed from this year's team.
The key, then, will be the development of Pryor. Since the season ended, the coaching staff and Pryor have had the luxury of being able to break down plenty of game film in an effort to get a better handle on what the quarterback can handle.
"You see how a guy reacts when there's a lot of pressure on him," Bollman said. "It's pretty tough to be the quarterback here anyway, let alone when you're a true freshman. I think all that experience that he's had should be invaluable to him. He's been through the mill, so to speak here."
Pryor himself has been his harshest critic, saying the film disgusts him when he watches it.
The Buckeyes did not ask Pryor to do things outside of his comfort zone. Both Bollman and assistant quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano said that the switch to Pryor did not result in a complete overhaul of the playbook, but rather a change in what was being emphasized.
"I wouldn't say there wasn't anything that we didn't use or didn't say, ‘We can't do this because he can't do it,' " Siciliano said. "You try and find the things he does well and build off those, but there wasn't anything where we said, ‘Oh no, we just can't do this because he can't do it.' "
Offensive lineman Jim Cordle, who also saw his role change in week four when he switched from center to right guard, said he was impressed with how the freshman handled the situation.
"Yeah, I think he handled it well," Cordle said. "I think it goes more back to maybe how Todd handled it, which was great and kept the team together."
For the year, Pryor completed 100 of 165 passes for 1,311 yards and 12 touchdowns against four interceptions. His 146.50 passing efficiency rating was tops in the Big Ten. The key for Pryor was that he was not necessarily the focal point of the offense, with that role largely falling to running back Chris "Beanie" Wells.
At the very least, the struggles OSU went through last season should help the coaches have a better gauge on what to expect from Pryor this time around.
"You see how a guy reacts when there's a lot of pressure on him," Bollman said. "It's pretty tough to be the quarterback here anyway, let alone when you're a true freshman. I think all that experience that he's had should be invaluable."