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The Terrelle Pryor narrative has to be one of the most baggage-filled in the sport. For every high there is a corresponding low, often embarrassing to the team and head-scratching to the fans. Yet for all of the petty scandals that seem to waft from Pryor like particularly bad B.O., he’s also an electrifying and beautiful player to watch on the field and a consistently good student in school. ESPN has never had it so well. Yet lost in the predominant chatter surrounding Pryor is the monumental shift that the Ohio State offense underwent this past season. Despite all of the sturm und drang from both the press and the message-board warriors, this past season has possibly witnessed the best offense of the Tressel era.
To step back a bit, it was Bill Walsh who developed the ubiquitous "West Coast Offense" while an assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals. It emphasizes the short passing game, or passing to set up the run. Ideally, Walsh tried to get a large lead in the first half by passing the ball and setting up long runs off of both draws and sweeps by shifty runningbacks with good hands. In the second half, he would pound the ball against a tired defense to run out the clock. In terms of personnel, the WCO is usually as old-school as it gets: two wide receivers, one tight end, and two runningbacks. Most importantly, everyone eligible is a receiver, from the star wideout to the fullback.
In truth, the system is more of a philosophy than a set of explicit instructions. Look short rather than long, quick passes rather than long bombs, yards after the catch rather than highlight reel grabs, and so on. In this sense, last season had Ohio State shift unmistakably toward Bill Walsh and Andy Reid. Virtually any semblance of the spread that had crept into the playbook seemed completely excised. The #3 WR, Corey Brown, had a mere 8 catches, tied with #3 HB Jordan Hall. Gone were the 4 and 5-wide sets of the Troy Smith era. Instead, our tight ends and runningbacks hauled in over 40% of the catches, a huge departure from the past. In fact, in 2006 Troy Smith threw to his receivers over 80% of the time, leaving Pittman&Co. as glorified blockers in the passing game.
Throwing to your runningbacks and tight ends can be a symptom of a seriously dysfunctional passing game as often as it's the sign of a nascent Steve Young making plays, however. 2004 was the last time a quarterback threw nearly so much to non-wide receivers, and no one would claim that as an example to emulate. The difference is in the results, and in the players. Zwick/Smith were an unholy Frankenstein-monster, more dangerous to their own team than to the opposition. Barely completing 50% of their passes and throwing only 14 touchdowns, they hit their runningbacks and tight ends so much because they hit their wide receivers so little.
By contrast, Terrelle Pryor hit 65% of his passes and threw 27 touchdowns. Both approach Troy Smith's Heisman numbers in 2006 (65.5% and 30 TDs). Pryor exceeds Smith in total yards by 230, a full game's worth, while only attempting 12 more passes. Channeling his inner Steve Young, Pryor ran for over 750 yards and 4 touchdowns, 550 yards and 3 touchdowns more than Troy. He totaled 3545 Total Yards and 32 touchdowns, an Ohio State record. The 2010 Offense outgained the 2006 Offense in both rushing and passing, and outscored it as well (on the strength of, oddly, field goals).
That is the tragedy of Terrelle Pryor. For all of the good that he's done the focus is always on the bad: his immature comments, his recruiting process, his tattoos. We get, at most, nine more games with the Jeanette, PA phenom. Rather than dwell on the negatives, pining for Braxton Miller before he's even set foot on campus, I think we should revel in the positives. In his time here he's broken records, won a hell of a lot of games, and generally been the most exciting QB to ever wear the scarlet and gray. Before his career even began, his decision to go to Columbus helped RichRod's career get off on the right foot. He told Kirk Herbstriet to stow it. If nothing else he's been entertaining, and I can't wait to see what he'll do in 2011.