SvoNotes: The Making Of Terrelle Pryor

Many wondered about when the light would go on for Terrelle Pryor during his first season and a half at Ohio State, and the last five games of this season seemed to provide some candlepower. Pryor seemed to make obvious strides, moves that were perhaps necessary for the signal caller to harness his gifts, Jeff Svoboda says in this edition of SvoNotes.

Lost in all the rigmarole about how conservative the Ohio State offensive game plan was during its last three games and how Terrelle Pryor wasn't being used to his greatest impact was what effect those games might have had on the quarterback's development.

When Pryor was asked after the Michigan game about his team's undefeated November that included two wins against top-15 teams and another over Ohio State's hated rival, the Buckeye quarterback channeled head coach Jim Tressel with his answer.

"He talks about November is for contenders, you know," Pryor said. "I thought we fought all November. We played perfect football, not a lot of turnovers at all. We owned the turnover battles, the rushing battles. That's what happens when you come out on top like that."

Would Pryor have pointed so quickly to turnovers and rushing stats instead of touchdowns and big plays earlier in the season? He's a Tressel player, so it's possible, but one thing that seems evident is that the sophomore seemed to become a different person and take that approach to heart as the Buckeyes' season wound down.

Before that, the Pryor we saw on the Ross-Ade Stadium field when the Buckeyes lost to Purdue in mid-October had a long way to go to become the type of quarterback Tressel can trust. The big play upside Pryor clearly offers wasn't enough to overwhelm a series of poor decisions that ended up costing the Buckeyes the game.

Pryor didn't get much help from his teammates in the first half of that Purdue game – his two lost fumbles were more about bad offensive line play than his own issues with ball security – then tossed two ugly interceptions in the third quarter during what appeared to be a total meltdown as the game got away from the Buckeyes.

When that game had ended, Pryor had thrown eight interceptions in seven games – after tossing only four during his freshman season – and finished a two-game stretch in which he looked far from comfortable directing the offense. Even his staunchest defenders had to admit that consistent improvement was hard to find on the field.

At that point, he found himself in the middle of a national controversy courtesy of high school head coach Ray Reitz and fielding questions after 16 career starts about just how long people should have to wait until the proverbial light went on.

And after that Purdue game, Pryor called a meeting of the offense and told them that he needed to change his approach. During the next five games, he threw for six touchdowns, ran for three others and tossed only two interceptions – one of them a deflected ball. In that span, the Buckeyes went 5-0.

Looking at those numbers, it appears the plan – is coming together. You can make plenty of arguments that it takes too long for young, talented offensive players to get in the offensive staff's good graces. And I don't think anyone would argue that the 3-to-1 run-to-pass ratio utilized during the last three games was probably a bit too much to the conservative side.

However, I think there's a method to Tressel's madness in this case. Sure, he wanted to win the games, and often times straying toward the conservative side is the surest way to do so – especially with his defense against physical Big Ten competition – in his mind.

But perhaps most importantly, the Buckeyes' recent games have helped show Pryor in a real fashion that the way to win games is to apply the lessons Tressel holds so dear. Now that that point has been reached, the work of taking advantage of Pryor's gifts can accelerate.

After all, Tressel has shown a willingness to let his offensive players go once they do earn his trust, and this past stretch should allow Pryor to come ever closer to the point that he could be let loose like Troy Smith once upon a time.

In the minds of some, it might have taken a while, but keep in mind that Pryor, who yearns to be a professional quarterback instead of a rusher at the QB position, didn't exactly come from the most sophisticated passing offense in high school. Nearly all freshmen put into the most important spot on the field have a steep learning curve, and rarely has a team had such immediate success doing so as Ohio State has the past two seasons.

As for Pryor's ability to avoid turnovers throughout the last five games, Siciliano said that was the surest sign of the quarterback's growth.

"I think that's the biggest development (or) key for a quarterback because turnovers happen sometimes when they're just not sure," he said. "It's about who can take it away, and as they develop in your system and understanding what you're trying to do then (turnovers) should come down."

For offensive lineman Jim Cordle, the growth of Pryor was obvious during the Iowa game that clinched the Buckeyes' Rose Bowl berth. In the contest, Pryor completed 14 of 17 passes but for only 93 yards as the Hawkeyes took away the Buckeyes' deep options that were open and hit against Penn State and then open and missed vs. Michigan.

"It's crazy how well he's played," Cordle said. "The Iowa game was unbelievable because he was 14 of 17, no turnovers, but he made key plays in that game. It seemed like, to me, he was just like Peyton Manning with some wheels. He had every understanding that you could have of the game – situations, the defense, what plays had to be made."

As an example, Cordle pointed to a third-down conversion one play before Dan Herron's touchdown run early in the fourth quarter that broke a 10-all tie. Iowa blitzed on the play, and Pryor immediately took off for a 19-yard run that kept alive the drive.

"He saw that hole and knew he could get the yardage," Cordle said. "He knew what the play was, he had his tight end coming in shallow, he knew the coverage, he saw that hole and he knew he could get the yardage because he had the tight end, who ended up being a blocker for him. That was a complete understanding of the situation, the play, how the defense was playing and where that step-up hole was."

As for the man whose opinion matters most, Tressel could see improvement as well after that Iowa contest.

"I think he's getting more of it, but I don't know if you could only have played two seasons of college football and could ever sit there assuming, ‘OK, I've got this figured out,'" Tressel said. "I've said all along, I think he's progressing and I think he took another step."

Just how many steps will be required for Pryor to be utilized fully as the weapon he can be is up in the air, but it's safe to say that his performance in the last five games of the season makes it much more likely it will be sooner rather than later.


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