Ohio State-Michigan: Is Denard Robinson Already Better Than Terrelle Pryor?
The Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines square off Saturday in Columbus. The annual rivalry will be a key game in determining the final standings (and the automatic receiver of a BCS bid) in the Big Ten.
Coaches Jim Tressel and Rich Rodriguez have spent the week reminding their squads to play with discipline, because each defense faces the tough task of stopping explosive quarterbacks: Junior Terrelle Pryor for the Buckeyes, and sophomore Denard Robinson for Michigan.
They are each dynamic and have put together big yardage numbers this season, but they are very different athletes with very different styles. Robinson is the phenom this year, but Pryor has steadily improved and could make the biggest statement of his collegiate career with a big game Saturday.
The Wolverines are 3-4 in Big Ten play and Ohio State should win this game. With all the intensity of this annual skirmish, though, a breakout by Robinson could swing the momentum and help Michigan spoil Pryor's fun.
So which QB gives his team a better chance at victory tomorrow? More succinctly, which is the better all-around quarterback? Read on.
The Tale Of The Tape
When NFL scouts look for the ideal quarterback, they want a big, strong, long-armed athlete. The reasons for this are not purely aesthetic: A tall, sturdy passer can better see over onrushing defenders, and even his own offensive line.
He can also throw the ball farther, in general, because of his superior size and strength, and he can better withstand the violence of being hit any time the defense can reach him.
Pryor has Robinson pinned in this area, as he has six inches and 40 pounds on Robinson. Pryor has the right kind of size, too, long and graceful.
Robinson stands scarcely six feet tall, and is built more like a running back. That can certainly be overcome, but it puts Pryor at an early advantage.
The only mitigating factor is that Rodriguez's spread offense minimizes the degree to which size matters at quarterback, so Robinson does not hurt the team by being relatively small.
For the moment, "arm strength" in this context will mean pure velocity and ability to throw the ball hard to any spot on the field. In a close vote, Robinson gets the edge on that point.
Pryor throws the ball well and gets it where it needs to go, but he sometimes lacks zip on key slants and out routes. Two of his 10 interceptions this season were blatantly underthrown balls that Robinson could have at least gotten there, and it has been a recurring problem for Pryor.
Robinson, meanwhile, releases fast and gets good rotation on his spiral. He lacks touch downfield, but he can zip it as well as he will ever need to.
It is easy to see this as a subset of the question of arm strength, but it is in fact something quite different. A deep pass is successful only if it can be thrown in a tight spiral, with a smooth flight pattern and with some measure of the zip one might show on a normal pass.
Pryor throws one of the best deep balls in the NCAA, a high-arcing pass that lands very softly. He has thrown that pass consistently without a hint of wobble, and it has helped stretch the filed and make his arm strength on shorter passes seem much better.
Robinson, by contrast, heaves the ball every time he sees an opportunity to go deep, almost always resulting a wild overthrow or an errant wobbler. He has the arm strength, but no touch or accuracy on that pass.
Robinson's passing accuracy has frequently been called "improving" this season, which is a nice way of saying it needs to improve a lot more.
He misses easy targets, and sometimes (because his throws are string-straight, even when they go awry, and because of his tight spiral) those throws can go for interceptions.
Pryor's accuracy, especially on passes over the middle and into traffic, is stellar. He makes up for his good-not-great arm strength by throwing the ball precisely on-target all the time.
That has a ton of value in the Big Ten, where opportunistic safeties abound, putting precision at a premium. His superiority shows up in the numbers, emphatically his career-high 65.7 percent completion rate.
It hardly makes sense to award a winner in this category, since neither man ever seems to stay in the pocket anyway.
Robinson runs like a madman, while Pryor rushes the ball less than half as often but almost always rolls out of the pocket on one side or the other before setting up to throw.
In terms of the most important element of pocket presence, though, Pryor has an edge. Robinson never seems to get his feet entirely under him, as if he were thinking of running even as he passed the ball.
Pryor is better, once he has moved the pocket somewhat, at setting his feet, squaring his shoulder and delivering the football as though that were on his mind all along.
Of course, Pryor has turned out to be a superior passer to Robinson, at least at this point in the younger man's career.
Robinson, though, has devastated teams as often with his feet as with his arm this season. One of his chief weapons in doing so has been his blazing speed, which lets him drop back in the pocket and then (if any sliver of daylight opens for him) bolt forward for big yardage against defenders who simply cannot keep up.
Pryor is a mobile quarterback in his own right and will rush for over 600 yards in three straight seasons, but he does not change the game with his speed or his open-field play-making.
The bigger Pryor should be an excellent tackle-breaker, and he does know how to deliver a stiff-arm, but he is not as slippery or bullish with the ball in his hands as Robinson.
It is not uncommon for the Wolverines signal-caller to take off into the open field, make to men miss with his elusive moves, then run over another for an extra five yards before going down.
Many thought Robinson might move to running back before this season, and that still might happen someday.
Robinson is great at planting a foot and cutting in the open field; that is the running back in him.
He hits holes with speed, then changes direction as the run dictates. All of his lateral movement, though, comes after the initial burst that puts him in the open field.
For Pryor, that kind of thing is much more geared toward the passing game. He does not make great one-foot cuts, so he turns his hips with each step and holds defenders at bay as he moves forward and toward the sideline.
The maneuvering buys him time for a receiver to come open, but it also gets the defender off of his chest and onto his hip, where that stiff-arm is more in play and where he can try to work his way to the corner for a first down.
Both Robinson and Pryor have 10 interceptions this season, and neither has fumbled.
Since Pryor has thrown the ball 39 times more than Robinson en route to the equivalent number of picks, though, and since only eight of his interceptions have come during Big Ten play (vs. nine for Robinson), Pryor gets the small victory here.
Both men, incidentally, have huge hands that make holding onto the ball and pump-faking easier.
The bigger, more well-rounded and more experienced leader gets the nod, but the margin is razor-thin.
Robinson may still move to another position, but assuming he stays at quarterback, he has to work only a little on a couple small things in order to match Pryor, and even to surpass him.
Robinson' explosiveness and the constant home-run threat he brings to the Michigan attack counts for something, just not as much as Pryor's steady stewardship of Tressel's more measured offense. At least not yet.