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Redemption Saturday: Pryor Looks to Get Monkey off Back in Happy Valley
By Brandon Castel

Even if a picture is worth a thousand words, it may not have been enough to describe the feeling of quarterback Terrelle Pryor as he sat on the bench, head slumped in his hands, after last year’s 13-6 loss to Penn State.

It was an image of Pryor the world had never seen, and would not soon forget.

A dejected hero. A celestial being faced with his own mortality right before their eyes.

He was only a freshman making the sixth start of his college career, but it was as if fans were being blindsided with the realization that he would not win four Heisman Trophies and four national titles during his time at Ohio State.

“He obviously put a lot of that on his shoulders but we know one play doesn’t ever win or lose you the game,” said junior wideout Dane Sanzenbacher, who led the Buckeyes with six catches for 82 yards in the game last October.

“There’s 60 minutes of football. Nobody else in the locker room was putting that on him, but he’s a competitor and he’ll still have that on his mind going into this game. He’ll want to get a little bit of redemption.”

Penn State's Mark Rubin strips Terrelle Pryor of the football.
Photo by Jim Davidson

The play in question was the infamous fourth-quarter fumble that led to Penn State’s only touchdown of the game, and ultimately defeat for the Buckeyes.

Facing a 3rd-and-1 at midfield, OSU Coach Jim Tressel and his staff called for a quarterback sneak up the middle to keep the drive alive and preserve a 6-3 lead. Seeing an opening on the outside, Pryor opted instead to go for the big play. He tucked the ball and headed outside and had he gotten past safety Mark Rubin, may have gone the distance.

Instead, Rubin popped the ball loose and it was recovered by the Nittany Lions, setting up a 7-play, 38-yard touchdown drive that gave them a 13-6 lead with 6:20 to play in the game.

“That’s the only thing that comes to my mind when it comes to Penn State,” Pryor said of the fumble.

“It was a very stupid play and a very young player doing it.”

As an ultra-competitive athlete, Pryor admittedly did not know how to handle his emotions in the past. Even this season Pryor dealt with severe peaks and valleys in his emotions, most notably slamming his helmet against the ground after throwing an interception in Ohio State loss to 26-18 loss to Purdue the last time they went on the road in the Big Ten.

“What I learned from last year and talking with coach Tress is just being poised. I’m not getting as hyped as I used to, screaming and getting everyone pumped up. I’m just trying to be relaxed and when we’re in the middle jumping up and down before the game I’m going to stay outside the huddle and be focused,” he said.

“When you get overhyped you lose the vision of what you’re supposed to do.”

That will be especially important this week as Pryor embarks on his first return journey to play football in his home state since he selected the Buckeyes over the Nittany Lions (among other schools) in the spring of last year.

“Being a Pennsylvania guy and being recruited by Penn State, just from going there and watching the games and seeing the stadium rocking and shaking a little bit, it’s going to be a crazy atmosphere,” he said.

“But that’s what we come to play football at Ohio State for.”

Pryor has been going to games at Beaver Stadium since he was a freshman in high school, but what he will encounter Saturday will feel nothing like past trips. As one of the most hyped recruits in college football history, Pryor is a target for fans any time the Buckeyes play on the road, but offensive tackle Jim Cordle warns that this will be an experience unlike any other for the sophomore quarterback.

“Those fans are right there on top of you. Now that I think about it, it’s all going to be directed at him. He might have to have an umbrella or something. They’re definitely going to come after him, but hopefully that gets him going,” Cordle said.

“You can tell in practice that this is a different week for him. He’s definitely more excited about it and it’ll really get him going. I’m looking for him to have a big game.”

While Pryor has shown more fervor during the week, Sanzenbacher believes he will be able to harness it Saturday when the Buckeyes take the field in front of 108 thousand hostile fans all dressed in white.

“I’m sure Terrelle, like a lot of other players on this team, is really excited for this game. A little more so for him, but I don’t think he’s going to let it get to him too much,” Sanzenbacher said.

“He’s been enough big games now to know that he needs to try to control his emotions and I don’t think he’ll let it affect his game.”

The problem is, Pryor has yet to win one of those big games. He is 15-4 since taking over as the starting quarterback in Columbus last September, but 0-3 against top-10 opponents.

“I haven’t led us to a big win yet,” he said Wednesday.

He will have the chance Saturday. The Nittany Lions are currently ranked No. 11 in the country and beating them in their own backyard would be Pryor’s first signature win since he engineered a last-minute touchdown drive at Wisconsin last season.

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