A year ago, under the lights of Camp Randall Stadium, Terrelle Pryor had his coming-out party on a national stage in a 20-17 victory over Wisconsin.
The Ohio State quarterback led the Buckeyes on two fourth-quarter scoring drives using both his arm and legs, eventually finding the end zone with 1:08 remaining on an 11-yard run to the outside. On the play, Pryor took advantage of confusion on the part of the Badger defense to score the eventual game-winning touchdown.
“The whole defense, we just weren’t prepared for it,” safety Jay Valai said. “They snapped the ball quick and ran out and they made plays, they scored a touchdown on us.”
Pryor finished with just 20 rushing yards on 15 carries in the game, but he did just enough to get Ohio State a big road win in a hostile environment.
After the game, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema acknowledged his team’s success in stopping the Buckeyes’ quarterback throughout, as well as their failure to do so on Ohio State’s final drive.
“He presents a challenge to get down on any given play,” Bielema said. “It’s something that we did well some of the time and ultimately in the end, (on) the last play we weren’t good enough.”
That was last year, though.
This year, Pryor no longer has the luxury of running back Chris “Beanie” Wells alongside him in the backfield, and as a result, he has become the biggest focus of the Buckeye offense.
“It’s all about Terrelle Pryor, I’m not going to lie,” linebacker Jaevery McFadden said. “On defense we’re going to try to contain him and make him more of a thrower than a runner. We feel like he’s more of a threat as a runner than a passer.”
Considering Pryor leads the Buckeyes in rushing and ranks seventh in the Big Ten with 59.6 yards per game, the Badgers’ assertion would seem to be an accurate one.
At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, the Jeannette, Penn., native may not look it, but he is the fastest player on the Ohio State football team. In the spring, he recorded a 4.33 in the 40-meter dash, which was 0.04 seconds fewer than the next best fastest Buckeye.
Even with that kind of speed, however, Pryor is not someone who can be easily figured out through watching game film — he simply does not look as fast on film as he truly is in person.
“On film, it kind of was like he was running in slow motion, but he covers so much ground,” defensive end O’Brien Schofield said of Pryor. “His legs are so long, so he’s one of those guys if he gets an edge on you, he’s probably going to outrun your angle.”
McFadden had similar observations from his first encounter with Pryor.
“Watching film last year, you’re wondering why people can’t tackle him,” McFadden said. “You don’t expect it until you get on the field and you try to tackle him. He takes like two steps every five yards; he’s like a gazelle running out there.”
As if his speed and quickness were not enough of a challenge, defenders must adjust to Pryor’s size. At 6-foot-6, he is among the tallest players on the Ohio State roster and nearly half a foot taller than most of the Wisconsin starting defense.
Add that to his size at 240 pounds and it makes for a guy that is tough to bring down.
“He’s got a big frame; he’s a big-body kind of guy,” safety Chris Maragos said. “When you look at a guy like that, especially trying to tackle him, you’ve really got to make sure you’re bringing it. He’s so long and he’s got such long arms too that he can easily stiff-arm you or break away from any of your tackles.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge in defending against an athlete like Pryor, though, is his position. As a quarterback, Pryor is an anomaly.
Rather than relying on his arm and using his legs as necessary, the Buckeyes’ quarterback operates, for the most part, in reverse. Pryor uses his legs to set up his underappreciated ability to throw, and he does it well.
As a result, Pryor will test the Wisconsin secondary just as much as the front seven.
“Any time you’ve got to worry about a quarterback scrambling, it’s tough,” Maragos said. “But if you can shut him down running you can get a beat on him passing the ball, or if you can shut him down passing you can be prepared for the run.”
Valai echoed Maragos’ sentiments, adding his keys for defending Pryor.
“Keep your head on a swivel and never think the play’s over,” Valai said. “Those are probably the two biggest things that you’ve got to do. Terrelle Pryor is a great football player, but you’ve just got to stay confident in yourself and keep playing.”