In the aftermath of the soul-destroying loss to the Trojans, there was an uprising of sorts within the Buckeye staff. Of course, this is all pure conjecture -- just getting the staff to come clean about Darrell Hazell calling some of the plays against Toledo was a challenge in and of itself -- but for the purpose of this excercise, let's assume that Hazell was one of the coaches Tressel referred to as having peppered his inbox after the loss seeking change on the offensive side of the ball.
After the cat emerged from the bag, so to speak, following the win over the Rockets, Hazell appears to have taken on a significantly greater role in the offense with each passing week. Against Toledo, Pryor threw a career high 28 attempts, but the following week against the Illini is when we really started to see the Darrell Hazell Experience in full effect.
Pryor and the Buckeye offense came out and ran plays from the shotgun almost exclusively against Illinois and have operated from that formation for about 95% of the snaps since. What this did was greatly simplify the offense for a young signal caller that had struggled against USC. The staff had worked for over a year tutoring Pryor in the ways of running a pro style offense, but clearly a different approach was needed to spur his development.
Essentially running a zone/read offense that would look familiar in Ann Arbor, the change seemed to be working. In a downpour against the Illini, the offense did its damage on the ground. The following week at Bloomington, Pryor threw for three first half touchdowns in another blowout win and all appeared well with the world. Sure, Terrelle was still learning the "read" part of the zone read and his mesh points were sometimes less than fluid, but progress was being made and the simplified offense was paying dividends.
The downside of the new base offense and handful of plays that were being called from it is that it's a little easier for defenses to stop (especially when you haven't perfected the offense and it's still a work in progress as it is in Columbus) and the Badgers threw some new wrinkles at the group Saturday in the Horseshoe that seemed to confuse Pryor. Given the limited amount of time the Buckeyes were on offense against the Badgers, the Buckeyes were unable to make the necessary adjustments to the scheme they were facing. It's no wonder then, that he had one of his worst days as a Buckeye starting 1/7 before finishing 5/13 in the bizarro win.
The staff being smart people, were aware of the dangers in keeping things too simple and that is why you're starting to see some new wrinkles out of the offense. A misdirection play to Saine that went for 31 yards at the start of the fourth quarter Saturday was both something we haven't seen before and entirely effective. Whether it was Hazell-inspired as we think, or came from elsewhere, you can't debate the beauty of the play.
The play starts out like any of the read plays the Buckeyes have run in the last month. Pryor is in the shotgun with Saine to his right and Ballard coming across from left to right in motion.
Pryor starts to roll to his right with Saine heading the same direction. The defense is either thinking option (to the right) or pass at this time based on the film they've seen. Notice Ballard starting to head back to the other tackle.
With Ballard still leading the way to the other side of the line, Saine plants and begins to cut back for the handoff. Boren's man has shot the gap and looks like he might be able to make a play in the backfield.
By the time Saine does get the handoff heading the other direction, no fewer than three Badgers are out on the right edge of the Buckeye offense, ready to spy Pryor/read the option.
Boren is able to drive his man upfield and Saine turns the corner with Ballard and Mike Adams paving the way for him on the left edge. Because the entire Badger defense was thinking option to the other side of the field, Saine has plenty of green ahead of him.
As frustrated as we can all get (myself included) over the sluggishness of Pryor's development1, it is worth pointing out that the offense has basically flipped philosophies in the middle of the season. This read look is quite a bit different than the pro look worked on all spring, summer and fall through the USC game. Once he does become more comfortable in this set, particularly with the reads that go into making decisions at the mesh point, it should open up some passing opportunities for him2.
- 1 I wonder if we'd all be a little less frustrated if Tressel hadn't spent the summer saying Pryor was 10 times better at quarterback than he was as a frosh?
- 2 If not, then e-roc might be on to something with his suggestion to start every game in a two minute drill to get Pryor clicking.