COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The lasting memory of Ohio State from last season?
Finally, it was able to win a BCS game. In this case, the Rose Bowl over a buzz-worthy Oregon. Finally, Terrelle Pryor played up to the promise he showed in destroying western Pennsylvania high schools.
|Jim Tressel's team, used to owning the Big Ten, has national title aspirations as well. (AP)|
The defensive line has been called the best in Ohio State history by coordinator Jim Heacock. There is depth, if not a breakout runner, at tailback. It's all predicated, though, on Pryor. During a recent visit, it was clear his body had grown and matured to the point he looked Vince Young-like -- strong, tall, rangy. Now he just has to win a national championship.
I sat down with Tressel and Pryor in the coach's office during that visit to discuss a variety of subjects. While I thought Pryor might be intimidated about speaking freely in front of his coach, having them together actually made the interview better. They began riffing off each other. Two football heads speaking the same language. Some of their answers will surprise you.
In this wide-ranging interview you will find out that Pryor is not satisfied at all with his 56.6 percent completion percentage last season. At one point he said, "Coach took a chance on me."
Pryor also mentioned that he still thinks about his fumble that allowed Penn State to win the 2008 showdown at Ohio Stadium. The junior has some revealing things to say about Reggie Bush taking the money at USC.
Tressel would prefer his quarterback not lead the team in rushing again. That would help preserve Pryor's health and get Ohio State back to basics in the run game.
"I'll probably never be back to 100 percent," Pryor said of the knee that bothered him last season.
The past and present collide Sept. 11 when Miami comes to The Shoe. It will be the first meeting since the controversial 2003 Fiesta Bowl game. Hurricanes everywhere have been living with the heartbreak of that pass interference call for more than seven years.
Bucknuts have been waiting for Tressel's follow up to that championship. With Pryor, he's got a chance.
Question: What did the Rose Bowl mean for Ohio State?
Jim Tressel: I grew up watching the Rose Bowl all the time ... The Rose Bowl is special. For these guys' [players'] generation the Rose Bowl is very special but the BCS title game probably holds more clout.
Terelle Pryor: We needed it as a team -- to start off this year and going into spring.
Q: In some ways it was a monkey off your back, off Ohio State's back, off the Big Ten's back. Ten years without a Rose Bowl win for the league ...
Tressel: I really didn't think about that going into it, but then when they were talking about that coming out of it, I thought, "It's been 10 years since we won a Rose Bowl?"
Q: How did you feel coming out of it confidence-wise?
Pryor: I always have confidence but it was a big boost. That's a big stage to play on. That's a big goal, a huge goal. A couple of my teammates were talking about it. Not a lot of people get to play in the Rose Bowl. Sit back and think about it. It's a prestigious place and prestigious event.
Q: Has this guy [Pryor] kind of turned the corner?
Tressel: The way I've explained it to people is I think back through the journey. He was kind of thrust in that first year when we graduated a lot of guys and had some guys hurt. We probably were not the team we were planning to be. Beanie [Wells] wasn't healthy. We needed someone to step in and make some plays. A young guy was thrown in a little bit earlier maybe than any of us planned. A young guy walking into an old huddle. I think he handled it that way.
People think you're going to make the natural progression the next year. You walk into a whole new huddle. Now you're the young guy and you're supposed to be the old guy. I think he progressed well through that.
He and I have talked about that. He's entering the second half of his career which, it goes in a blur. I thought his Rose Bowl preparation was excellent. I thought his spring preparation was excellent and he's had a good summer.
One thing about him he loves to work.
|Quarterback Terrelle Pryor hopes to improve greatly on last season's 56.6 percent completion rate. (Getty Images)|
Pryor: No. I feel more grown. I feel like I learned a lot. Fifty-six, no, that's not good at all. Maybe freshman year you let that slide. I want to have bigger goals. I'd love to have 65, even 70 [percent]. I hate to keep talking it up [but] you have to do it. It's all about decision-making.
Q: I read somewhere where you didn't work on accuracy drills until last year?
Pryor: Coach took a chance on me. I love to play the quarterback position because you always have the ball in your hands. In high school I was always the best athlete. That was the best place for me. I ended up getting love for it but I never had the throwing abilities that some of the other players had because they had been playing since younger ages.
Just to come up here and train like crazy and be the player I'm supposed to be, the heights they put me at, it's big for me. I train and train and train just to be that quarterback. Now I want to be mentioned with the top guys.
Q: Is it optimal if he [Pryor] leads the team in rushing again?
Tressel: Probably not. The only thing that's a little different, he's in the game every play. The guys that run the ball, we rotate in. [Brandon] Saine is such an outstanding receiver as well. Boom [Dan Herron] gives us an edge. He's a tough little nut.
Could Terrelle lead us in rushing? Yes, but we've got guys who can run the ball. If he carries 10-12 times a game that's plenty. I tease the offensive staff, "You don't get to design a dozen carries for him a game. You're only allowed to design seven or eight. He's going to design seven or eight on his own."
Q: Coach said you got over that little hump. What does that mean to you?
Pryor: Throw me in at the beginning of freshman year. Last year I was [still] going, "When do I run, when do I throw? Where's my check downs at? Who do I look off?"
Now? I think it's more reactive. That's the stage I've been interested in getting to. It's being reactive. That's where my troubles were at last year. I had a lot of trouble with, whether I should wait and stay in the pocket. I think last year I was going through thinking too much.
Q: How soon did it take you to forget that fumble against Penn State as a freshman?
Pryor: Anytime I make a mistake, I put it on my shoulders. I truly, to this day, think it was my fault. I still think about it once in a while 'cause you always learn off your mistakes. I learned something big that day.
Would I do that [try to make the big play] again? Probably not. That kid [defender] made an excellent play ... If that kid wouldn't have got me, I would have broken it actually.
Q: Can you imagine undermining your teammates and risk having a championship taken away by taking money like Reggie Bush did?
Pryor: It's dirty, you know? I wouldn't put myself in that position, first of all, because if it was found out I was hurting my team it would be like, "Damn he doesn't care about us a stitch enough to even chill out."
Q: Can Reggie Bush face his teammates, five, 10 years from now?
Pryor: I couldn't go back and talk to my teammates. If I was at USC right now I wouldn't want to know Reggie Bush.
Tressel: Unfortunately, there's a school of thought that it's not the wrong thing until I get caught.
We talk to our guys a lot about, "You do not want anybody having anything on you. You're only good as your next phone call." People would be waiting outside our guys' cars with helmets and balls. Our guys still have to be guys and out on campus getting a sandwich. It's worth it to have your honor, but it's a battle."
Q: Do you have any thoughts on the Big Ten divisional alignment when the league expands to 12 next season?
Tressel: My suggestion would be East-West. Penn State and us and the two Michigans and the two Indianas. Then, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Illinois.
Q: You're going to be around. Have you thought about playing in a championship game?
Pryor: I'm interested in it. That will give us another game before the bowl. We may be even more fresh.
Q: What does five consecutive Big Ten championships mean?
Pryor: That you're a target. We have to stick even more close together now. It's going to go either one of two ways. We can go into every game thinking, like, "We're Ohio State and we're going to take over," or we can go in there and keep it going with, "[We're] a powerhouse. We want another one." If the target is going to be big, we have to stay up with the way we play.
Q: In terms of excellence in the Big Ten, it's a dynasty isn't it?
Tressel: It's harder ... You talk a little bit about Ohio State winning the Rose Bowl, Iowa decisively winning the Orange Bowl, Wisconsin won their bowl game, Penn State winning against LSU. That showed, at this moment, the Big Ten is pretty darn solid. We're not only a bigger target, we've got a tougher job.
Q: You guys have taken an awful beating lately -- Ohio State and the Big Ten -– is it coming around?
Pryor: For Ohio State, we're always going to fight I think. We play these guys every year, every week. Iowa's going to be very good. Penn State's always good.
Tressel: You talk about national reputation ... It's not like, well, it was really hard to play USC but it wasn't hard to play Wisconsin. Our guys don't worry too much about it. You talk about eras and cultures. The era has been choked so much with talking heads, you don't even listen to them. There's so many of them.
Q: I saw where Heacock said, "I want to go on the record and say that this will be the best defensive line to play at Ohio State."
Tressel: It's a talented group. I'm not sure it's as deep unless some of these young guys step up. Our front line guys were really good but our second line guys weren't far behind. In my mind there's a little bit of a gap between our first group and second group that I'd rather not have.
Q: Was there a point in a game in your career where you thought, "OK, it's my huddle?"
Pryor: I always felt like it but I always knew my place. Last year I was trying to lead but I was also trying to figure the game out. My freshman year, you had some older guys in there.
Q: How's the knee?
Pryor: You're not always going to be 100 percent. I'll probably never be back to 100 percent. If anyone says that they are 100 percent, I highly doubt that. You're going to have swelling and stuff like that.
I train on it, I run with the guys. I try to win every race. I win every race, most of the time.
Q: What can't you do at this point?
Pryor: I can do everything. I'm kind of taking it easy. I go in the sand pit a lot. I try to stay off the hard ground and ice it when I'm at the house. I don't feel any pain. Obviously, after I run it's going to get sore.
Tressel (kidding): He's got to be faster than he was in the Rose Bowl. I was just watching the Rose Bowl and he got caught on the sideline.
Pryor: I want to play a lot more physical. I'm going to run the show.
Q: You're going to lower your head a little bit?
Pryor: I just want to play physical.
Tressel: We're not going to get crazy, though.
Pryor: Obviously, we're not going to be Tim Tebow-ing it. I'm going to play a lot more physical, think a lot more physical.
Q: Thoughts about the rematch with Miami?
Tressel: "I kind of look at it even broader than that. In my coaching career Miami has been one of the premier programs. When we were talking about who we wanted to schedule over the years [it was] USC, Texas, Miami.
The last time we played, we played for the championship. These guys were probably in grade school. Everyone in America knows the last three or four years they've gotten better and better and better. They look like the Miami of old.