LITTLE ROCK —
Cam Newton, the man in Vegas said, is what Terrelle Pryor was supposed to be.
He meant that Pryor had not lived up to advance billing as an unstoppable dual threat quarterback who was to put Ohio State on his shoulders and deliver the Buckeyes to the mountaintop.
Labeling Pryor a disappointment requires that the one passing judgment ignore Ohio State’s 31-5 record and three straight BCS bowl games, including the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, with Pryor at quarterback.
The most sought-after high school player in the country, Pryor was up against impossible expectations before he left Jeannette, Pa. One recruiting expert compared him to Texas’ Vince Young and said he could play quarterback, tight end, safety, defensive end or linebacker. There was talk of the 6-foot-6 Pryor doubling up in basketball.
A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer who had covered high school football for almost 30 years said the darnedest thing he had seen Pryor do was hurdle the other team’s center, land on his feet, and catch the ball coming off the kicker’s foot on an extra point attempt.
Pryor compounded the angst of Ohio State fans when he waited six weeks past the signing date before accepting an offer.
Fans wanted him to play immediately, but he was behind sixth-year senior Todd Boeckman. Following a 32-point loss to USC, Pryor became the first freshman to start at quarterback for Ohio State since Art Schlichter in 1978.
His heroics against Wisconsin in the third start of his freshman year convinced Ohio State fans that he could do no wrong. Trailing 17-13 midway through the fourth quarter, Pryor completed 3-of-4 for 59 yards and ran 11 yards for the winning TD.
Three weeks later, a love-hate relationship took root when Ohio State failed to score a touchdown in a 13-6 loss to Penn State and Pryor fumbled in the fourth quarter.
Inevitably, Pryor’s critics reference a 26-18 loss to Purdue in 2009 when Ohio State was 5-1 and the Boilermakers were 1-5. Pryor threw two interceptions and lost a couple of fumbles.
This year, Pryor and the Buckeyes were No. 1 until he completed half of his 28 passes in a loss to Wisconsin.
Although Pryor has improved his completion percentage almost 10 points
to 66 percent, his arm is only about average. Unlike Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett, Pryor is a legitimate threat to run so his contribution cannot be measured by the pass alone.
During the season, Pryor ran or passed on 418 of Ohio State’s 826 plays and Mallett was the man on 404 of Arkansas’ 808 plays. Mallett was minus yards rushing for the year; Pryor ran for 49 yards or more eight times.
Winning goes through them. Both are accompanied by a 1,000-yard runner, but Daniel Herron and Knile Davis are in supporting roles.
Given that Arkansas has been hurt by quarterbacks who can run and that Pryor won’t get hit again for months, coach Jim Tressel might use his quarterback even more than normal, as he did when Pryor ran or threw 57 times in the Rose Bowl victory over Oregon.
In particular, the read option could be a popular call. LSU’S Jordan Jefferson tried that series a couple of times early against Arkansas, but gave up after former high school teammate Jerico Nelson nailed him.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is email@example.com.