Besieged by angry Ohio State fans who think his quarterback should be benched or moved to wide receiver, coach Jim Tressel defiantly said Tuesday he will make no major changes.
Terrelle Pryor remains the 18th-ranked Buckeyes’ starting quarterback, even though he threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles – and could have had another three or four turnovers – in a stunning 26-18 loss to two-touchdown underdog Purdue on Saturday.
“From the film grade standpoint, he probably had less minus plays than he did in the past couple weeks,” Tressel said on Tuesday. “Now, that’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: The minuses that we had were those triple minuses.”
One of the most fundamental keys to “Tresselball” – a conservative, rely-on-your-defense approach – is that turnovers lose games. Yet Tressel continues to stand behind a quarterback who can’t seem to avoid them.
“No one has a disdain for turnovers any more than Terrelle,” said Tressel.
Tressel referred to Pryor’s mistakes as “moments.”
“He hasn’t been perfect in practice, but he’s come along in practice,” he said. “He hasn’t been perfect in games, but he’s come along in games. Now, did we have three or four moments that were impactful? There’s no question about it.”
Tressel said he would not even consider sitting Pryor out for a series or two to clear his head or to straighten out any mistakes. He also has no plans to try to get backup quarterback Joe Bauserman in against Minnesota (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) on Saturday, or any future games.
Other Buckeyes didn’t feel Pryor should have been pulled from the Purdue game.
“I don’t think there was ever really a point in the game where anybody on the offense was thinking we needed a change (at quarterback),” wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said.
Many Ohio State fans believe the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Pryor, who has yet to develop as a polished passer, might be a better fit at wide receiver, where he could use his speed and size.
Pryor completed 17 of 31 passes for 221 yards, most of the yardage coming after the Boilermakers had built a 23-7 lead through three quarters. The Ohio State offense had 120 yards at that point against a Purdue defense which had been gashed for 31 points and 380 yards per game in its first six outings. The only Ohio State (5-2, 3-1) touchdown after the opening few minutes of the game was on Pryor’s ill-advised, looping 25-yard pass that DeVier Posey caught midway through the final quarter.
Pryor came to Ohio State last year heralded as the nation’s No. 1 quarterback recruit. Ahead of him on the depth chart was Todd Boeckman, a first-team All-Big Ten quarterback who led the Buckeyes to the national championship game in 2007.
But three games into the 2008 season, Boeckman threw two interceptions in a lopsided 35-3 loss at Southern California – against a defense which would have seven players taken in the NFL draft the next spring.
Three days after that game, Tressel benched the fifth-year senior and installed Pryor as the full-time starter.
Tressel said Tuesday that there is no comparison between the circumstances that led to Boeckman’s benching and Pryor’s poor game at Purdue.
“I’m not sure that they’re comparable at all,” he said. “They don’t feel to me as being similar situations.”
Despite Pryor’s inexperience, he performed admirably as a freshman. He threw four interceptions in 165 pass attempts while completing 61 percent of his throws, and ran for 631 yards and six touchdowns.
So far this season, Pryor has not looked like the preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. He is completing 56 percent of his passes, with eight interceptions in 159 attempts. He also hasn’t been as much of a threat when he runs and has been sacked 12 times for 100 yards in losses.
Pryor and his offense – with Tressel calling the plays – have struggled most of the season. They mustered 10 first downs and 265 yards in a return engagement with USC on Sept. 12, an 18-15 loss. They totaled eight first downs and 184 yards two weeks ago in a 31-13 victory over Wisconsin. Fortunately for the floundering Buckeyes offense, that game was decided by two interception returns and a kickoff return for touchdowns.
But a week later against Purdue, which came in at 1-5, the offense again did little. Only this time the defense did not carry the load as Purdue’s Joey Elliott passed for 281 yards and two scores to engineer one of the bigger conference upsets in recent memory.
Earlier this season, Tressel said of Pryor, “There’s probably not a more compassionate human being in the world than Terrelle.”
But against the Boilermakers, it appeared a frustrated Pryor had disagreements with several teammates and coaches, at one point slamming his helmet to the ground.
Asked if he was concerned that Pryor wouldn’t be able to handle it if he were benched, Tressel hedged.
“You always try to keep in mind people’s feelings, but not to the point where it will hurt the team,” he said. “Our responsibility is to the group. Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t care about the individual. You do all you can do to help every individual. But not at the expense of the team.”