MINN at OSU Preview
Columbus, OH - When Terrelle Pryor committed to Ohio State two years ago as the nation's top recruit, he was supposed to give coach Jim Tressel's team a dual-threat playmaker it's rarely seen at quarterback.
Right now, he seems to be providing more mistakes than anything else.
Pryor and the 18th-ranked Buckeyes look to put a stunning, turnover-filled loss behind them Saturday afternoon against visiting Minnesota as they try to avoid their first back-to-back Big Ten defeats in more than five years.
Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made Ohio State -18 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 58% of bets for this game have been placed on Minnesota +18. (View College Football bet percentages).
Ohio State (5-2, 3-1) lost tailback Chris Wells and its top two receivers from last year's 10-3 team that claimed a share of the conference title, the fourth consecutive season it's split the crown or won it outright.
Yet, the Buckeyes were again the favorites going into this season with Pryor - the Big Ten's preseason player of the year - back for his sophomore season after flashing his potential in 2008.
Instead, he's never been able to get Ohio State's offense clicking.
The Buckeyes were limited to 184 total yards Oct. 10 against Wisconsin, benefiting from three returns for touchdowns to win 31-13, but they weren't as fortunate last Saturday at Purdue. Pryor threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles, part of a five-turnover day for Ohio State in a 26-18 loss to the previously 1-5 Boilermakers.
"We didn't play well, I didn't play well," said Pryor, held to 34 yards on 21 carries. "You got to put that on me on the offensive side."
Ohio State hasn't lost consecutive conference games in a season since three straight defeats from Oct. 2-16, 2004. That stretch prompted Tressel to give Troy Smith his first start the following week, and the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner went 25-4 from there.
Pryor often has been deemed a faster, more athletic version of the mobile Smith, but he certainly hasn't caught up to Smith through the air, considering his 128.4 passer rating is eighth in the Big Ten and his 56.0 completion percentage is ninth.
Defenses, meanwhile, are loading up against the run. Ohio State has averaged 81.5 yards rushing the past two weeks, and its 157.0-yard average for the season would be its lowest since 2004.
To Tressel, however, the success of his offense - and his defense, 11th in the nation in scoring (14.0 points per game) and 16th overall (284.6 yards per game) - is dependent on maintaining possession. The Buckeyes are 51-5 since Tressel took over in 2001 if they have fewer than two turnovers, compared to 37-16 when they don't.
"You can't give people scoring opportunities, and obviously it takes away from your own opportunities to possess the ball," said Tressel, who said he has no plans to get backup Joe Bauserman any time against Minnesota. "You can't have those and win.
"No one has a disdain for turnovers any more than Terrelle."
Pryor's first start in Big Ten play came against the Golden Gophers (4-3, 2-2) on Sept. 27, 2008, when he threw for one touchdown and ran for two in a 34-21 win in Columbus. He had 97 yards rushing and the Buckeyes totaled 279, perhaps a good omen this week for tailbacks Brandon Saine and Dan Herron.
Minnesota is 10th in the conference in rushing defense, yielding 164.7 yards per game. The Gophers gave up 177 last Saturday and were held to 138 yards of total offense in a 20-0 loss to Penn State.
Minnesota had possession for just 18:01 while watching the Nittany Lions convert 11 of 17 chances on third down, an area in which the Gophers rank 115th nationally by letting opponents convert 50.9 percent of the time.
"In order for us to be successful for the rest of the year, we have to get off the field on third down," junior safety Kyle Theret said. "That's been our downfall this whole season. We have to learn how to improve it. So that's going to be the big thing for our defensive game, to get off the field on third down."
Offensively, Minnesota's biggest concern will be re-establishing Eric Decker. The all-conference receiver was averaging 127.8 yards through the Gophers' first five games but has been held to 46.0 per game the past two weeks. He caught one pass against Penn State.
Decker has 14 receptions - none for touchdowns - for 148 yards in three games against the Buckeyes.
Ohio State is 6-0 versus Minnesota under Tressel, winning by an average of 19.3 points.
Posted: 10/21/09 12:32PM ET