Is Pryor the second coming of Young?

September, 9, 2009
9/09/09
10:15
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller


LOS ANGELES -- He's 6-foot-6, 235 pounds. He runs a 4.3 40-yard dash. And he's got a cannon for an arm.

Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is a special athlete playing in a special game, and it's hard not to recall that the last time that combination came together opposite USC, the Trojans saw Vince Young break their hearts and end their bid for a third consecutive national championship.
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Terrelle Pryor can beat defenses with his arm or his legs.

That's why, as much as anything, USC's visit to Ohio State on Saturday likely comes down to how the Trojans rebuilt defense contends with Pryor, who is 10-1 as the Buckeyes starter and was preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

"This is a very, very unusual athlete to be this tall and this fast and have a great arm," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "I think you'll see he's not just a runner. He's working hard to be an all-around quarterback. He's showing that."

Pryor completed 14 of 21 passes for 174 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the Buckeyes season-opening win over Navy. He also ran for 30 yards on six carries with a touchdown.

Last year, Pryor transformed from the nation's consensus top recruit to the Buckeyes' starter, much like Matt Barkley is doing this fall for USC.

In last year's game in the Coliseum, Pryor alternated with senior Todd Boeckman, rushing for 40 yards and completing 7 of 9 passes. He became the full-time starter thereafter.

"He's still not a wily veteran by any means," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "He understands the game much, much better. I think he knows more of why he's doing what he's doing and why we're doing what we're doing and why the defense does what they do and all of those things."

While observers from both sides call Pryor a complete quarterback -- not just an athlete taking the snap -- the aspects of his game that are hardest to contend with are his speed and improvisational ability.

"I've always said that the most difficult aspect of defending an opponent is when they have a quarterback that can run and run on plays that aren't designed to be quarterback running plays," Carroll said. "When a pass starts and it breaks down and it takes off, it becomes a sweep or a draw or a scramble situation. It's just so out of the normal structure, that, you know, anything can happen. So that's an X factor that a running quarterback presents."

The theme for the USC defense: Tackle, tackle, tackle.

And with prejudice.

"You've really got to key on your up-field shoulder and rely on your technique with a running quarterback like that," end Everson Griffen said. "We've got to swarm as a team and hit him hard every time he runs. Hit him hard -- make it harder for him, not as fun."

Griffen said the defense expects to see more speed option and designed runs with Pryor. Because the Buckeyes are playing in the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium -- "The Horseshoe" -- it will be easy for Pryor to check in and out of plays at the line of scrimmage if he thinks he sees a vulnerability in the Trojans' defense.

So it will be a chess match.

The Trojans might assign a spy for Pryor. It certainly will try to limit his running lanes. But the likelihood is Pryor will make plays with his feet. It's a matter of limiting them, which the Trojans failed to do with Young.

"A really good runner like Terrelle Pryor can go where he wants to go," Carroll said. "You can say you're going to keep him in the pocket and then he just scoots up and gets out again. He's really got a knack for escaping. You can holler at guys for not containing, but he just dips and goes. He's really good at it and he's really fast. The thing you hope you do is when you get your chances you tackle him because he breaks a lot of tackles. Guys drip off him a lot. He doesn't run over you, he just runs. He's fast and really strong and really big and he's difficult to get down. When he wants to go, he goes."

And there's always the issue of overcompensating. If Pryor breaks contain and two or three Trojans shirk their responsibilities in pursuit, then Pryor might be able to make a play downfield.

"You play the offense -- you don't want to look at it as playing Terrell Pryor," linebacker Chris Galippo said. "You want to look at it as playing the Ohio State offense."

That said, Young accounted for 467 of Texas' 556 total yards in the Longhorns' nail-biting victory in the BCS title game.

So there's no other way to say it: USC's defense has a Pryor engagement on Saturday.

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