Welcome to Nick Siciliano's world. Upon entering his office after practice on Sept. 8, the Ohio State quarterbacks coach could not sit at his desk, it being occupied by Terrelle Pryor, who was winding down a conference call. Waiting for his star pupil to finish, the coach chatted with a visitor, who could not help noticing the raw excitement in Siciliano's voice as he discussed the breakthrough that he insists is just around the corner.
"It's going to happen any day now," he predicted. "And when it does, life is going to get a lot easier."
He was talking, of course, about the progress he and his wife Analisa's 2½-year-old quadruplets are making toward becoming potty trained. "We're not there yet," reported Siciliano, "but we're close."
The same might be said of Pryor, a third-year starter who has lately been playing on the threshold of greatness but has yet to cross over. The junior from Jeannette (Pa.) High was often breathtaking in No. 2 Ohio State's sometimes slipshod 36--24 win over 12th-ranked Miami on Saturday—though he also uncorked his share of misbegotten throws. In the face of a fearsome rush from a deep and talented Hurricanes front seven, Pryor completed just 12 of his 27 passes, for 233 yards and a touchdown. On the bright side he also rushed 20 times for 113 yards and another touchdown—about three quarters of those yards coming on pass plays that he turned into runs. As he put it last week, "My job is to move the chains, and however I move 'em, I move 'em. I'm getting in the end zone, and I'm gonna smile while I do it."
If that calls to mind a campaign poster, with a snappy slogan and a beaming candidate, so be it: Pryor's Heisman hopes this season will hinge on his ability to keep drives alive and get his offense in the end zone. Other quarterbacks will pile up many more passing yards, but Ohio State's self-described "gazelle" will amass more than his share of highlights with his arm and feet for a squad in serious contention for the national title. No candidate will have his fortunes so tightly linked to his team's. Should Pryor be effective (if not always elegant) and the Buckeyes roll, he's the man to beat. Think of his outing against the Hurricanes as his stump speech.
For the first time since 2007, Buckeye Nation found itself smiling after its annual, early-season nonconference epic. Back-to-back September losses to USC, coupled with three straight defeats in BCS bowls, had begun to erode Ohio State's self-esteem, feeding the perception that the team tends to come up small on the game's biggest stages. Saturday's win, coupled with last January's 26--17 Rose Bowl defeat of Oregon, officially reverses that trend.
"This team just took a great leap," senior linebacker Brian Rolle said after the game. Asked to recall his emotions when he was finally able to take a knee and run out the clock, Pryor replied, "Relief, man." With the game in hand, he threw his final pass of the day, launching the ball into the south stands. "Hopefully," he said, "a kid got it."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was willing to forgive Pryor's failure to complete even half his passes because he took such excellent care of the ball. While Pryor committed zero turnovers (for the second straight game), his Miami counterpart, Jacory Harris, had four throws picked off. Pryor and Harris spent the week texting each other; they've been friends since a teammate of Harris's introduced them after the 2008 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. In the Miami locker room after warmups, Harris was overheard informing 6'4", 250-pound defensive end Olivier Vernon, "My man [Pryor] is bigger than you are!"
In terms of height, yes, but the 6'6", 233-pound Pryor came up short numerous times in the red zone. The Buckeyes' first three interceptions gave Ohio State the ball at the Hurricanes' 25-, 19- and 27-yard lines. Despite those short fields the Buckeyes came away with only one touchdown and two Devin Barclay field goals. A former pro soccer player, Barclay walked on at Ohio State in 2008, three years after being released by the Columbus Crew. His five field goals on Saturday tied a school record and kept him so busy that he neglected to take on sufficient fluids. Barclay had a chance to break the record but pulled a 32-yard attempt wide left in the fourth quarter, in part because he was suffering from leg cramps.
"First time I've ever been in a game where the kicker cramped up," deadpanned Tressel.