COLUMBUS - There is an extensive script prepared for both sides in tonight's big stage showdown between two top 10 teams in Ohio Stadium. Both Southern California and Ohio State have crafted their schemes and charted their plays.
But some of the Buckeyes' better moments against the Trojans might come when they wander off that script and let sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor merge his talents with some spontaneous improvisation.
In last week's season-opening win over Navy, Ohio State's first touchdown - a 38-yard scoring pass from Pryor to junior wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher - was not the product of the play called in the huddle.
"It was a broken play, because the designed route was over," Sanzenbacher said. "But Terrelle kept it alive by moving around, and I just tried to find some open space. We have to go until the whistle blows. We can't stop moving around, because for all we know, he's still back there running around and we have to make a play for him."
Sanzenbacher said Pryor's ability to escape pressure and extend the play will be a big asset in tonight's game and beyond.
"USC has a very athletic defense, and everybody out there can run, so we have to keep moving as long as Terrelle is," he said. "I think Terrelle can be an 'X' factor in any game. It's nice for receivers to know that even when the play is over, it's not really over. That's a great asset to have - to know that you can make a play out of nothing."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who had Pryor run just six times against Navy, indicated this week that he intends to give Pryor more opportunities to make plays with his arm and his speed and running ability.
"That adds a dimension to your offense that I think is difficult for the defense to deal with," Tressel said. "So I hope he can do it with both, and I hope he gets very, very good at both, and he sure works like he wants to be."
As in every game, establishing a rushing attack will be key to Ohio State having success against the Trojans, who have won six straight against the Buckeyes. Beyond that basic running element is where the game plan gets interesting.
"I think mixing things up always helps," Sanzenbacher said. "We need to run a lot of different routes, use a variety of formations, and just keep them guessing - we can't let them get too comfortable. We've mixed it up a lot this year, and we've put in different people in different situations and different positions."
Sophomore running back Dan "Boom" Herron said the Buckeyes can not allow any scoring opportunities to be wasted against a defense like USC.
"We need to score touchdowns and get the ball in the end zone when we're in the red zone," Herron said. "We didn't execute last year, and we settled for field goals or got stopped by penalties or mistakes. We can't have those moments where we fail to execute."
Tressel, who knows the 10 penalties and three turnovers his team made against USC last year played a big role in its demise, said the strength of the opposition in tonight's game again leaves no margin for error.
"They're a great football team. We're trying to become one," Tressel said.
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