December 23, 2009

Ball protection key for Pryor's progression

COLUMBUS - It was clear to everyone just what Ohio State sophomore starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor's problem was after he and his Buckeyes walked slowly off the field in defeat in West Lafayette on Oct. 17.

And it was clear to Pryor, too. His turnovers were killing the team.

After turning it over four times by himself in the loss to Purdue - one of the major factors in Ohio State's most disappointing loss this season - Pryor spoke with the media the following Wednesday and admitted his shortcomings pertaining to his turnover problem.

The sophomore cited an over-eagerness to make big plays and having his head in the wrong places. Unlike most youngsters his age, Pryor took full responsibility for his issues. And perhaps what's more impressive is the fact that he made short order of the issue, and fixed it.

Despite the fact that Pryor looked like a new man in the team's remaining five games - a span of which the buckeyes were unbeaten en route to clinching the outright Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl -- Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said the sophomore is not pleased with the way his season went.

"He's an extreme perfectionist," Tressel said of Pryor. "The only way he would have been happy at the end of the regular season was if we were 12-0, completed every pass and he scored 94 touchdowns and threw for another 100."

Whether Tressel would like to admit it or not, Pryor's susceptible to turning the ball over in the beginning half of the season was Ohio State's biggest liability, especially because commandment No. 1 in the rules of "Tressel Ball" is to protect the football.

In Ohio State's first seven games this season, Pryor threw eight interceptions after only throwing four his entire freshman season. As a result, the Buckeyes opened the season up 5-2.

Well, after Pryor vowed to be more patient and careful with the football following the loss to Purdue, the sophomore signal caller only threw two interceptions for the remaining of the season.

And the results were obvious: a 5-0 record to close out the season and a trip to the Rose Bowl. So, it is only natural that the first thing the coaches note when it comes to Pryor's progression this season was his ability to recognize his issues with turnovers and fix it.

After all, "Tressel Ball" doesn't work with turnovers.

"Certainly there was steady improvement throughout the year and hopefully there will be a continued improvement," said offensive coordinator Jim Bollman. "He really did a great job taking care of the football down the stretch, which a key for any quarterback to make good decisions. He is always a key threat to run for us. He can split a defense running the ball and pick up key first downs."

Last season when Ohio State was preparing for an explosive Texas team in the Fiesta Bowl, the Buckeye coaching staff turned to some unorthodox methods in order to put up some points on the Longhorns.

This year, it doesn't look like things will be that heroic.

Instead, Tressel is counting on Pryor to protect the ball like he did down the stretch of the season. If he could do that, then perhaps a sophomore season that once seemed to be going down the wrong path could be changed with the snap of the fingers.

Pryor sure hopes so.

"I'm sure he feels like he's had some progress, but not near as much as he would like to have at this point and going forward," Tressel said. "He wants to get much, much better."

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.


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