At Last, No More Doubts

By Bill Livingstone
Updated: January 2, 2010

PASADENA, Calif. — Silver victory confetti sparkled in the Rose Bowl lights when the Granddaddy of Them All ended in a roar of victory from the Ohio State stands.

The glittering blizzard looked like leftovers from the biggest New Year’s Eve bash you could imagine.

The new year rang in a newly resolute Ohio State team with a new quarterback in Terrelle Pryor who is no longer about promises unkept, but instead about promise being fulfilled.

The Buckeyes beat favored Oregon, 26-17, in the Rose Bowl, and Pryor, the sophomore who was more heralded than any quarterback in OSU history when he came to Columbus, made the game his own victory parade.

He said when he came to Columbus that he would help coach Jim Tressel “get over that little hump” in the biggest games. Hump day was Friday. It marked the end of his sophomore season, the midpoint of his college career and the first, but probably not the best, day of the rest of his life.

Pryor was the Most Valuable Player. He was involved in 57 plays (a stunning 37 passes, with 20 completions for 266 yards and two touchdowns). He ran 20 times for more yards than anyone on the field (72). He had 338 yards of total offense.

Oregon’s astro-offense managed only 53 plays all game and just 260 yards.

Who has come further than Pryor since his anemic 5-for-14, 66-yard passing performance in last year’s Fiesta Bowl loss to Texas?

Forget last year. Who has come further than Pryor since midseason?

That was when he committed four turnovers in a dreadful loss at Purdue that made him look unready for the Big Ten, which, as all the national skeptics know, is much less than the big time.

“We were playing for our rep,” Pryor said. “And we were playing for our conference’s. The other teams are part of our reputation too.”

Nobody, however, delivers the same street and poll credibility as the Big Ten’s flagship program. Five years in a row the Big Ten champions, Ohio State restored its own reputation at the same time as Pryor liberated much of the state of Ohio from defeat, disappointment and doubt.

Along the way, he freed himself from the clutches of Oregon hands and skeptics’ misgivings. “The game plan was to make him throw,” said Oregon defensive end Kenny Rowe. “But when he throws like that, the game plan didn’t go too well.”

Oregon is a team with a philosophy of attacking defense and full-bore offense.

But Pryor kept wriggling through the creases in the wall of green coming at him and breaking out for 24 yards, for 12, for 11. “He’s big, but he’s slippery too. He has a good stiff-arm and is tough to bring down,” said Rowe.

Pryor found an exquisite balance between his legs and his arm, hitting deep balls to DeVier Posey, Brandon Saine and Jake Ballard to complement the high percentage slants and quick outs he otherwise threw.

On the drive of Ohio State’s season, with the Buckeyes leading 19-17, 13:03 left in the game, and OSU desperate to play keep-away from Oregon’s offense, he was responsible for 67 of the 81 yards that ate up 6:01 of the clock before the Buckeyes scored.

Twice, he ran for first downs on second-and-8 and then on third-and-6. Twice, he threw for first downs on third-and-11 and third-and-13.

On the fade pattern Posey ran that ended in a tumbling 17-yard, game-clinching touchdown catch, Pryor put it all together — the footwork he has worked on more often than a “Dancing with the Stars” contestant, the film he has watched of Peyton Manning, the touch — so often mislaid — developed to put the ball where no one but Posey could catch it.

This game gave the lie to the perception of Tressel as too hidebound, too cautious for his own good, too risk-averse to trust his young quarterback. Pryor passed on the first six plays.

“We wanted to come out flinging it around,” said Tressel.

Pryor earned his coach’s trust by no longer forcing the deep ball.

He earned his teammate’s respect by gutting out big games at Penn State and against Iowa with the partial tear in his knee that had him limping early against Oregon. He earned Hesiman Trophy buzz for next season by playing his best game last.

“He looks like a defensive lineman,” said Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who tried to recruit Pryor. “When I saw him in high school, he was a man against boys. He was a man against boys tonight too.”