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Focused on stopping Pryor

October 14, 2010

MADISON — Twenty-two teams since 2008 have seen first-hand just how good Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor can be. Only four have left victorious.

All of those teams — aside from Purdue last season — were ranked in the top three of the AP poll: No. 3 Penn State in 2008, No. 3 Texas in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, No. 1 USC in 2008, and No. 3 USC in 2009.

Not surprisingly, Pryor struggled in each of those five losses, especially when he looked to escape the pocket and run with the ball. On 66 attempts, Pryor picked up just 194 rushing yards, for 2.93 yards per carry.

In the Buckeyes’ 27 wins since he arrived on campus, Pryor has rushed for 1604 yards on 289 carries for a 5.55 average. Two of those wins came against the Wisconsin Badgers, but those were games in which Pryor did not run particularly well.

“The offense is ran around No. 2,” free safety Aaron Henry said. “So we feel like if we can contain No. 2 and make sure No. 2 doesn’t beat us, then we’re going to force other guys to make plays.

“We’re going to go out there and do our best as we can to contain him, but we’re also going to try to go out there and make those other guys make plays.”

In two games against Wisconsin, the 6-foot-6 quarterback has rushed for 55 yards on 25 carries for a 2.2 yard average. Though they’ve shown an ability to shut him down defensively, the Badgers know as well as anyone what kind of impact Pryor can have on a game with his legs.

Last year at Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes’ only offensive touchdown came late in the first half wound down, as the Buckeyes drove 88 yards in 72 seconds, to take a 14-10 lead into the locker room at halftime.

The drive began and ended on big plays, both of which involved Pryor. The touchdown was scored on an impressive 32-yard toss by Pryor to wide receiver DeVier Posey, but the first play of the drive was the one that set everything in motion.

“I was chasing down on the back side, I needed to go to the upfield shoulder, and I went to the near shoulder,” said defensive end J.J. Watt, who put the blame on himself a year ago. “Obviously that’s going to hurt you big time, and it did.

“He makes quick cuts and I’m 290 pounds, I don’t make as quick of cuts as he does. He beat me on that play. That’s for sure.”

As a freshman, Pryor had an even bigger impact in his first visit to Camp Randall Stadium.

In a game that was also played under the lights, Pryor led the Buckeyes down the field on two fourth-quarter scoring drives, using both his arm and legs. With 1:08 remaining in the game, Pryor found the end zone from 11 yards out for the game-winning touchdown.

On that play, Pryor and the Buckeyes took advantage of some confusion on the defensive side, snapping the ball quickly and catching the Badgers off guard just enough for the score.

“Once again, he used those feet of his,” Valai said. “His feet are what makes him go. He’s doing a great job passing this year, but his legs are what make Terrelle Pryor a Heisman candidate.

“For every two steps, he’s taking about six yards.”

With those two game-changing plays in mind, the Badgers know they’ll have their hands full this week against the Buckeyes’ signal caller.

While the Wisconsin defense has demonstrated an ability to limit Pryor’s effectiveness as a duel threat quarterback, his ability as a passer, as noted by Valai, has drawn a lot more national attention this season.

Through six games, Pryor has completed 104 of 153 passes for 1,349 yards, 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. His 170.5 passer rating is more than 40 points better than a year ago and a better than 25-point improvement on his career rating.

But does Pryor’s improvement as a passer mean the Buckeyes have become a pass-first team?

“They’re Pryor first, whether run or pass,” Valai said. “They may drop into pass, but Pryor may turn the edge. You’ve just got to respect him either way, and that’s what makes them a great offense, because you’ve got to play the run and play the pass equally.”

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