Special to One Great Season
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The image is indelible.
Then-freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor sitting with his Ohio State helmet still on, unable to look across the field at the team he just did battle with. His head in his hands.
A year ago against Penn State, Pryor was a broken man. His fumble led to a game-winning touchdown drive for the Nittany Lions.
His desperation heave to the end zone in the Columbus night fell into the arms of Penn State cornerback Lydell Sargeant. It's the kind of moment that should Pryor never defeat the Nittany Lions, blue and white fans will point to that as the genesis for why.
Should he extract revenge, say, this Saturday before 110,000 rabid, whited-out fans at Beaver Stadium, that lingering moment also will be a genesis for what transpires.
Pryor and No. 16 Ohio State find themselves squarely with the Big Ten destiny in their collective scarlet-and-gray-gloved hands. A win over Penn State and next week against Iowa, and the Buckeyes will share the conference crown with Iowa, but the Buckeyes would go to the Rose Bowl.
It's the redemption Pryor and Ohio State need; it's redemption a beleaguered conference has been seeking for sometime now.
Pryor, who wasn't made available to Penn State media members this week, spoke to BuckeyeGrove.com and expressed his desire to deliver.
"I haven't led us to a big win yet," Pryor told the site on Wednesday night. "That's what a quarterback needs to do, lead, and I haven't led us to a win in a big game yet."
It seems his every move has been scrutinized.
Does Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel use him properly? Can he develop into a pure quarterback? Can he, as Pryor himself suggests, win a big game?
By early Saturday evening some of those questions may be answered. But what we know now is that opposite of Pryor is a quarterback on the Penn State sideline who puts as much pressure on himself as the sophomore does. Clark wants to win just as badly, and, just like Pryor, is still in search of a signature win that will define his legacy.
For the 2009 season you could put Daryll Clark's numbers up against those of any quarterback in America. He's been better than Tim Tebow, he means just as much to his team as Colt McCoy and his ability to throw darts and rally his team may only be matched by Jimmy Clausen.
What Saturday's game comes down to might be a will to win. Can Pryor be patient and withstand a low-scoring game like he had to last year? Or will he grow antsy and look for the big play, which has been there at times this season, but not often enough that Ohio State's passing game lights up the stat sheet.
On the other side, can Clark control his emotions? He didn't finish last year's game in Columbus.
If Pryor wins he gets his marquee victory. If Clark is impressive in a Penn State win, he'll improve a potential Heisman candidacy.
"I think Daryll Clark has been an outstanding performer for us," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said this week. "It's hard to compare. I don't see all the other guys that people are talking about all the time. Every week it's a new list, from what I hear. I don't know. You turn on the tube, to get some sleep, and there are a couple of guys up there talking about, 'Let's hear your Heisman Trophy list,' and whose list is this and that. Daryll Clark is one heck of a football player."
But he still bears the weight of losses to Iowa the past two seasons. Right or wrong, his fault or not. What stands more important is that the winner of this game could strengthen a potential at-large BCS bid, as representatives from the Orange and Sugar bowls will be seated in the warmth of the Beaver Stadium press box.
And then you have the crowd factor.
So much adds up against Pyror -- the crowd, a red-hot opposing defense and his own offensive line which has left a lot to be desired. But good, bad or indifferent, that's just how he wants it.
Pryor and Tressel portray the image that they thrive on the pressure. That may be the case, but go back to last year's game where Paterno out-Tresseled Tressel.
"(Terrelle's) been under fire in his own mind since he got here," Tressel said. "He puts a lot of pressure on himself because he has high expectations for what he can do, and most importantly what he can do for the good of the team.
"If we are successful on a Saturday he feels as if it probably had his contribution and if we're not successful many times he feels as if he was the problem. That's the way competitors are."
Two competitors, on the Big Ten's biggest stage, battling in what should be another four quarters of physically grueling football, trying to answer one question.
Who has the stronger will to win?
Thomas writes for Blue White Illustrated.