January 01, 2010
Ohio State 26, Oregon 17. Only a few hours into the new year and just a few snaps into Ohio State's first possession, Brent Musburger opened the faucet on one of the major themes of 2010: Over-the-top Terrelle Pryor love. Muss openly gushed about the hyped sophomore's "maturation right before our eyes" on Pryor's third completion, an 11-yard first down strike to fellow soph DeVier Posey, before the Buckeyes had even crossed the Oregon 30-yard line for the first time. Premature, yes, but also prescient in the end -- Pryor dropped to throw on nine of ten plays on that drive, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Saine to open the scoring, setting the stage first for an usually pass-happy effort to end OSU's much-mocked three-game BCS losing streak, and later for the inevitable national title and Heisman hype returning in force to Columbus next fall.
This is the Terrelle Pryor Ohio State thought it was getting in the most feted player in the incoming class of 2008, and has been waiting to see in a big game since he wrested the starting job from Todd Boeckman in the third game of his career. With the exception of Troy Smith's senior year, Jim Tressel has always tended to rein his quarterback in with big stakes on the line, especially with a lead, and hadn't shown any inclination to deviate from that blueprint with Pryor. OSU ran almost two-thirds of the time for the season, and almost 70 percent of the time in each of its Big Ten-clinching wins over Penn State and Iowa in November, Pryor's 20th and 21st consecutive starts. In his 23rd start, the prodigy established new career-highs for attempts (37) and yards (266) on the biggest stage of his career, adding 72 yards on 20 carries to secure the game's MVP award.
Altogether, Pryor was the point man as a runner or passer on 57 of the Buckeyes' 88 offensive snaps and accounted for just over 80 percent of the team's 419 total yards -- easily the most Ohio State has gained against a ranked team since the 2006 win over Michigan. Not coincidentally, that triumph against the Wolverines as both the high-point of Tressel Ball and the last time the buttoned-down, run-first philosophy yielded to the exceptional talents of a multi-faceted quarterback.
Not that Tressel was working today out of some wholly different playbook. The usual emphasis on time of possession kept the ball in the Pryor's hands for more than 41 minutes, limiting the fast-paced Ducks -- who actually outgained OSU on a per-play basis, gaining five yards on average to the Buckeyes' 4.8 -- to just 53 snaps, their lowest number since the season-opening humiliation at Boise State. Five of Ohio State's 10 full possessions on offense took at least four minutes off the clock (including a 19-play march for a field goal that consumed more than half of the second quarter and stands as perhaps the most Tresselian drive of all time), and running backs Brandon Saine and Boom Herron still combined for 28 carries in addition to Pryor's twenty. It's not like Tressel was suddenly possessed by the restless spirit of Mike Leach.
But if this kind of balance is a permanent feature of the OSU offense as Pryor enters the 'Nightmare' phase of his development as a junior, all bets on the Buckeyes' reputation for clutch choke jobs are officially off. Let the hype train roll.