Gophers Get The T.P. Experience

By Patrick Reusse
Updated: September 28, 2008

COLUMBUS — Terrelle Pryor was the nation’s No. 1 recruit as a quarterback coming out of Jeannette, Pa. Ohio State and Michigan battled to get a commitment from Pryor with all the vigor you see from those rivals on the final Saturday of a Big Ten season.

Michigan promised Pryor the chance to work with new coach Rich Rodriguez, the alleged godfather of college football’s spread offense. Ohio State offered a pro offense that would put as much emphasis on Pryor’s right arm as his wondrous wheels.

The Buckeyes won the day, because Pryor wants to have some polish as an NFL prospect when he leaves Ohio State — probably after a 2010 campaign that will be his junior season.

Pryor, 18, made his second start and his Big Ten debut on Saturday in Ohio Stadium. The Gophers were quick to discover what all the fuss was about.

Ohio State accepted the kickoff and soon faced third-and-2 at its 39. Beanie Wells, back after a three-game absence, ran left for 28 yards.

The Gophers reassembled at their 33, and before they caught a breath, Pryor circled right and headed for the end zone. He wasn’t touched until he was reaching the goal line.

“He’s a tremendous athlete,” linebacker Deon Hightower said. “He’s faster than I thought he was.”

The Gophers senior said a defender trying to corral Pryor has to stay lined up on “his back hip” to guard against a cutback, then added: “That makes it difficult to get an angle on him.”

Hightower found himself in futile pursuit of Pryor on the first play of the second quarter. The Buckeyes faced third-and-3, Pryor came running from direct-snap formation and went 38 yards to the Gophers 20.

Later, when the Gophers had lost by a deceptive 34-21, coach Tim Brewster would lament Ohio State’s 11-3 advantage in “explosive plays.”

Here’s a bulletin, Coach, for you and all the nattering nabobs of Gopher Nation:

Explosive plays are going to be a problem for any team facing the Buckeyes in the seasons ahead, since Pryor is one wiggle of his back hip from making every play explosive.

Pryor finished with eight carries for 97 yards and two touchdowns. He also completed eight of 13 passes for 70 yards and another touchdown.

Clearly, the Buckeyes realized there are tougher games ahead — starting next Saturday at Wisconsin — and had no intention of letting Pryor take too many shots.

Jim Tressel, head coach and playcaller, could have sent Pryor on another half-dozen rollouts and the kid would have found daylight on most against the slower Gophers.

Instead, Tressel kept Pryor’s runs to a minimum and let him try to make some plays with his erratic throwing. Former starter Todd Boeckman also played for a couple of series when the lead was 27-6 midway in the third quarter.

Pryor did return briefly in the fourth quarter, between a pair of consolation touchdowns for the visitors.

Brewster talked about his “young team” fighting to the finish, as would any coach. His spin was that the Gophers’ comeback was visible for the entire second half. Actually, the exploits occurred in garbage time.

Boeckman threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 34-6. At that point, Ohio State had 367 total yards to 124 for the Gophers.

Adam Weber, the Gophers’ third-year sophomore quarterback, felt his team’s best chance to be genuinely competitive came when it was 10-3 in the second quarter, and he turned it over with a poorly thrown interception.

Pryor was too delighted with the victory and the chance to throw a few passes to offer any regrets.

“It’s nice to be able to throw downfield,” he said. “I’m happy to throw. … I want to keep it going. I know I have to keep proving myself.”

Do the Gophers count? If so, the 6-6, 235-pound clone of Vince Young proved much to them.

“Pryor has all the talent in the world,” Weber said. “He has a lot of tests ahead; the Big Ten is not about one game. But he definitely has the whole world in front of him.”