It only takes one finger to point blame, and in the case of the Buckeyes it’s easy to direct that digit toward quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
And while singling out the sophomore is fair enough, three or four fault-flowing fingers would do more justice in identifying the reasons behind Ohio State’s letdown at Purdue.
Pryor is about as consistent as gas prices. In his 16 starts at OSU, Pryor has never topped 200 passing yards in consecutive games. In his last five contests, he has thrown for 262, 82, 166, 87 and 221 yards. That pattern doesn’t exactly illustrate offensive stability.
A pair of glaring areas of weakness has vividly appeared during Pryor’s latest stretch of ineptitude. Two critical attributes for any quarterback, decision making and throwing mechanics, are far from Pryor’s strong suit.
He hasn’t demonstrated a strong grasp of the basic fundamentals of playing his position. He often locks onto one receiver, clearly broadcasting his thought process to the defense.
Pryor’s indecisiveness has stunted the growth of the Buckeyes’ offensive unit. His inability to make snap judgments has led to more sacks, fumbles and interceptions than coach Jim Tressel could have ever expected when recruiting the nation’s top prospect two years ago.
Through seven games, Pryor has already thrown eight interceptions, just one less than he threw in all of 2008. He has connected with the wrong-colored jersey in all but one game this season, an alarming statistic.
In just one game this season has Pryor recorded a quarterback rating of more than 100. Last season, he topped the century mark in five of his nine starts.
What’s more disturbing is how his hesitancy and indecision have made the task for the offensive line even more difficult.
With three sophomores and two juniors starting at unfamiliar positions, the line was expected to take time to gel.
Injuries and a widespread flu bug have forced the coaching staff to rotate bodies along the line all season, keeping the group from unearthing any form of consistency.
Pryor, with the ability to run from and break free of tackles, has the athleticism to make up for a weak line; he was sacked just twice in the first four games of ’09.
But in the past three games, while completing just 54 percent of his passes and looking as uncomfortable in the pocket as ever, Pryor has been taken down on 10 occasions.
The offensive line certainly warrants part of the blame, but Pryor has only made their assignments more difficult. Against Purdue, who had allowed an average of 30.5 points per game before shutting down the Buckeyes, Pryor tried to scramble away from a sack but was taken down 11 yards behind the line of scrimmage before fumbling away the ball.
The offensive strategy employed by the OSU coaches has been a vital root behind the lack of Pryor’s growth at quarterback. While the base formation has gradually morphed into an option setup that plays to Pryor’s strengths, the playcalling continues to hold back the offense.
The Buckeye playbook has as much creativity as a “Saw” movie. Pryor was involved in all but seven offensive plays on Saturday, the seven being carries by running back Brandon Saine.
When a player is struggling, it’s wise to put that athlete in the best position to succeed. When a knockdown shooter can’t stroke a jump shot, he takes the ball to the basket for an easy layup. When a batter is struggling to get a base hit, he tries to draw a walk. When a quarterback can’t stop turning the ball over, he either hands to his running back or finds a receiver for a short, easy gain.
Instead, when it was raining on the Buckeyes, Tressel, Pryor and Co. let it pour. Pryor threw an interception on OSU’s second drive of the third quarter. After Purdue turned it right back over to the Bucks, Pryor immediately started airing it out again. He was nearly picked off on the first play of the drive, and then the Boilermakers intercepted him on the third play.
The Buckeyes regained possession after a Purdue touchdown and, naturally, went right back to throwing it long. After a sack, short run and near interception, OSU punted the ball back to the Boilermakers. For a coach widely recognized for his conservative style, Tressel’s belligerent playcalling made things even worse for his young quarterback.
The gaping holes in Pryor’s game continue to be magnified by the poor play of the offensive line and ineffective strategizing by Tressel and the coaching staff.
While fans might want to point a certain finger in the direction of the coach and quarterback, it’s the pinky and ring fingers that should be delegated to Tressel and the offensive line and a rigid index finger that should direct the brunt of the blame toward Pryor.