A rivalry within the rivalry: Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor vs. Michigan's Denard Robinson
In his first months in Ann Arbor, one of Rich Rodriguez’s priorities was finding a quarterback to run his spread offense with the Michigan football team.
In a decision that presaged The Decision, marquee prospect Terrelle Pryor signed with Ohio State instead of Michigan after a much-ballyhooed courtship. One year later, Rodriguez signed Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson.
The ramifications from that sequence are endless.
Had Rodriguez inked Pryor, he insists he would have still recruited Robinson the following year.
But Saturday’s annual matchup between Michigan and Ohio State (12:03 p.m., ABC) would surely be different. The game might feature a maize-and-blue-clad Pryor against former minor league baseball player and current OSU backup Joe Bauserman.
Robinson, entranced by the possibility he’d play early at Michigan, might be at Central Florida or Florida.
Instead, he’ll lead the Wolverines (7-4 overall, 3-4 Big Ten) into Columbus against a Buckeye team that has won six consecutive games in the rivalry, as well as eight of the past nine. While they both fall under the umbrella of the spread quarterback label, Robinson will take the field with an offense that looks markedly different than the one Pryor might have run at Michigan.
“Both of them are a little bit different,” said Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema, the only Big Ten coach to beat both of them this season. “Ohio State really isn’t a hurried-up pace. They just kind of take it as you are and mix in some very traditional formations.”
And the Wolverines?
“Michigan is totally spread with very few traditional formations,” Bielema said. “Robinson, I think it’s probably decisions are made for him and he just executes the plan, where Terrelle has a little freedom out there.”
When it comes to throwing the football, the results are similar.
Pryor ranks sixth in the Big Ten with an average of 211.9 passing yards per game, completing 65.7 percent of his passes while throwing 23 touchdowns to 10 interceptions.
Robinson ranks seventh in the conference, averaging 202.6 passing yards per game, completing 63.4 percent of his passes while throwing 16 TDs and 10 interceptions.
But there’s no comparison when it comes to their rushing ability. Robinson leads the country with 1,538 rushing yards, averages 6.8 yards per run and has scored 14 rushing TDs.
Pryor, on the other hand, has run 108 times for 590 yards. “He doesn’t run much, but he runs when he has to,” Rodriguez said. “He has been very effective in some tight ball games. He’s a great athlete and no question the leader of that offensive unit.”
Since losing against Wisconsin, Pryor and the Buckeyes (10-1, 6-1) have won four straight. On the season, they’ve won all seven of their home games.
A win puts the Buckeyes in contention for their latest BCS berth and would give them at least a share of the Big Ten title for the sixth straight year.
A win for the Wolverines might not only improve their bowl standing, but it could mean that, in the end, Pryor’s choice of Ohio State over Michigan helped set up a classic rivalry within the rivalry.
“Everyone is so surprised because Robinson is so young, and just how he’s matured,” Illinois coach Ron Zook said. “We all expected Terrelle to have the year he’s having. But Denard’s just a guy that can take a game over - as can Terrelle.”
Pete Bigelow covers Michigan football for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at (734) 623-2556, via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.