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What to Do With Terrelle the Terrible

For Jim...

Last week I asked what was wrong with Terrelle Pryor.  This week I know what is wrong with Terrelle Pryor. 

Pryor's dysfunction can be broken into three distinct categories:

  • Can't throw a short spiral to save his life.  Result?  More incomplete passes out of the backfield than I care to count.
  • Hooks his arm release like a tournament fisherman trying to jerk a bass out of the water, only in reverse.  Result?  Pegs the ball at the ground, forcing receivers to dive or "touch their toes" to pick up the ball.  Dramatically limits yard pickup after the catch.
  • Can't lead his receivers on middle routes.  Result?  Incomplete/broken up passes.  Interceptions.
  • Doesn't adjust his "snap" on his release for the speed and length of the throw.  Result?  More turf bullets than I care to count. 
  • Stares at his chosen receiver like a teenage boy ogling cleavage.  Result?  Linebackers have an easy time keying in on and jumping routes.
  • Stands in the pocket for too long checking off multiple receivers.  Hesitates to take off on the ground.  Result?  Gets beat to the sideline by outside linebackers.  Routinely tackled close to the line of scrimmage on scrambles.
  • Throws lazy deep balls (a.k.a. "arm punts"  Hat Tip: BSD) into double-coverage.  Result?  Allows free safeties ample time to close and make a play.  
  • Pounds the turf in frustration after sacks.  Hangs his head on the sidelines.  Allows the game to get to him.  Result?  Interferes with the "muscle memory" component of mechanics making it difficult for Pryor to replicate what he did in practice during live play.  Makes it difficult to recover from mistakes as a game progresses.

The combination of these raw tendencies and others has seen a signature talent devolve into a scarecrow.  Don't delude yourself.  Pryor is getting worse every week.  The question now is what to do about it.

Let me start by saying what Jim Tressel shouldn't do.  He shouldn't bench Pryor. 

Don't get me wrong.  Pryor should have seen the bench on Saturday against Purdue -- probably after he threw his second interception of the day at the 6:38 minute mark of the Third Quarter.  Just as Rich Rodriguez substituted Denard Robinson for Tate Forcier in the fourth quarter against Iowa last week to provide an elusive "spark," a backup's presence can sometimes be a tabula rosa for a struggling offense.  At the very least handing Joe Bauserman the reins for a series of two might have disrupted the Boilermaker's defensive flow, resulted in a few completions, and opened up the ground lanes for a greater rushing presence.  It also might have given Pryor a chance to exorcise his demons on the sideline.

(As a short aside, Tressel needs to watch Cincinnati's Brian Kelly for cues on how to treat a struggling quarterback when he comes off the field.  Pull his face mask to get his attention, tell him what he did wrong, tell him he's not going to do it again, and provide instructions on what to do instead.  Make the episode a visible reprimand.  Make the player mad at you instead of himself.  He'll come out of the gate on the next series like a damn grizzly bear).

Still, although Tressel should have turned to Bauserman in the midst of the meltdown, he should not make him the starter next week against Minnesota.  To do so would be to shoot the arthritic remains of the Ohio State offense in the foot.  As Ken Gordon of The Columbus Dispatch reminds us, although Pryor is one big fat piece of the pie, he's not the entire problem.

The next biggest concern, as I see it, is the play of the offensive line.  [C]learly, the line was a disaster, and there are three sophomores starting -- all big time recruits: Mike Adams, Mike Brewster and J.B. Shugarts.

What does all this say? That the recruits are all busts, all of them? Really? That they aren't getting the proper coaching? That they just had a bad day?

I believe the truth lies somewhere between bad coaching and bad day.

Coaching must be faulted to some extent. The staff had all offseason to determine what system would best suit Pryor's abilities. They came up with a pro style, run-based attack....then scrapped that after three games. All that offseason analysis -- five assistant coaches working at least 40-hour weeks for eight months, that's about 7,000 hours of work, for what?

The line appeared to be rejuvenated a few weeks ago when OSU went to the shotgun, zone-read offense. But when teams started putting serious heat on the past two weeks, they melted like wax figures.

The Buckeyes are burdened by a bad line that can't pass protect.  It's easy to forget in the midst of bad throws and short scrambles how many times Pryor has to evade one, even two rushers to buy himself the time to look up field. 

Imagine what that offense would look like with a young, lead-footed, pocket passer at the helm.  Oh yeah, we tried that already.  Todd Boeckman, anyone?

For better or worse we're stuck with Pryor.  So what should Tressel do?

Consider this:

[T]he only time Pryor has looked comfortable the past two weeks was in running the hurry-up, two-minute drill. OSU scored three times in its past four possessions in the hurry-up.

But can you do that all game? Should the Buckeyes turn into Texas Tech, since that appears to be the only system in which its QB can thrive?

No, we shouldn't turn into Texas Tech exactly, but -- as a local sports radio commentator suggested yesterday -- we should model the offense after another successful program plagued with an elusive quarterback with a bum arm: Texas' 2005 National Championship squad.

To compensate for Vince Young's poor decision-making, and limited football smarts, Mack Brown installed an ultimatum offense so easy anyone could run it.  It worked as follows:

  1. Operate out of a five-wide receiver formation.
  2. Have Vince pick one receiver as his lone target in the huddle.
  3. After the snap, have Vince read his primary receiver.  If the receiver is open, make the throw.  If the receiver isn't open, run.

It's that simple.  Pryor should be coached to run like hell the second he smells something fishy.  Sure, it might not turn him into a Sunday starting signal caller.  But, does anyone really think he's got a chance of quarterbacking at the next level?

Maintain the kid's confidence, and give the offense the best chance of success.  It's not the only choice, but it's the smartest one.