The numbers do lie. That's the case if you're talking about Ohio State's 31-13 win over Wisconsin. I'm feeling two very uniquely common things in its wake. The first is that the Buckeye defense -- a unit I saw pre-season as a brick and mortar line covered by a thin beard of young ivy -- may well be one of the best in the country.
The boys were kept on the field for 42 minutes -- or 70 percent of the game, yet they hounded, hustled, and hollowed-out an empty Wisconsin threat. Four of Wisky's 13 offensive possessions ended in punts. Two ended in missed field goals. Another two ended in touchdowns -- for the Buckeyes.
Despite being treated to little to no rest, our boys continued to perform. Perhaps most impressive was a late game stand that saw Wisky with the ball and a fresh set of downs on Ohio State's 8 yard line. The following four plays ensued:
- Sack by Nathan Williams for a loss of 9 yards to the Ohio State 17.
- Completed pass to Kyle Jefferson for 8 yards to the Ohio State 9.
- Sack by Ross Homan for a loss of 9 yards, fumbled at the Ohio State 18.
- Incomplete pass.
Ohio State's defense left positively nothing on the field. After stifling USC, shutting out Toledo and Illinois, and manhandling Indiana, we've come to expect nothing less. But we've got a problem in Columbus and it's not the offensive line, the running backs, the wide-outs, or the kicking team.
Take away the defense and special teams and the Badgers win 13-10. Hilary swears..
It's Terrelle Pryor -- the pre-season Big Ten offensive player of the year. Sure, Pryor can be an unbridled thoroughbred of size, speed, and potential. But he can also be a cardboard cutout of a quarterback. Where once there was decisive interchange and escapeability, we now are looking at a wooden replica of a signal caller.
Could Terrelle Pryor actually be devolving? I'm not ready to play the Juice Williams card just yet, but it appears that Pryor's natural instinct has been channeled into an awkward mess of mechanics, multiple reads, and cold downs by a coaching staff hell bent on turning him into a proficient passer. Instead of tight-rope throws, we're treated to lame bounce-passes. In the process evasion has been replaced by hesitation.
But is it really the coaches' fault? Let's look at a comparsion of how Pryor was forced to begin drives this year against Wisconsin versus last year:
2008: Pryor rush for 11 yards for a first down, Pryor rush for 9 yards, Wells rush for 6 yards, Wells rush for 2 yards, Wells rush for 4 yards, Pryor incomplete pass, Wells rush for 54 yards, Wells rush for 5 yards, Wells rush for 15 yards, Pryor complete pass for 5 yards, Pryor incompete pass.
2009: Pryor incomplete pass, Saine rush for 4 yards, Pryor incompete pass, Herron rush for 4 yards, Pryor incompete pass, Pryor rush for 27 yards for a first down, Saine rush for no gain, Pryor pass complete for 17 yards for a first down, Saine rush for no gain, Saine rush for 2 yards.
Last year, Pryor ran on a quarter of opening run downs for an average of 10 yards a carry. He completed just one third of his opening passes. This year, Pryor ran on just one sixth of opening run downs for an average of 27 yards a carry. He completed just a quarter of his opening passes. Still, despite delivering the greatest gain on a drive opener using his legs, Pryor was forced to pass three times as often as he was permitted to run. Not cool.
The problem is the trend doesn't hold up on a larger scale. Last year Pryor kept the ball on the ground 8 times, to 16 pass attempts. This year, he ran the ball the same amount of times, to 15 pass attempts. So while the playcallers seem less willing to let Pryor run out of the gate on drives, they're giving him a similar degree of latitude overall.
So what's got the kid spooked? I say it's the formalism. Bogged down in multiple reads, and welded to open looks, Pryor has become a proverbial deer in the headlights. Where there once was rhythm, there now is regret.
To fix the Ohio State offense, Jim Tressel and Darrell Hazell need to find a way to let the freak out of the box. Whether it's running out of the shotgun, or fine tuning the option it has to be done before November or the Buckeyes will become a victim of their own medicine.