COLUMBUS - The conditions were lousy, the field was foreign and the opponent had made him a marked man, so why did Ohio State freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor perform so remarkably in last weekend's 45-10 throttling of Northwestern?
Pryor relied on the same thing that made Fred Astaire, Arthur Murray and Michael Jackson famous - it was the footwork. The poise and confidence and the 9-of-14 passing for 198 yards and three touchdowns came from Pryor's feet being where they needed to be, whether it was stepping up in the pocket, setting himself to throw or escaping trouble.
"He was so used to having enough arm that he didn't have to have the feet [in the right place]," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said yesterday about Pryor's progression.
Following a 13-6 loss at home to Penn State, which saw Ohio State go without an offensive touchdown for the third time this season, Pryor delivered a harsh self-critique, and apologized to his teammates. In the off-week that followed, Tressel said Pryor worked on the subtleties of footwork with Nick Siciliano, one of the second-tier assistant coaches.
"They were working on the little things," Tressel said. "He has really worked on his feet, and the more experienced as a thrower he becomes, I think that helps. He's back there, and you better be nervous if he takes off running."
Pryor said after the Northwestern game that he went through an intense concentration of quarterbacking dance lessons to upgrade his footwork in the pocket, and when he delivered the ball.
"I focused on my footwork, and they pounded it in my head after that Penn State game," Pryor said. "They talked about how I had to keep my feet right. Sometimes, it gets on your nerves, but then you start doing it right. It sunk in, and we're going to keep working on it."
Pryor came to Ohio State as the nation's most sought-after high school player from last year's recruiting class after piling up 4,238 career rushing yards and 4,340 career passing yards as his speed and athleticism outclassed the opposition.
But after being named the starter at Ohio State in just the fourth game of his freshman season, Pryor struggled with some of the nuances of the college game. Tressel said Pryor has been a quick study and a determined student of the quarterback position.
The bye week afforded the Ohio State staff the time to work on such things as Pryor's footwork, since the game preparation was not as intense. Tressel said it was nice to see Pryor reap the rewards of that extra work against Northwestern, on a day when the temperatures in the thirties, an angry wind off Lake Michigan and spits of precipitation complicated things.
"His feet were much improved, and that was our goal, because if your feet are with you, it doesn't matter what sport it is," Tressel said. "If your feet are right, you have a chance to do the best you can do, and I thought his feet were much better."
Tight end Rory Nicol said the progress Pryor has made borders on amazing. Nicol caught two passes for 28 yards and a touchdown, with the score coming on a play where Pryor essentially ran out of two tackles before finding Nicol in the back of the end zone.
"We've got a lot of confidence in him, and I think guys admire the fact that Terrelle has worked really hard at making himself better and better," Nicol said. "He's real competitive and determined and he's shown that he can do more and more every week."
Pryor and the Buckeyes will face Illinois Saturday on the road, before closing out the Big Ten season at home against Michigan on Nov. 22.
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