COLUMBUS, Ohio -- For awhile there, they seemed like the same guy.
|Terrelle Pryor runs for 113 yards but completes less than 50 percent of his passes. (US Presswire)|
Or is it the other way around?
They were your dad, or big brother, playing quarterback for both sides in a pick-up game. Different teams, same effect. Not much of it outstanding. Then, in a burst of mediocrity, Miami's Jacory Harris separated himself from Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor.
Bucknuts can celebrate because they got the Showdown Saturday win, 36-24 over No. 12 Miami. But what did we learn here? That Harris still has a troubling career-long trend of throwing interceptions. There were four on Saturday that turned into 20 Ohio State points.
Take away those mistakes -- which, of course, you can't -- and Miami was Ohio State's equal. Harris was Pryor. Pryor was Harris. Two immensely talented quarterbacks still searching.
Pryor was ... Pryor. Sometimes up. Sometimes down. Flashes of brilliance. Head-scratching mistakes. He threw for 233 yards despite missing 15 of his 27 throws. He ran for 113 despite a curious bit of booing late in the first half.
"Boos?" Pryor said. "I hope the fans weren't booing us for that."
|More on Miami-Ohio State|
On third down from the Miami 5, there was confusion at the line. Pryor took the snap, probed the right side, ran laterally and eventually got out of bounds, leaving enough time for a field goal.
The smattering of boos could have been for coach Jim Tressel doing his best Les Miles clock management impersonation. Or it could have been frustration over what Pryor hasn't become, which is a superstar in his third season.
He is a Heisman candidate, but in the second week of the season your mailman is a Heisman candidate. He has that Rose Bowl performance to his credit, but you still hear doubts about whether he did it against a quality defense (Oregon's). Pryor still throws at the feet of wide-open receivers at times. He is still a 59 percent career passer who thinks he should be at 65 or 70 percent. He still makes questionable decisions followed by great ones. But on a day where even one turnover could have made a difference in this game he didn't make one.
That was the difference on a day that kept No. 2 Ohio State on track for a national championship, not necessarily a favorite for one.
Ohio State won the game by 12, but Pryor won the quarterback battle 4-0.
"It all comes down to one thing," Miami coach Randy Shannon said, "Turnovers."
Harris and Pryor came into this game, both juniors, each having played 27 career games. Pryor had an advantage, maybe, because he had won a conference championship. Pryor is the better dual threat. Harris has the better arm.
They've both had problems with turnovers. Pryor might have blown the Big Ten title in 2008 with a crippling fumble against Penn State as a freshman.
"I still think about it once in a while," Pryor said, "because you always learn from your mistakes."
Pryor can still get the Buckeyes out of a hole with his pure athleticism. But in part of the previous two seasons, he admitted to not knowing where the ball was supposed to go, at times; whether he should run or pass. Maybe that mindset is changing. Ohio State was trailing 10-3 in the second quarter and had the ball at its 20. In two plays, the Buckeyes were in the end zone. Pryor found DeVier Posey on a beautifully lofted ball for 62 yards. The next one was an 18-yard dart for a touchdown to Brandon Saine.
"I feel like some of my decisions weren't great," Pryor said. "But I was fired up, I was into the game. There was a bunch of times I told Coach, 'This is the play we want to run.' It took me three years to get two plays called that I wanted."
Harris still has a habit of throwing crippling interceptions. In his 2009 breakout season he threw 17. He now has 28 for his career to go along with 40 touchdowns. Not a great ratio.
On the second pick, Miami's Travis Benjamin stopped running his route. Ohio State's Chimdi Chekwa returned the interception to the Miami 19, setting up a touchdown that put the Buckeyes up 20-10. In the third quarter, Buckeyes defensive end Cameron Heyward deked Harris badly, dropping back in coverage in a zone blitz. Heyward happily took the gift 80 yards with the pick before he was brought down.
When it came time to dissect Saturday's interceptions, Shannon put the blame on half of them on receivers who ran wrong routes.
"But, still, if the receiver is running the wrong route," Shannon said of Harris, "throw it out of bounds."
"All of them, put all of them on me," Harris said. "I'm the quarterback of this team. I deserve to take all the blame. When things go wrong I take full ownership."
Harris has learned that much. Until you fulfill your promise, humility is best. A year ago he helped beat Oklahoma on the way to a 5-1 Miami start. The Canes finished 9-4. After Saturday, Pittsburgh is next, followed by Clemson and Florida State.
Too often we elevate these quarterbacks too quickly or to places they shouldn't be. Washington's Jake Locker has been projected as the No. 1 NFL Draft pick before establishing himself as the clear-cut choice. Harris is the poster child for Miami's recent fortunes. The Canes would like to get back to the top, but until the quarterback quits throwing interceptions, they won't.
As for Pryor, you'd be laughed out of the coffee break room if you projected that Pryor would ever take a snap in the NFL.
The kid is two games into his third season. Patience went out the window, for some, the moment Pryor signed his letter of intent. He was supposed to deliver right away. When he didn't, well, let's just say Ohio State fans can be a tough bunch.
"He's the kind of guy who is in there watching film by himself, working out by himself," offensive tackle J.B. Shugarts said. "You'll see Terrelle there all the time. He's the hardest worker on the team. Sometimes he might be rushed, we might not be blocking as well for him. He might be trying to get it in a real small window."
That's where the fun, or lack of it, starts for Ohio State.
If you came to see Miami's return game, it was your kind of day. For the first time since at least 1936, an Ohio State opponent returned a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown. That was mostly the Hurricanes' offense.
If you came to see Devin Barclay, you got plenty of him. Because Pryor and crew couldn't punch it in consistently, the Ohio State kicker tied a school record with five field goals.
If you like your tailgate bourbon cut by a splash of driving rain, you had a happy buzz on too.
If you came to see two superstars, you're still waiting to see one.