Pryor, Buckeyes convert under pressure

Published Nov. 20, 2010 12:00 a.m. ET

By Pete Fiutak

Could Terrelle Pryor step up his game and become a Cam Newton-like talent next year? Maybe.

Could he be the type of veteran leader who wills his team to wins while carrying the Buckeyes to a national title? Possibly.

Has he lived up to the hype to become the type of transcendent superstar he was supposed to be when he was among the top quarterback recruits of the last decade? Not even close.

Is he about to lead his team to a third straight Big Ten title? Yup.

Pryor’s career has been defined mostly about what he isn’t, rather than what he has been able to do. He hasn’t been special and he hasn’t progressed as expected, but he has been the target for three years (all right, more like two-and-a-half) and he has managed to survive the criticism, the bizarre (like the underground movement to make him a receiver after last year’s loss to Purdue), and the unattainable expectations.

No, he hasn’t won enough big ones, and no, he shouldn’t be considered a superstar based on his career so far, but against Iowa, he did what he needed to do to rally the offense late with his legs (running for 14 yards on 4th and 10) and his arm (hitting Dane Sanzenbacher on a 24-yard play to put it down to the 2), marching the Buckeyes on a game-winning drive. And now he’s one game away from another Big Ten championship.


And Iowa is left to wonder what happened.

Everything set up perfectly for a dream season for the Hawkeyes, getting three of the league’s top teams (Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin) at home, but failing to come through late in two of the showdowns. Throw in the inexcusable loss to a plucky, but not-that-good Northwestern, and this 7-4 season has been a failure. This team is too experienced, too talented, and too good to be in the hunt for more than just a mid-level bowl, and while all four losses could’ve easily have gone the other way with a few more big plays, veteran teams are supposed to come up with a few more big plays. Last year’s team did, and this week, Pryor did.

By Richard Cirminiello

What is it with Iowa and expectations?

Hey, Kirk Ferentz is one of the best in the business, but the coach would prefer in the future if you don’t rank his Hawkeyes so high in preseason polls. Under his tutelage, the program seems to do its best work when the least is expected. It’s when the team is expected to finish in the top 10 and win the Big Ten, such as this season, that things don’t go as planned.

I’m one of the guys who was all over Iowa in the summer, and why not? Veteran quarterback. Deep backfield. And one of the more talented defenses in the country. Yeah, the O-line was being retooled, but this Iowa City, where they rebuild offensive lines as if it’s a bodily function. Yet, as we enter one of the most exciting final regular season weekends in recent Big Ten history, the Hawkeyes are out of contention and in danger of finishing in a fourth-place tie with Penn State.

Go ahead and file Iowa under the heading of one of the biggest disappointments of the 2010 season. The school has earned it. Sure, the Hawkeyes played a tough schedule, but so did Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State. Those schools have found the right formula to a 10-1 mark, with one final weekend of games left to play. Iowa couldn’t, yet another example of its inability to live up to the hype when the bar is set unusually high.

By Matt Zemek

It’s impossible to put into words the kaleidoscope of emotions – volatile upheavals of human longing – that were unleashed by the final few minutes of this consequential collision in Kinnick Stadium.

DeVier Posey – unintentionally, but still verily – sold Terrelle Pryor short last season, so how ironic was it that the Ohio State receiver was the one who tried out a pair of goat horns late in this Buckeyes-Hawkeyes battle in Iowa City? How doubly ironic was it that Pryor bailed out his loose-lipped but well-meaning teammate? Ah, but that’s trivial stuff compared to the full impact of Ohio State’s gut-check win on the road.

When Posey dropped a 50-yard touchdown pass all alone in the right corner of the end zone, the play brought up a 4th-and-10 situation. Jim Tressel – the coach who said he had to let loose a little bit in order to win this game – faced a situation that challenged his conservative instincts.

With just over four minutes left and still in possession of three timeouts, Tressel could have punted in order to leverage field position. When one realizes how emotionally debilitating the Posey drop was – certainly on an immediate level – Tressel had added reason to pause and say, "Hey, let’s overcome this and bounce back on the next drive. We have 10 yards to go, not three. Let’s punt and regroup."

Yet, the same Tressel who kicked a field goal at the 1 in this game (before a delay-of-game penalty brought the ball to the 6), and who similarly opted to kick a field goal on 4th-and-10 when trailing by seven earlier in the fourth quarter, rolled the dice this time.

His faith in his offense – and in Terrelle Pryor – was rewarded.

After the Posey drop, Michigan State fans stood one play away from almost certainly gaining the Rose Bowl bid that had eluded the program since the 1987 season. Yes, Sparty still had to deal with the Penn State game after Thanksgiving, but on a day when Mark Dantonio’s team overcame its longstanding history of pie-in-the-face embarrassments by clawing past Purdue, this game in Iowa represented the biggest remaining roadblock to a green-colored Tournament of Roses.

When one easy touchdown pass slipped through a young man’s fingers, it was hard to shake the sense that a luckless Mr. Pryor – a quarterback who had played so poorly in this game, and whose interception gave Iowa its late-stage 17-13 lead – would not be able to summon the fourth-down magic his team so fully needed. Michigan State approached a seminal moment in the school’s gridiron history. The Spartans were just one play away.

Adding to the suffocating drama of the moment was the fact that all the hopeful and excited sensations coursing through East Lansing right after the Posey drop were turned upside-down for all Wisconsin fans and the legions of cheeseheads who call the Badgers their own.

Unless an erratic and highly-doubted Buckeyes quarterback erased a nightmarish sequence just 45 real-time seconds after enduring an emotional punch to the groin, the Badgers were going to require a Penn State win over Sparty on Nov. 27 if they wanted to return to Pasadena for the first time since the day Y2K graced planet Earth. A BCS bowl bid was still likely, but the Rose Bowl is certainly the preferred destination for a Big Ten program not named Ohio State (which insists on making the BCS National Championship Game). Wisconsin fans had to deal with a sinking feeling when DeVier Posey veered from the planned script.

It is that backdrop of exquisite agony and hope, that tableau of searing desire and unbearable torment, which makes Pryor’s answer to the Posey drop that much more breathtaking. The wobbly and shaky signal caller who was so small for Ohio State in the first 55 minutes of this game immediately removed goat horns from Posey’s head with a first-down-bearing scramble.

Shortly after that fourth-down escape, Pryor delivered a 24-yard dart to Dane Sanzenbacher to the Iowa 2. When Dan Herron barreled into the end zone and the OSU defense then stacked on one more stop of Iowa’s offense, the memory of a ghastly dropped pass had been completely and utterly eliminated. All the good cheer that pervaded East Lansing turned into devastation, while Madison became a dwelling of delight once more.

All this, because Terrelle Pryor wouldn’t quit on his season. All this, because Jim Tressel didn’t punt when he could have. Now, the Big Ten and the BCS bowl picture are so markedly different as a result.