In five games as a starter, Terrelle Pryor has shown the Ohio State coaches plenty of things. He has shown the fortitude needed to lead a game-winning drive in the final minutes of a game played in front of a hostile road crowd. He has shown the speed to beat defenders to the corner and make big plays on the ground. He has shown the strength to lower his shoulder and use a stiff-arm to take out would-be tacklers.
But one thing he has not shown with regularity since taking over the starting reins for the Buckeyes is the ability to consistently move the football through the air. As a starter, his average passing line is close to this: 10 of 13 for 113.2 yards with six touchdowns – four of which came in one game.
As the starter last season, Todd Boeckman averaged around 15 completions on 23 attempts for 183 yards per game. He tossed 25 touchdowns.
The question, then, is whether the OSU coaches are confident enough in Pryor’s ability to throw the ball that they feel he could handle a greater passing workload if necessary.
“Would I be confident with Terrelle throwing 25 to 30 times a game? Absolutely,” OSU head coach Jim Tressel said.
The fact that Pryor is not being tasked with throwing as much as his predecessor was has more to do with the play of junior tailback Chris Wells than it does Pryor’s abilities, Tressel said.
When coming up with an offensive game plan for the game, OSU quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels said the Buckeyes plan on giving the ball to Wells for a number of carries. It is simply a case of playing to the team’s strengths.
“Is there a prescribed number of passes we should throw? No. I don’t think so,” he said. “One, we want to win the ballgame. Two, we want to control the time, control the ball. Whatever means we can do that is how we’re going to do that.”
Pryor gives the Buckeyes a few options in that arena. His speed combined with Wells’ blend of speed and power forces opposing defenses to concentrate on stopping the OSU ground game.
But the fact remains that Pryor has not yet had to consistently demonstrate in a game that he can sustain a game plan via the passing game. As such, it takes reports from practice – which is closed to onlookers – to get a read on how Pryor is progressing as a passer.
“He’s throwing better every day,” Daniels said. “He’s throwing it with more confidence. His feet are getting better every day.”
Tressel said Pryor is progressing from the standpoint of learning where not to throw the ball.
“I think he’s in the midst of growing in his understanding that you first find out where our guys are going and so you throw against air,” Tressel said. “But later you find out the passing game isn’t about where the receivers are going, it’s about the defenders.
“Where is he? He’s on the trail to understanding where is the defense and based upon that, where do I need to deliver the ball.”
Senior wide receiver Brian Robiskie said he has seen Pryor improve on a game-by-game basis.
“I just keep seeing him making progress,” said Robiskie, who has seen his own production fall off as the team has relied on the running game. “I felt like for him the biggest thing was just going to be how much progress he made throughout the season. I think every game he’s continued to step up and do something better.”
Those abilities will become even more key if the explosive Penn State offense puts up big numbers Saturday night. Should the Buckeyes find themselves down by a few scores or in a dogfight, the situation will likely call for Pryor to have to throw the ball with more regularity.
But an early double-digit deficit does not guarantee an ensuing aerial assault from the OSU offense, Daniels said. It all comes down to what the coaches decide is the best way to attack the opposing defense.
“We’ve got good enough personnel to throw the ball and if we want to, we will,” Daniels said.