Pryor Needs This Game Against the Aggies

Pryor Needs This Game Against the Aggies

And I do mean welcome, even though the Aggies won't think the Horseshoe too hospitable. Ohio State, and Pryor in particular, needs an opponent like this.

New Mexico State is a 44-point underdog largely because the Aggies have the worst offense (120th) in major-college football and the No. 75 defense. It is a money game for New Mexico State, the trade of a likely blowout for $850,000.

For an Ohio State team walking a tightrope between looking lost and looking legitimate, the game offers an opportunity to feel good about who they are and how far they have come.

Pryor is the central figure of this one-day tournament, and the quarterback could not have picked a better place to play than the Stadium Course. The Aggies will bring nary a pass rush. Their secondary is suspect. Their linebackers are hungry but hampered by lesser skill.

For Pryor, the change of pace will be like teeing it up at a course where the wind is quiet, the fairways wide and the greens soft and flat. Playing under those ideal conditions, Pryor will sense he can do anything.

Despite his new, relaxed persona, Pryor's psyche remains fragile. Pushed deep but still present is the Purdue game, when the sophomore looked like the stunned survivor of a car wreck. That nasty meltdown was negated somewhat by last week's 343-yard offensive showing against Minnesota.

One good game, however, does not define a trend. So another 200-yard passing performance would help cement Pryor's confidence heading into a game next week against Penn State in Happy Valley.

The worrier thinks that playing a weak opponent the week before Penn State is a problem, that going from a par-3 opponent like New Mexico State to an Augusta National monster like the Nittany Lions is too huge a leap. I contend that playing the Aggies is a positive, because the Aggies will allow Pryor to be Pryor.

Troy Smith and LeBron James -- when will Tiger Woods chime in? -- have advised Pryor to play the "fun" football of his high school days, when superior talent allowed him to relax and rely on athleticism to achieve results. New Mexico State is as close to a high school opponent the Buckeyes will face this year.

It is a fine line between relying on talent and becoming dependent on it. College football is as much mental as physical, and criticism of Pryor has centered on his poor decision-making. On this point, New Mexico State is the perfect antidote. The slower Aggies will allow Pryor to think more clearly, to progress through his reads without fear of being flattened. Basically, today is practice-plus.

"I think this is a game where Terrelle still needs to show improvement, and he should be able to go out and have an impressive performance," said former OSU receiver Dee Miller, who likes the "bounce-back" he saw from Pryor last week. "He had that swagger against Minnesota ... something I haven't seen in a couple of games."

Pryor needs to keep implementing the lessons he learned on the links, including to focus on the shot at hand.

Coach Jim Tressel addressed that point in the preseason.

"If you don't forget the last shot and go to the next shot, you're going to have not a fun day," he said. "Same thing with playing quarterback. You have to have a short memory, but you have to learn."

Learning best occurs in a pressure-free atmosphere like Pryor should see today. But there is a catch. Golfers know that when playing an easy course, the worst thing is to try to score well. Play your normal game and good things will happen.

"It's not about overlooking anybody," said Miller, who was on teams that won their share of mismatches. "It's about having confidence in yourself."

Done correctly, Pryor can increase his confidence today on the wide fairways of New Mexico State.

Rob Oller is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.

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