Thursday, October 14, 2010
OSU's Pryor grew up on last trip to Madison
By Adam Rittenberg
In many ways, the drive epitomizes Terrelle Pryor's career at Ohio State.
Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor says he has matured since beating Wisconsin in Madison two years ago.
It didn't always look pretty and featured some bumps along the way -- a fumble recovered by Pryor, two negative-yardage plays by the quarterback -- but no one could argue with the end result.
"A lot of luck, a lot of luck," Pryor told reporters Wednesday in Columbus, "and I think we executed."
Back in October 2008, No. 14 Ohio State trailed No. 18 Wisconsin 17-13 with 6:26 left in the game when Pryor led the offense onto the field. The Buckeyes needed to drive 80 yards.
It's never easy to beat Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. Much less at night. Much less with a true freshman calling the signals. Pryor was making just his third career start and his first on the road.
Before Ohio State took the field, senior running back Chris "Beanie" Wells approached Pryor.
"Beanie said, 'You're in a man's world. This is what it is. So are you gonna be a man or a kid?' " Pryor said after the game.
To that point, his night had been a mixed bag: a few good completions, a first-quarter interception and four sacks taken.
The drive began with a dropped pass by receiver Brian Hartline. Moments later, Pryor faced third-and-6 from his own 24-yard line, and he hit Hartline for a 19-yard gain. Then came the fumble, which Pryor fell on at the Ohio State 38.
Pryor responded on the next play with a 27-yard pass to Hartline, who fumbled following a hit by safety Jay Valai. Once again, Ohio State dodged a bullet as receiver Brian Robiskie recovered.
The freshman quarterback once again was challenged following a 4-yard loss. But on second-and-14, he found Ray Small for a 13-yard gain. Three plays later, Wisconsin had a defensive meltdown and Pryor scooted into the end zone on an 11-yard run with 1:08 left for the winning score.
"That was like his first big game as a starter," Buckeyes receiver DeVier Posey said. "I feel like he was sort of born that day."
Barely two years later, Pryor makes his first trip back to Madison, as No. 1 Ohio State faces No. 18 Wisconsin on Saturday. Once again, he'll have to deal with a rowdy road crowd in an October night game that will shape the Big Ten title race.
Pryor is much more aware of what to expect this time around, but he still draws upon what happened in 2008.
"That started my confidence of being a quarterback here, but it also grew and grew," he said after last week's win against Indiana. "Any time you get that win, it's huge. I matured as time [went] by."
Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt watched it all unfold, rendered powerless by NCAA transfer rules. Watt had to sit out the 2008 season after transferring to Wisconsin from Central Michigan.
"I was watching on the sidelines in sweatpants, not being able to have any impact on the game," he recalled. "Just watching everything unfold and watching [Pryor] carry their team down the field on that last drive and ultimately score, that hurt.
"That's something that stuck with me for a while, and it's something we need to avenge this week."
Watt calls Pryor "the complete package" now and notes that the Buckeyes quarterback has greater command of the offense this year. After an inconsistent sophomore season, Pryor has been much more polished this fall, completing 68 percent of his passes for 1,349 yards with a league-leading 15 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.
Although he's not running nearly as much this year, he remains a threat on the ground, averaging 6.2 yards a carry with three touchdowns.
Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel has observed a "day-by-day, week-by-week, season-by-season maturation" with Pryor, but the quarterback's first big step took place in Madison on that October night in 2008.
"For a young guy, he certainly didn't seem to be affected by the difficulty of the defense and the difficulty of the crowd and all of those things," Tressel said. "I thought that was a very important moment for him to step up."