Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mark May Wants Terrelle Pryor To Fail

We had inklings of this earlier in the year. It started back in the spring, when Pryor was still in high school, and May thought Pryor was taking too long to make his college choice. Pryor dared to talk back:
Mark May from ESPN is criticizing me on national television and he doesn't even know me. That kind of stuff really bothers me, when people who know nothing about me are talking about me like they know anything.

And of course Pryor's choice was Ohio State, and if you don't know how Mark May feels about Ohio State, just turn on ESPN on any given Saturday.

Earlier this season, Pryor played his way into the Buckeyes' starting QB job over 6th-year senior Todd Boeckman, and TP showed flashes of brilliance in September. May's caveat? Pryor's results were delivered against inferior competition: "Let's see how he does on the big stage." This was the snarky Han Solo imitation: "Look, good against remotes is one thing. Good against the living? That's something else." The problem is that May has nothing close to Harrison Ford charisma — and this is why he is not well-liked. His shtick is to take potshots, but the lines aren't clever and the persona is charmless. So he comes off like a jerk. Pryor didn't like it, and he made note of it. Then he went to Wisconsin and engineered a last-minute game-winning TD drive on primetime ABC.

Fast-forward to this afternoon. Consider May’s observations at halftime during today’s OSU/Illinois game:
Terrelle Pryor is making plays in this game, but you can still tell that Terrelle Pryor is a freshman. He’s going to make freshman mistakes, and that’s what you see in this game. He’ll make a great play, a brilliant play, and all of a sudden, he’ll make a freshman mistake, and he’ll turn the ball over or he’ll force the ball or throw a bad play.

Now consider what had actually happened during the game up to that point. Pryor was 5 for 8 with a TD pass and no interceptions. Two of the incompletions were balls thrown high, and the third was a pass over the middle that Vontae Davis, probably an all-Big Ten corner, managed to knock away. Davis had no shot at a pick. As far as mistakes go, the Buckeyes’ offensive unit has the one holding call on Robiskie. No delays of game, no forced timeouts to avoid one, no hold-the-ball sacks taken, no misreads or fumbles or mismanagement of the play clock. In fact, the closest thing to a “mistake” that I can see is a play in the first quarter where Pryor threw a bullet downfield over Robiskie’s head, when he had an open lane up the middle and could have scrambled for a first down.

Now consider the performance of Illinois QB Juice Williams, who fumbled on a keeper deep in his territory in the first quarter and threw an interception deep in Ohio State’s in the second. Of course, Williams is a junior, so we can’t label any of these turnovers as “freshman mistakes.”

I suppose it’s just folly, by now, to expect Mark May to offer objective analysis. But he should at least tell the truth. I realize that Pryor was heavily hyped during his senior year. I realize that recruiting has become a circus, and most any reasonable person (much less Mark May) gets exasperated by the breathless coverage of Signing Day. And it's not "interesting" for a broadcaster to say that Pryor is a terrific player whose time has come eleven games into his college career. But it's not interesting, either, to continue to reinforce the tired dictum that freshman quarterbacks aren't capable of stepping into FBS football and excelling, that of necessity they must make "freshman mistakes" — that any snaps taken by a first-year signal-caller are necessarily best described as "flash of potential, but so much to learn."

The simple fact is that Pryor played a nearly flawless half of football, and May outright rejected that fact in favor of indulging his usual anti-hype, anti-OSU, anti-Pryor sentiments. (It should be noted, too, that Pryor came out and played a nearly flawless second half of football, too.)

I understand that ESPN keeps you on, Mark May, because you "shake things up" and "keep things interesting." Fine: that's your gig. But at least do justice to what happens on the field. Be prepared to support your outlandish and partisan opinions with something approximating fact. You big doofus.