Commentary

After threatening to bench self, Pryor buries Michigan State

Originally Published: October 18, 2008
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- After a couple of sluggish performances, Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor sought out his head coach Friday at the school's football complex.

On the eve of his biggest collegiate start, on the road against No. 20 Michigan State, he didn't want what most freshmen would want in a time of doubt. He didn't want sympathy, stroking or a Lifesaver. Quite the opposite.

Pryor's message to Jim Tressel: "If I don't take us down the field first drive, second drive, third drive, I need to be taken out."

The Vest's response: "Just relax. Now, if you throw it to them, don't worry [you're coming out]."

Tressel said he's never had any player do that before. Much less a 19-year-old true freshman who one month ago supplanted a 24-year-old, fifth-year senior.

"I needed that challenge," Pryor explained. "If I'm going to be great, I need to move the ball. ... I never doubt myself. I'm a perfectionist. I need to do everything perfect."

As it turned out, Pryor did get yanked -- with his Buckeyes leading 38-7, on their way to a 45-7 beatdown of the Spartans. Up to that point, he showed flashes of the dazzling talent that made him the No. 1 prospect in America last year, and could make him the next Vince Young.

The 2008 graduate of Jeannette (Pa.) High School has a lot of work to do on his throwing mechanics, but he's more advanced than Young was at the same age. He's a nuclear stockpile of speed, size, strength, savvy and confidence, seemingly destined to win a Heisman Trophy or a national championship or both.

But before he gets to those things -- and before he gets to his first certifiably huge start Saturday against Penn State -- Pryor had to prove himself here, under his self-imposed threat of a benching.

If I'm going to be great, I need to move the ball. ... I never doubt myself. I'm a perfectionist. I need to do everything perfect.

-- Terrelle Pryor

It took a quarter. By the time the first 15 minutes were over, Ohio State led 21-0 and Pryor had inflicted four jaw-dropping plays on the Spartans.

On the second play of the game, backed up to the Bucks' own 9-yard line, Pryor faked a handoff to Chris Wells and flowed swiftly around the left end for 32 yards. That changed the early field position.

On Ohio State's second possession, Pryor kept left again and rendered cornerback Ross Weaver helpless with one full-speed juke. He strolled into the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown. (Later in the game the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Pryor stiff-armed the 6-1, 202-pound Weaver to the ground like he was a grade-schooler. It was borderline unfair.)

On the next possession, Pryor rolled out on a bootleg from the Michigan State 7 and found defensive end Trevor Anderson in his face. It looked like a certain sack. Pryor sidestepped Anderson and left him grasping at air before throwing an off-the-back-foot touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie.

And on Ohio State's next offensive play, Pryor loaded up and threw deep to Brian Hartline. The ball was underthrown -- "I gave him some stuff about that," Hartline said -- but it got there. Hartline bounced off two tacklers and ran to the Spartans' 1 for a 56-yard gain. Wells scored on the next play and order was restored in the Big Ten.

Once again, Ohio State is forwardly placed in the title chase. And once again, Michigan State has bombed on the big stage.

"It was obviously not a very good game today," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. "Inability to tackle, turnovers, and we lost a very good opportunity to make an impact on this country."

I don't know whether Dantonio thought a Michigan State victory might jump-start the stock market or something, but the potential impact on the country is a bit overstated. What is not overstated is Pryor's impact on Ohio State.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioMichigan State had no answers for Terrelle Pryor on Saturday.
This is still a defense-first, turnover-obsessed, field-position-driven program -- that will never change as long as Tressel is in charge. That's one reason why Pryor threw the ball only 11 times Saturday, completing seven for 116 yards. And why he's thrown the ball only 90 times this season in a game plan the coaches have kept paint-by-numbers simple.

But the playmaking juice Pryor has supplied an inconsistent offense has gotten the Buckeyes in position to play Penn State for an unprecedented third straight outright Big Ten title.

"I don't know where our team is," Tressel said. "We'll find out Saturday night against the Nittany Lions."

The Nittany Lions, of course, tried desperately to keep Pryor in-state. But the kid was having none of that story line Saturday night.

"I don't care," Pryor said. "I'm from Ohio now. That's still my hometown, but this is where I am now. I don't need to make Penn State happy."

He clearly didn't when he signed with the Buckeyes. You can add ESPN analyst Mark May to the list of people Pryor is not concerned with making happy.

Pryor got huffy earlier this season before the Minnesota game about some fairly innocuous and well-reasoned comments May said about wanting to see Pryor perform on the big stage. He remains huffy.

"I'd love to battle against Mark May anytime," Pryor said, before adding, "I don't worry about what he says. I don't even watch 'SportsCenter.'"

Perhaps not. But Pryor clearly has rabbit ears for any perceived criticism, using it as motivational fuel.

"People don't know what I can do," he said. "They say I'm overrated. Wait and see. The time will come and you will find out.

"I didn't prove anything yet. But I like playing with a chip on my shoulder."

Buckeyes fans love wearing jerseys to games, and all of them should come with a chip on the shoulder given the state's wounded reaction to criticism of Ohio State's serial pratfalls in major national games. First there was Florida, then LSU, then USC -- but now, returned to the safe (and slow) harbor of the Big Ten, the Bucks are rolling once more.

The nation might not relish the sight of Ohio State in the top 10, but the Buckeyes will be there when the first BCS standings are released Sunday. And if they take down Penn State in the Horseshoe on Saturday, they'll rise even higher.

"We've got a big fight next week," Pryor said.

To win that fight, Ohio State won't need The Perfectionist to be perfect -- just productive. But given his performance here, Terrelle Pryor might want to threaten himself with another benching.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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