Something happened during the 41 days between Ohio State’s 21-10 victory at Michigan last November and the Rose Bowl.
Coach Jim Tressel took the training wheels off Terrelle Pryor’s bike. The quarterback threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 72 yards in leading OSU to its first bowl win in four tries.
Tressel has demonstrated additional leniency in Pryor’s junior year.
Tressel often refers to Pryor as a perfectionist. The quarterback had plenty to keep himself busy with after laying an egg in a loss at Purdue last October.
In that game, Pryor committed four turnovers, constantly forcing the issue and paying the price.
Following the defeat, Tressel morphed the offense from Pryor-centric into run-focused. The Buckeyes relied on the legs of “Boom” and “Zoom,” taking the pressure off their work-in-progress signal caller.
As a result, OSU stormed through the toughest section of its schedule, disposing of Penn State, Iowa and Michigan in succession in November to capture a fifth consecutive conference title.
But Tressel knew that at some point, he would have to re-instill trust in his quarterback. Pryor didn’t let him down against Oregon.
And now, after a summer of further progression, Pryor seems up to the task at hand. Namely, playing the role of leader and offensive centerpiece for a championship contender. And Tressel isn’t shying away from maximizing his exploits.
Through four games, the Heisman contender has averaged 26.8 pass attempts per contest. Last year, he topped 26 attempts in a game just four times.
Pryor has also led the Buckeyes in rushing in two of their four games.
There remains work to be done. Pryor twice forced a throw into double coverage against Ohio, resulting in a pair of interceptions.
But he has limited his mistakes and capitalized on his talents. Need evidence? Check out his effortless, 53-yard touchdown gallop in the first quarter against Eastern Michigan.
The Buckeyes could have used their depth at running back to wear down the Eagles defense and burn the clock, leading to a quick, painless victory over an overmatched opponent.
Instead, Tressel put his quarterback on display.
The more Pryor excels, no matter the competition, the more his confidence will bloom and the less the perfectionist will have to tweak.
Pryor is far from perfect. He could use some more touch on his short and intermediate passes. Tressel is always pushing him to improve his footwork. His decision-making has been a point of emphasis for three years.
But he clearly learned from his sophomore year, when he hit rock bottom after the Purdue debacle and took a backseat on the trip to another Big Ten crown.
Now, he looks like a quarterback who knows his limits and can harness his talent.
Pryor finally tossed aside the kneepads and helmet. Now he hopes he can ride into the Arizona sunset in early January.