Conquering the Herd and beyond

By Bill Livingston
Updated: September 3, 2010

COLUMBUS — Autumn, which seemed on its way only a few days ago, wasn’t around the corner, down the street, or on the next block Thursday night.

It was retreating from the heat in which 105,040 spectators sweltered at Ohio State’s opener. The weather keeps switching, but the stakes in college football do not.

Every game counts. The score, in this case Ohio State 45, Marshall 7, stays on everybody’s permanent record. There is no “preseason.” This is an enormous advantage for college football in terms of bang for the consumer buck, but it is also a burden.

Ohio State, in particular, has no margin for error, due to the outmoded perception of the Big Ten as the Sun Belt schools’ punching bag.

The opener began with the last streaks of light making the stands at the open end of the stadium glow. Wherever the season’s journey ends, odds are that junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor will blaze the trail.

He is high on the sprawling list of Heisman Trophy possibilities.

Sports Illustrated proclaimed him the preseason favorite, which means only that memories remain vivid of his MVP performance in the Rose Bowl against Oregon.

In the opener, he showed he can put two straight good games together, although they were separated by eight months and one day. The disclaimer is that Marshall is not very good, although the Thundering Herd did go to a bowl and win it last season, beating Ohio (University, not State).

But Pryor was all that could be expected, and more. There were no “wow” moments with his legs, proving that the “running quarterback” description of his freshman season is no longer accurate. A knee injury that required surgery curtailed the gliding runs in his sophomore season.

But Pryor suprisingly came out throwing early and often against the Ducks in Pasadena, when he was expected to hand off. A chorus of praise followed. Thursday night was more of the same.

The “wow” moments were his passes. Take the snap, drop back in the pocket, and put a 65-yard spiral, tight as the budget of a have-not baseball team, right in the hands of a receiver, on time and in stride, for a touchdown.

It went to Dane Sanzenbacher on the second snap after Marshall had scored on a return of a blocked field goal to cut OSU’s lead to 14-7.

The competitive aspects of the night were over then and there.

Pryor finished 17 for 25 for 245 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and one sack. He hit his wide receivers, his running back and high school teammate Jordan Hall, and even his tight end, a forgotten weapon at OSU.

Coach Jim Tressel said, “He had confidence in where he was going with the ball. His anticipation was good. He has a better handle on how the guys up front and the backs are going about their protection. So he has a much better feel for where people are coming from.”

When Troy Smith stopped looking to run and learned to think through his progressions, he became a Heisman winner. The difference is that Pryor is bigger, taller and faster than Smith. It is also that, in Oregon, Pryor is coming off a statement game against a tougher opponent than Notre Dame, despite its reputation, posed to Smith in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2005 season.

Impressive as Pryor’s opener was, he is currently far from getting the Buckeyes over “that little hump” to a national championship, as he promised to do when recruited.

“It will be a different world next week,” said Tressel.

Next week is Miami, the first big obstacle. The first Hump Day.