Penn State's Ham says Ohio State's Pryor judged unfairly
Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor runs for a first down as New Mexico State linebacker Jamar Cotton chases him during the second quarter of Saturday's game in Columbus, Ohio.
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Two years ago, Terrelle Pryor was the country's top high school recruit.
A little more than three months ago, the former Jeannette High School star was the media's preseason pick as offensive player of the year in the Big Ten Conference.
Two weeks ago, Pryor's harshest critics were suggesting that he be chased permanently out of the pocket and moved to wide receiver.
Jack Ham, a former Steelers' Hall of Fame linebacker and current Penn State radio analyst, believes Pryor is being judged unfairly.
"People expect the world from him," Ham said. "Remember, he's a sophomore -- 18, 19, 20 years old -- who was thrown into being the starting quarterback at a big-time program.
"Gosh, you can't expect him to come out and dominate games when you're playing people like Southern California, Texas or Penn State. It's a tough thing for him to do.
"The bottom line is, people are expecting way too much out of him."
Pryor, 6 feet 6 and 235 pounds, will make his first trip as a visiting player Saturday to Beaver Stadium, where a boisterous crowd of more than 100,000 fans is expected to jeer him and No. 15 Ohio State (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) prior to its showdown with No. 11 Penn State (8-1, 4-1).
He is 15-3 as the Buckeyes' quarterback and has accounted for 37 of the team's 60 offensive touchdowns (61.6 percent) since becoming the starter the fourth game of the 2008 season. Yet in some people's eyes, it is not enough.
Ham, a first-team All-American for the Nittany Lions in 1970 who went on to earn four Super Bowl rings as a member of the Steel Curtain defense, just can't comprehend it.
"I feel for him, to tell you the truth, when people start saying stuff like, 'He's not a college quarterback,' or 'He can't throw the ball,' or whatever," he said.
"Give him time. Be patient with him. He'll be fine."
Pryor was removed at halftime of Saturday's 45-0 non-conference victory against New Mexico State after coach Jim Tressel said Pryor "got a little dinged up."
He completed 11 of 23 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown and ran nine times for 83 yards and another score. In time, Ham believes Pryor will develop into a more polished passer.
"He's midway through a year and a half of college football -- it's a learning process," Ham said. "I don't care how great a talent you are coming in, when you're at this level, it's tough going.
"And it gets tougher. People aren't open all the time. You got to be able to hit the receiver coming out of the break. Teams disguise defenses better."
Pryor called State College "too country" during the recruiting process. Although coach Joe Paterno made a rare visit to Jeannette High School to try and coax Pryor into signing with the Lions, he signed with the Buckeyes in March 2008, several weeks after national signing day.
A year ago in Columbus, Ohio, it was Pryor's fourth-quarter fumble on a third-and-1 carry that led to the go-ahead touchdown for the Nittany Lions. Penn State scored the final 10 points en route to a 13-6 victory, its first at Ohio Stadium since 1978.
Ham said it is imperative that Penn State's front seven put constant pressure on Pryor Saturday to keep him in the pocket.
"If you get a busted play, the key is going to be for the secondary to keep their coverage a long time," he said. "They can't anticipate the ball being out of that kid's hands. He's big enough to break a tackle and make a big play downfield."
Ham has been equally impressed with the Lions' nationally ranked defense, which has forced 11 turnovers in its five-game winning streak.
He said he wouldn't be surprised if defensive tackle Jared Odrick was a "No. 1 draft pick -- he's that good."
Ham said outside linebacker Navorro Bowman "has turned himself into a fine player," and he added that Bowman's counterpart, Sean Lee, reminds him of former All-American Paul Posluszny of the Buffalo Bills.
"They are very comparable," he added.
Ham said it's no secret that Pryor is the key to Ohio State's offense.
"Penn State's coaches will spend a lot of time this week looking at tape of him," he said. "He's somebody you have to really game plan against defensively.
"You've got to stop him."
First Published November 2, 2009 12:00 am