Commentary

How long is Pryor's leash?

Originally Published: December 28, 2009
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- He's the most talked-about player in the Big Ten, but he rarely does his own talking.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesThe Oregon defense knows how dangerous Terrelle Pryor can be running the ball.

He's quite possibly the most gifted offensive player in the Big Ten, but those gifts don't always show up on Saturday. He can be one of the most exciting players in the Big Ten, but he operates in an offense few would describe as exciting.

Terrelle Pryor will always be the story at Ohio State, but will the sophomore quarterback be the solution to the Buckeyes' BCS bowl woes? Or, better yet, will Ohio State allow Pryor to be the difference-maker?

Pryor certainly wants to be.

Regardless of what has been said or written about Pryor, his desire to win games and do great things shouldn't be questioned. As he prepares for his 22nd start at quarterback Friday against No. 7 Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi, Pryor sounds like a guy who wants to take charge.

Sitting before a large throng of cameras and notepads Monday, Pryor called the Rose Bowl a must-win for Ohio State. He talked about playing through pain, including a partially torn PCL, and his ongoing quest for a perfect performance.

"I'm growing up," he said in his first media appearance since Nov. 21. "I'm the leader of the offense."

Yet as he reminded everyone just a few beats later, he's not pulling the strings.

"I'm not Jim Tressel," he said, "I can't pick the plays. Whatever they call, I try to do my best. It's whatever Coach Tressel wants to do."

I'm growing up. I'm the leader of the offense.

-- Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor

Tressel's play calling and use of Pryor has sparked constant debate and criticism around Ohio State and the college football world.

The facts can't and shouldn't be denied: Ohio State has shared a Big Ten title and won another with Pryor, and the sophomore owns an 18-3 mark as the Buckeyes' starting quarterback.

But it hasn't been a smooth road for Pryor and the offense. Ohio State ranks 106th nationally in passing this year after finishing 105th in 2008. Pryor, who won Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors last fall, has seen drops in pass efficiency (146.5 to 128) and completion percentage (60.6 to 55.8) and an increase in interceptions (4 to 10).

Though Tressel has tried different things on offense the past two years, many wonder if Pryor wouldn't be better off in a true spread system, like the one run by Friday's opponent, Oregon.

"A lot of people think he should be in an offense such as Oregon's," Oregon linebacker Spencer Paysinger said. "I wouldn't say he's uncomfortable [at Ohio State]. I just think he'd want to do a little more running, some more read-option stuff."

Paysinger and his fellow Ducks defenders praised Pryor's running, especially around the edges, and his ability to improvise and make big plays.

"When I see Pryor comfortable is when he scrambles and does his own thing," Oregon defensive tackle Brandon Bair said. "In his offense, I'm sure he does just fine and I'm sure he's comfortable with it. But when that guy can get out and run, it's almost like a different level of comfort.

"You can see it. He's just happy. He's in his world."

Can Pryor's world and Tressel's world coexist?

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesPryor's interceptions more than doubled from last season, going from four to 10 this year.

There have been moments where Pryor has made magic happen. On Ohio State's first drive of the season against Navy, Pryor kept a play alive with his feet and found Dane Sanzenbacher on a crossing route for a 38-yard touchdown.

"He's comfortable in the offense," Sanzenbacher said, "but you really see the potential when a play breaks down, when things don't go as planned, to go out and make a play anyway."

Added Pryor: "You must have that type of ability."

Therein lies the dilemma for Tressel, who must decide how much leash to give Pryor in the Rose Bowl.

Ohio State likely needs to put up points and take some chances against high-powered Oregon. A reined-in Pryor probably won't help.

On the flip side, the Buckeyes won their final five regular-season games with a run-heavy, conservative scheme that simply asked Pryor to limit mistakes rather than make the decisive plays. Tressel also hasn't forgotten Ohio State's last loss, a game where Pryor committed four turnovers against Purdue.

Unlike last season at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, Pryor is being allowed to talk the talk this week, as the Buckeyes prepare for another defining game.

"We just need it as a whole," he said. "We need it for coach [Jim] Tressel, we need it for the staff. It's just huge."

We'll find out Friday if he gets to walk the walk.

Adam Rittenberg covers Big Ten football for ESPN.com. He can be reached at espnritt@gmail.com.