Mon Jan 05 05:26pm EST
This time a year ago, I was writing about the necessity of taking the game out of the quarterback's hands for Ohio State, a team that "lack[ed] the weapons or philosophy to pass its way back into things" if it failed to establish the run with Beanie Wells in last year's mythical championship game. Todd Boeckman proceeded to pass 25 times against LSU to Wells' 18 carries following Beanie's early touchdown gallop, the Tigers finished with an eight-minute advantage in time of possession and the Buckeyes were run out of the Superdome in another postseason humiliation.
Tonight, though, back in the scene of an even greater embarrassment against a touted team from the South, there is one big, fast, gazelle-ish difference between the team facing Texas and the one that got caught with its pants down trying to run and gun with LSU. And where running and gunning is concerned, Terrelle Pryor completely changes the equation. Right from the beginning (by which I mean: at USC), Pryor has shown he's not the sitting duck Todd Boeckman repeatedly proved to be against competent defenses; the freshman leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency, completion percentage and touchdown percentage and has broken about as many big runs -- for first downs, for ten yards, for 20 yards -- as Wells, on far fewer carries. If the Buckeyes' have struggled to match up with speed and athletes in big games, that cannot possibly be an issue with this kid.
Actually, I should say that Pryor could change the equation. In reality, Ohio State comes into the Fiesta Bowl with the essentially same lo-fi, Tressel-Ballin' profile, and up to now has stressed Beanie Wells to an even greater extent than it did last year -- since returning from the foot injury that sidelined him against USC, Wells had at least 22 carries in six straight games before calling it a day after just 15 runs (for 134 yards and a long touchdown) in the year-end bludgeoning of Michigan. He averaged 21.2 carries for the season, compared to 21.1 last year. Meanwhile, OSU has thrown about 35 percent fewer passes in 2008 than it did in '07, and Pryor has topped 15 attempts in a game only once, against Penn State, despite steady improvement as he settled into the starter's role.
So the one thing I'd really like to see tonight against the Longhorns is the opposite of a swan song for Todd Boeckman: We need to get a full-fledged glimpse of Terrelle Pryor Unplugged. Spread it out. Give Pryor 35 to 40 plays to do something other than hand off. Make him a Heisman contender. OSU has lost four straight against top five teams, and crawled up into a ball offensively each time, until it was too late.
Pryor gives the Buckeyes a dynamic presence they haven't had since their last big game win -- when Troy Smith shredded No. 2 Michigan for 42 points from the spread -- and also offers a specific advantage against the Longhorn defense. No one has made any progress trying to pound out a running game against Texas: UT was second nationally in run defense and held almost every opponent under two yards per carry, including Oklahoma (the Sooners were stuffed at a paltry 1.9 ypc, including three sacks). The only similarly stiff run defense Ohio State faced with Wells in the lineup, Penn State, held Beanie to 55 yards on 2.5 per carry, and the offense as a whole to six points.
At the same time, the only schemes that had any success running on the Longhorns were the spreads of Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Baylor. Pryor can't be Sam Bradford as a passer, but he can have more success than Robert Griffin while matching the electric Baylor scrambler's 100-yard day against the 'Horns on the ground. His best Vince Young impersonation can give Ohio State a chance, which it seems to desperately need right now as a nine-point underdog.
I'm sure Will Muschamp is licking his chops to unleash his athletic defense against a freshman quarterback, and he might be right. For the Buckeyes, it's worth the risk: For better or worse, tonight should be the night they take off the reigns, say "You're not a freshman anymore," and let the Terrelle Pryor era really begin.
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Programming note: No live blog tonight, but the Doc will probably be dropping in on the EDSBS version, if anyone wants to head on over.