clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Heisman That Never Was: The Ballad Of Terrelle Pryor

A fitting analogue to Terrelle Pryor's Ohio State career.
A fitting analogue to Terrelle Pryor's Ohio State career.

From the moment Terrelle Pryor announced he was be headed to Ohio State to be the all intents and purposes stylistic successor to Troy Smith's 2006 Heisman Trophy run, a few things didn't seem perfectly in line.

For starters, Pryor delayed his decision making process over a month beyond national signing day. In setting a me-centric precedent for the Bryce Brown's of the world to follow, Pryor delayed his decision for the benefit of no one other than himself as he continued to weigh where he'd be playing his college ball between Ohio State, Penn State, and (to a far lesser degree) Michigan. There were rumors that Pryor's father's handicap was pushing him towards potentially playing Happy Valley to better accommodate his old man being able to travel and see him play, but then there'd be the talking points which would echo Pryor's sentiment that State College was simply "too country" for his likings.

In spite of the time table, even the day itself wasn't perfectly according to script. Pryor botched the Ohio State's name, despite the brow beaten beyond cliche Monday (and later Sunday) Night Football annunciations of "*THE* Ohio State University" by proclaiming his allegiance to "The University of Ohio State". For even as highly a profiled recruit and figure as Pryor was during mostly consensus rise to becoming the number one high school player in the country, it's tough to fault a young person in the heat of the moment making a slip of the tongue (or brain, whichever the case may be). Still, it became a point of satire for his doubters and even left the less forgiving and prone to prejudices of the moment within the Ohio State fan base with their earliest bits of anti-Pryor ammunition.

Of course in terms of actually what he brought to the football field, Pryor's idealized end game fit somewhere between a superlative-ified iteration of Troy Smith's freshman year athleticism (when the was-recruiting-as-an-"athlete" played wide receiver all but exclusively) and (in the hopeful minds of many with scarlet colored glasses) the passing pedigree of the polished, fourth year, Heisman trophy securing senior quarterback Smith. But before that bit of alchemy could ever even got started, he was first anointed.

Monickers such as TP2, LeBron-In-Cleats, Chosen One, et al found there way out into common place dialogue amongst Buckeye fans, with a vocal minority even going as far as to proclaim Pryor would be history's second two-time Heisman Trophy winner. Of course a funny thing happened along the way to the Downtown Athletic Club.

After Pryor was (perhaps) prematurely forced into action following the on-the-field lobotomization of Todd Boeckman (and the culmination of a confidence destroying slow death march that found its inception in the Illinois loss a year prior), it was plain as day to see what the freak-of-nature talent brought to the table. In mop up duty in the midst of a 35-3 blowout against USC, Pryor completed 7 of 9 passes for 52 yards and added another 40 on the ground on 11 tries against Southern Cal's second, third, and fourth stringers.

In Pryor's first collegiate start the ensuing week at home against a different set of Trojans, these from Troy, Alabama, Pryor completed 10 of 16 passes for 139 yards and 4 TDs while tacking on a gazelle-esque 66 yards on 14 seemingly effortless carries. The first glimpse at the negative side of Pryor, however, also made its debut. While throwing a careless interception, in hindsight, mostly looks like a footnote, it also served as a theatrical trailer for the frustrations that would plague Pryor's build up to the would be date with destiny during his three years as Ohio State's starter.

Pryor's first loss as Ohio State started would come October 25th, a little more than a month later, against the very team Pryor has slighted the previous March, the home-state Penn State Nittany Lions. In a game more fitting of an NFC North clash, Pryor wasn't even his own worst enemy, completing 16 of 25 passes good for 226 total yards while limiting himself to just one interception. Of course most damning of all, a stout Penn State defense held Pryor to just 6 yards rushing, his lowest output of the season, leading to shots of obvious frustration and the infamous, made-for-t-shirt Pryor admonishment that Penn State faithful would cast down him while he proceeded to defeat them easily in the two years that followed.

Perhaps the first glimpse at Pryor's mortality came in the post-season affair with Texas in that season's Fiesta Bowl. After it became obvious that something wasn't quite right (and rumors would later state he'd suffered an injury to his throwing hand), Jim Tressel adapted and implemented one of the most positively Tresselian game plans (the 2009 USC abomination also comes to mind) that even went as far as to involve a gimmick: Pryor would be in on running plays with the confidence-wounded shell of Todd Boeckman in on passing downs. Of course the Texas defense was wise to this as well, and despite two quarters and change of a modicum of effectiveness, the Longhorns ultimately bared down and capitalized on an Anderson Russell broken tackle to win a game they didn't otherwise play up to snuff (particularly given the should've never been effectiveness of the opposition's tragically flawed game plan) to claim the evening's affair. Before going full-DERP, Pryor was hapless as a passer, completing just 5 of 13 attempts for 66 yards. He also rushed for 78 yards and caught a touchdown pass as well (which may make those injury whispers a bit less plausible), but looked frustrated at times as well as delivering body language that would become all too familiar in future losses.

While many hoped these sorts of exhibitions would be healed by time, the maddening alter ego of Pryor would rear its ugly head inevitably at the most inopportune moments. In the ensuing season opener in which the Buckeyes nearly fell at the hands of the Naval Academy, Pryor was just 14/21 for 174 yards, a touchdown, and a pick, and an INT. A Purdue turnover fest later in 2009 was amongst the lowest of lows for Pryor, with but an inconsistent (but equally predictable) loss to Wisconsin Pryor's junior year to complete his jumping of the moon.

That's not to say there wasn't a lot of good. The victories over Oregon in the Rose Bowl, the three wins over Michigan, and of course the forgotten by time (and the NCAA) injury triumph of sheer will against Arkansas. But the it factor, the magical teleportation across the field the way only he could while also throwing smart balls to open receivers all the while looking like an NFL quarterback never quite arrived.

Would Pryor have found himself with one more year of seasoning? Given that Nic Siciliano, the one-time assistant video coordinator at Oklahoma (his previously highest held BCS level office before being named Jim Tressel's quarterback coach-in-title only), would've been the lone instructor providing him tutelage and the direction he'd need to continue his progression under center.

And there in lies perhaps the most frustrating fact of all. While the completion percentage got better and the stupid mistakes did appear to be improved (albeit rather incrementally), there wasn't a colossal different between Terrelle Pryor 1.0 in 2008 and the should-be more refined edition in 2010. 2011 might've just been a year older, but not necessarily a year better.

Struggling to get on the field for one of the most abject trainwrecks in the National Football League, the Oakland Raiders, it remains to be seen if Terrelle Pryor will ever become the caliber of football player many thought he could. While his legacy as a Buckeye will be over staged in every way by the role he played in the implosion of the Tressel era, the on the field successes can just as easily be overlooked in their own right by the mere matter of fact that they didn't feel greater. At least not as great as we'd dared to dream they'd be.

This post was sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 13. Check out the video for the game below.

EA SPORTS NCAA Football 13 TV: "Son" (via EASPORTS)