Cus Words: Misty Mountain Hop

Cus Words: Misty Mountain Hop

Terrelle Pryor returned to his home state to help deal Penn State a defeat near the foot of Mount Nittany, a performance that had him skipping with joy at one point. We cover what that taught us as well as what to expect this week when the Rose Bowl is on the line with Iowa coming to town.

What we learned last week: Terrelle Pryor is capable of playing effectively under control in a pressure situation, and this is the best defense Ohio State has fielded since 2002.

Yes, I know the Buckeye quarterback showed poise beyond his years during a comeback win at Wisconsin last season, but since then we'd seen more bad than good with the two late turnovers last year against Penn State, the early interception against Michigan, the aborted final drive against USC and the third quarter nightmare at Purdue.

Last Saturday in his home state with a quieter than I expected 110,000-plus calling for his head at Beaver Stadium, Pryor airmailed his first pass attempt (coverage was tight enough he might have thrown it away, but I haven't heard that addressed), had his second one dropped then became a calm, cool sly assassin who picked his spots probably better than he ever has, certainly better than he has against any upper-level Big Ten team.

Previously, much of his best success had come on broken plays and deep heaves to the Brians last year and a couple of times to DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher this year, but at Penn State, he stuck a few throws into tight spots and ran the team efficiently throughout the game.

He perfectly picked his spots as a runner, looking more like John Elway than Vince Young when he would break the pocket, a scrambling quarterback as opposed to a tailback with an arm.

Oh, but he had the deep ball, too. Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said he figured hitting one of three long passes was a good ratio, but Pryor batted .500, coming back from missing a deep one to Sanzenbacher in the second quarter to drop a perfect ball into the arms of Posey in the third quarter, a play that sucked the air out of the home fans and probably affirmed some of their worst nightmares.

"If this guy can throw a 50-yard touch pass and break loose for 12 yards in third-and-11, just how are we supposed to defend him?" they must have been thinking.

The stats were nowhere similar, but this was almost like a light version of Troy Smith's 2004 Michigan game. Smith piled up 486 total yards and led an attack that put up 37 points, but he was facing a much more explosive offense and had a far inferior defense on his own sideline. Tressel did not ask Pryor to recreate those fireworks, I'm sure at least in part because they weren't necessary, but the parallels lie in the way both quarterbacks came up with the types of things their teams needed when they needed them all day.

The only time Penn State's defense looked comfortable was when Tressel lapsed from his usual conservative to an even more intense brand in the third quarter, but even that served a purpose as it set up the haymaker from Pryor to Posey, a 62-yarder that put the Buckeyes up 10 with little more than a quarter to play and served as a swift right hand that connected right between the eyes of the Nittany Lions and their fans, who came for a funeral and instead saw what could be the beginning of another November coronation of Buckeye Big Ten champions.

That 10-point lead might as well have been 100 the way the Buckeye defense was playing.

Much like the '02 unit, the success of these Silver Bullets starts up front, where Ohio State had a clear talent advantage over the Nittany Lions and took full advantage.

The linebackers helped out by cleaning up behind, and the secondary put the clamps on Penn State's receivers, leaving quarterback Daryll Clark with few options even when he did have time to throw.


What we can expect to learn this week: Let's keep an eye on Ohio State's ability to focus, something we probably should have kept in mind all along this season with such a young group.

I think I was blinded a little bit by how well Ohio State stacked up physically when USC came to town Sept. 12, and I let that make me forget for a while how young the Buckeyes are and inevitably inconsistent they would be.

Imagining this as a let-down game after the emotion of last week and with Michigan on the horizon is not a difficult thing to do, although the Buckeyes should see a talented team when they flip on the Iowa film.

Perhaps senior day will help keep eyes on the prize, but this group is different than the last one that was consistent in its focus and effort level above all else.

These Buckeyes could reach that level mentally (and I think will surpass the 2006-08 teams physically), but I haven't seen it for a long enough stretch to believe it has happened yet.

And Iowa may be wounded offensively, but the Hawkeye defense is legit, and there is no doubt the whole team is an opportunistic bunch, so mistakes again must be kept to a minimum.

Penn State may have entered the season with more name recognition because of a few stars, but Iowa is a better team overall.

The Hawkeyes have a much tougher secondary than Penn State and figure to be as good up front, if not better. On top of that, while Ohio State matched strength against strength with Penn State's defensive tackles and the middle of the Ohio State line, the best players on the Hawkeye front are on the outside.

Ohio State's offensive tackles, whoever they happen to be, are not as good as the Buckeyes' interior linemen at this stage in their careers, and Iowa's best shot to short circuit the Ohio State offense is to take advantage of that as well as Penn State did last season (This year, the new Nittany Lion ends were basically invisible against the Buckeyes).

Iowa figures to test the Buckeyes more sternly with its offensive line, too, which should give whomever plays quarterback a better chance to use some of his weapons in the passing game, including receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and tight end Tony Moeaki.


All-Buckeye Beater Nominee: With Ohio State outplaying Penn State in basically every aspect of the game, the pickings are slim this week. The top Nittany Lion candidate to land on the season-ending list of the players who gave the Buckeyes the most fits this season is clearly Jared Odrick, a defensive tackle who was a first-team member of the 2008 All-Buckeye Beater squad. The senior defensive tackle was credited with only three tackles, but he disrupted countless running plays and made life easier for all those around him.

Perhaps punter Jeremy Boone will get some consideration after averaging 45.8 yards per punt. Sure, two of them were returned more than 40 yards to set up Ohio State scores, but credit Boone for playing a role in stopping return man Ray Small both times.


DVR Directions: Before watching the Buckeyes and the Hawkeyes at 3:30 (ABC), check out Michigan at Wisconsin at noon on the Big Ten Network. DVR that one to go back and scout the Wolverines in anticipation of next week's traditional titanic struggle (Also set for noon on ABC, in case you missed the announcement yesterday).

Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll (Previous week ranking)

1. (tie-1) Ohio State
2. (tie-1) Iowa
3. (4) Wisconsin
4. (tie-1) Penn State
5. (same) Michigan State
6. (7) Northwestern
7. (9) Purdue
8. (7) Minnesota
9. (11) Illinois
10. (same) Indiana
11. (8) Michigan

Marcus Hartman is a staff writer for BuckeyeSports.com and Buckeye Sports Bulletin. He can be reached for comment, cursing or questions via email at mhartman[at]buckeyesports[dot]com

For more from this author, read his blog about Ohio State football and whatever else crosses his mind .

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