Pryor Rose To Occasion On Big Stage
PASADENA, Calif. –Asked two days before Ohio State's Rose Bowl game if the clash with No. 8 Oregon in "The Granddaddy of Them All" would be his coming out party, Terrelle Pryor had a simple answer. "I hope so," he said. As it turns out, that writer might have been rather prescient. Pryor was the driving force behind the Ohio State offensive attack Friday evening on a picture-perfect day in Pasadena, accounting for 338 yards of total offense and earning game offensive MVP honors as OSU bounced the Ducks 26-17. Afterward, Pryor was all smiles, even after playing the game with an injured knee that appeared to bother him more early than late. It probably helped that he was allowed to throw 37 passes – 23 of which he completed – a total well beyond the 17 he threw in each of the team's final three games, all wins as the Buckeyes completed a treacherous November with a Big Ten title. "That was our game plan, to wing it today," he said. "We got a lot better at it, and the receivers got a lot better with their routes. The coaches, I'm glad they have a little bit of faith in my ability to wing the ball a little bit." Heading into the game, most of the talk about the Ohio State team focused on the plodding offense that had allowed the Buckeyes to complete the league slate with five straight wins. Many said the OSU would be well served to continue pounding the football with backs Brandon Saine and Dan Herron against an undersized but fast Ducks front. Apparently, the Ducks thought the same way. Oregon often played press coverage on the receivers and stuck a safety in the box, an aggressive defense designed to take away the run and pressure Pryor. That fit in with some pregame talk from the Ducks' defense that Pryor was nothing special as a passer, talk with which Pryor didn't take umbrage. "In the wins the last two games, I had 93 (yards) vs. Iowa and (67) vs. Michigan," he said. "So I wouldn't be worried about it either. Would you? I wouldn't." Still, the Buckeyes saw fit to put the game in Pryor's hands to an extent not seen since the team's 26-18 loss at Purdue in mid-October that sent OSU tumbling in the polls and started turmoil around the program. This occasion was much more of a success. Pryor threw for 266 yards, a career high, and tossed two touchdowns – one to Brandon Saine to give the Buckeyes a 7-0 lead on the opening drive and another to DeVier Posey in the fourth quarter to set the final margin. In addition, the 37 passes were a career best, the most since the sophomore form Jeannette, Pa., tossed the ball 31 times in – surprise – the loss to Purdue. There, alone, the on-field progress is striking. "I've gotten a lot better in this bowl practice – a lot better," Pryor said. "Just in and out, smart, and just meeting with (head) coach (Jim) Tressel all the time, about 10 minutes a day, staying in the film room, studying the film a lot more, and it helps a lot." In addition, Pryor has taken the reigns of the offense since the game against the Boilermakers. He accepted his more limited role with grace, calling a meeting of his teammates and pledging he would take his job more seriously. Even as his number of passes dwindled, he didn't complain about the run-first offense the Buckeyes were using. "Don't get me wrong, as a quarterback you don't like running the ball," Pryor said. "It's kind of like being selfish, but you know, that's not what we need. This is a big-time organization, Ohio State, and if you have to run the ball to win the game, that's what you do." But against an Oregon team that came in with one of the best offenses in the country, finally the time came to see what Pryor could do yet again with the offense in his hands. Even a near interception on the first play of the game couldn't get the Buckeyes to back off the throttle, as passes were called on the first six plays of the game and 9 of the 10 plays of the drive culminating with the TD pass to Saine. "We felt like that this was a pivotal game because it marked the end of the first half of his career and that we felt like we needed to progress a little bit more," Tressel said. "I think we did." To say the Ducks were taken aback by the Buckeyes' plan would, apparently, be an understatement. "It was surprising to us," Kelly said. "We felt watching their last couple of games where they didn't throw it very much and were rather conservative, they came in and opened it up, and obviously Terrelle beat us." "Well, the plan was to make him throw the ball, but when he threw it that good, the plan didn't go well," added Ducks defensive end Kenny Rowe, the game's defensive MVP with three sacks. Even his one mistake didn't seem to affect him. Moments after Ohio State kept momentum when Oregon lost a fumble, Pryor rolled left and heaved up a pass to Posey, who had cut upfield behind his defender. However, the throw sailed and Oregon safety John Boyett was able to intercept the pass. Afterward, the Buckeye defense held, and two drives later Pryor led the nail-in-the-coffin drive. "The thing I saw out there the most was not making mistakes," said wideout Dane Sanzenbacher, who had a game-high nine catches. "He had one errant throw but it didn't seem to affect his game at all." So perhaps for the first time, Pryor took care of the ball – perhaps the most binding of the tenets in Tressel's offense – and still had a big day passing with the game plan drawn up specifically to have the ball in his hands. At least, that happened for the first time on the biggest stage, but it's safe to say that was no surprise to the man himself. "I thought I could have a game like this at any time," Pryor said.