With talks of a national title run swirling around this year’s Ohio State team since last January’s convincing Rose Bowl victory, the chances of the speculation coming to fruition were placed squarely on the shoulders of OSU junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
After Pryor came down hard on his left leg, following a run in the third quarter of last week’s contest at Illinois, this season’s aspirations were in limbo. Fortunately for the Buckeye faithful, coach Jim Tressel provided affirmation at his weekly luncheon that OSU’s star quarterback should be fine, after Pryor suffered what he said was best described as a thigh strain.
“I would expect every day he will get closer to 100 percent,” Tressel said. “I don’t know who is 100 percent after five games, that has as much wear and tear as a guy that has his hands on the ball, but I think he will be fine.”
And even with Pryor’s injury, Tressel said it won’t affect his game plan or his quarterback’s ability to make plays for the Buckeye offense.
“We always say that that position has to make big plays,” he said. “Now, maybe some of those big plays won’t be done as much with the feet, but we can still do them with the arm. So we’ll go in with the whole gamut like we always do.”
Moeller out for season, again
After Tyler Moeller missed all of the 2009 season with a devastating head injury, OSU coaches, players and fans alike were finally able to get a glimpse of the ability of the senior defensive back this season.
Moeller, who is second on the team in both interceptions and sacks, was dealt another bad hand Saturday when he suffered a torn pectoral muscle early against Illinois, which will force him to miss the remainder of the year.
“It’s really sad for a guy to be able to put so much work into something and have it taken away twice in a row,” defensive tackle Dexter Larimore said. “It is kind of tough for everybody on the team, especially since he was a great player for us and did some great things.”
Despite being in his fifth year at OSU, Moeller will appeal for an NCAA hardship waiver in hopes of gaining a sixth year of eligibility.
Stepping in to fill the void left in the silver bullet defensive backfield will be freshman Christian Bryant, who Tressel believes has what it takes to get the job done.
“Christian might be more nervous this week that he’s out there saying, ‘Oh, look at all these balls are whistling by my ear’ and so forth,” he said. “But he’s a competitor and he’ll be fine and we’ll get ready.”
Struggles on the road
Although many expected a decisive OSU victory at Illinois, Tressel attributed some of his team’s struggles to the constant rigors of playing in the Big Ten.
“I think the other thing that’s important in a game like that is that it’s a real life reality of the difficulty of the Big Ten, and it’s going to be that way,” he said. “It won’t take the exact same form each week because everyone has different things that they do and so forth, but the intent of Big Ten foes’ interest in beating you is real, and I thought that our guys got a good taste of that and know we’ve got to get better if we want to contend.
“That was an old-fashioned Big Ten slugfest.”
Even though, going into the game, Illinois was considered a far inferior opponent by many, Tressel commended the team’s competitors and said it was just a tough game all around.
“We probably didn’t have as many winning performances and as many outstanding performances as perhaps we do in a decisive victory,” he said. “But that was a tough one, that was a battle, and I’m sure they had a few winning performances too, so it was that kind of game.”
Special teams improving
Special teams has been a constant topic of discussion since the unit’s uninspiring performance against Miami early in the year, but Tressel said he thought OSU made great strides in that area against Illinois.
“I thought that the fact that we at least fought toe-to-toe special teams gave us a chance to compete and see who could make more plays on offense or defense,” he said. “So I thought we made some progress there.”
The team’s Special Team’s Player of the Week and punter Ben Buchanan agreed with his coach’s assessment of the unit’s progress on the road and added they hope to continue the solid play.
“I think we took a big step last week versus the University of Illinois in some very adverse conditions,” Buchanan said. “So we’re excited to come out versus Indiana this week and show that we can be consistent, week in and week out.”
Inconsistent back field
Even with the Buckeyes averaging more than 234 yards per game on the ground, the OSU backfield has failed to produce a 100-yard rusher, aside from Pryor, since week one against Marshall.
Tressel was pleased, however, with the progress of Dan “Boom” Herron on Saturday, who achieved his highest total of the year with 95-yards rushing at Illinois.
“Well, we kind of had begun getting a little bit of momentum and ‘Boom’ is one of those, if there’s a hole there for two yards, he’s going to get three,” he said of his running back’s fourth-quarter performance. “You could feel that Boom was getting a little; he was just getting a little momentum going and a little energy and electricity.”
Regardless of the inconsistent running back play at times, Tressel said he is happy with his team’s running attack.
“But we’re sitting there having the discussion and, hallelujah, we’re healthy there,” Tressel said of their depth running back. “We’ve had a lot of questions in this room about why did (former Buckeye) Craig Krenzel get hit in the head so many times running the ball. Well, we’ve only got one other tailback and he had to run it. It’s a good discussion. It’s a good problem.”