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USC must be careful with its Pryor commitments

USC FOOTBALL

Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor is a dual-threat quarterback in mold of Vince Young, exactly the type who gives Trojans fits, forcing them to make tough choices to defend both pass and run.

September 08, 2009|Gary Klein

Jethro Franklin has seen it before.

As an NFL defensive line coach for eight seasons, he schemed against some of the most prolific dual-threat quarterbacks of the last decade.

Michael Vick and young Donovan McNabb and Daunte Culpepper were among those who tested his players, not to mention his patience.

And in his first tour of duty at USC, Franklin was on the Rose Bowl sideline when Texas quarterback Vince Young carried the Longhorns to a victory over the Trojans in the 2006 Bowl Championship Series title game.

On Saturday, fourth-ranked USC will play sixth-ranked Ohio State, which features quarterback Terrelle Pryor, a Young-like 6 feet 6 inches of speed and elusiveness.

Asked if the sophomore merits comparison to Young, Franklin did not miss a beat.

"Ask me after the game," the Trojans' defensive line coach said, breaking into a hearty laugh.

Coach Pete Carroll does not need to wait. He describes Pryor as "almost un-tackle-able."

That sounds a lot like Young, who ran for 200 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 267 yards in Texas' 41-38 victory over the Trojans nearly four years ago.

To return to the BCS title game, once again at the Rose Bowl, USC probably will have to contain Pryor and get past Ohio State.

"He can do whatever he wants to do," Carroll said of Pryor on Monday. "You think you're going to keep him in the pocket and then he just scoots up and gets back out again.

"You can holler at guys for not containing and it doesn't matter -- you contain-rush and he just dips and goes."

Whether Pryor is the second coming of Young remains to be seen. But there is no doubt Pryor has come a long way since last September, when he split time with senior Todd Boeckman in a 35-3 loss to the Trojans at the Coliseum.

Pryor rushed for 40 yards and completed seven of nine passes that day. He moved into the starting lineup a week later.

He finished the season as a 60% passer, throwing for 12 touchdowns with four interceptions. He also ran for more than 600 yards and six touchdowns.

Against Navy on Saturday, Pryor completed 14 of 21 passes for 174 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He rushed for 30 yards in five carries.

"He's faster than he looks and then he's so big and strong, guys bounce off him and slip off him all the time," Carroll said.

But Pryor now appears capable of winning games with his arm as well as his feet.

Steve Clarkson, a private quarterback coach whose proteges have included USC's Matt Barkley, Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen and 2004 Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart among others, has witnessed the change.

Pryor attended two camps run by Clarkson, one before his final season at Jeannette High in Jeannette, Pa., and one before his freshman season at Ohio State.

"You could see he had tons of talent, and the thing you liked about him more than anything was he wanted to learn," Clarkson said. "Physically, he was undeniably a beast."

Pryor, Clarkson said, has grown dramatically as a passer since arriving in Columbus.

"They've done an unbelievable job with him over there," Clarkson said. "Rarely do you see a kid get better mechanically when he goes to a program like that. This kid clearly got better.

"He throws the ball more accurately -- he looks like a quarterback. I think he's a much better passer than Vince Young was."

Pryor's running ability, though, remains his calling card. And running quarterbacks have caused trouble for USC in the Carroll era.

Kansas State's Ell Roberson, Virginia Tech's Bryan Randall, Oregon's Dennis Dixon and, of course, Young gave the Trojans problems.

Now comes an improved Pryor, running an offense tailored to his talents.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ohio State ran the option five times against Navy and averaged 7.4 yards per play.

"I think that we definitely feel really comfortable doing it, and Terrelle makes real good decisions out there, so hopefully we'll see it a lot more," tailback Brandon Saine told the newspaper.

Pryor also ran four quarterback draws, the Plain Dealer reported, and a bootleg for a two-yard touchdown. He scrambled once for seven yards.

"He's a playmaker . . . so this is a week where the emphasis for us has to be on tackling," USC middle linebacker Chris Galippo said. "No arm tackles. Forceful hitting has to occur or it could be a long game."

Franklin sees it the same way, so he is stressing that his charges remain disciplined in their pass-rush lanes while keeping an eye on Pryor.

"He's hard to bring down," Franklin said, "so we've got our hands full."

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gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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