University of Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema got an up-close look at the unveiling of a well-rounded Terrelle Pryor during Ohio State's victory in the Rose Bowl last season.
Bielema was in Pasadena, Calif., for UW athletic director Barry Alvarez's induction into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame and Bielema managed to secure a sideline pass.
Until that point, Pryor was viewed as an athlete playing quarterback, dangerous but unpolished — and kept under wraps by the Buckeyes' conservative offense.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel finally took the shackles off a healthy Pryor in the bowl game against Oregon and he responded, completing 23 of 37 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 72 yards in the 26-17 victory.
"I saw a lot of growth, just from ... when we last played him," Bielema said of Ohio State's 31-13 triumph over the Badgers 2½ months earlier. "He's so gifted, I remember watching him on high school film. I remember going to his high school and watching basketball practice.
"I just remember how exceptionally talented he is — and now, under Tressel's tutelage, to know the things that are important, the ball security, maintaining possession of the football, not making unnecessary risks and don't put your defense in a bad position. He's grown into the ideal player for them."
The almost universal game plan against Pryor (6-foot-6, 233 pounds) his first two seasons was to make him beat you with his arm.
"Without a doubt, last two years, that's what we said we had to do," UW defensive coordinator Dave Doeren said.
Doeren was speaking to a reporter Sunday and said it was too early to determine if that approach would change when the Badgers face the top-ranked Buckeyes on Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium.
But Pryor provided his own answer, throwing for career highs of 334 yards and 24 completions with three touchdowns, in a 38-10 win over Indiana last Saturday.
Pryor suffered a left quadriceps injury the previous week as Ohio State had just 290 yards of offense in a 24-13 win over Illinois. He did not attempt to run the ball against the Hoosiers and looked to be favoring the leg at times.
"He could have done whatever he wanted to (against Indiana)," Doeren said. "He picked them apart."
Having been burned by Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who rushed for 217 yards the previous week, the Hoosiers went with a controlled pass rush. Defensive linemen focused on staying in their lanes and keeping Pryor in the pocket.
"Looking back at it, maybe his plan all along wasn't to run the ball against us," Indiana coach Bill Lynch said. "I have no idea how his leg (felt). ... I know his arm was healthy."
The Badgers have a better defense than Indiana, but it's an example of the headaches Pryor presents now that he's throwing it better. He is completing 68 percent of his passes, compared to 56.6 percent last season. He ranks third in the Big Ten and sixth nationally in pass efficiency at 170.5 after a 128.9 rating last year.
Doeren doesn't think Pryor's mechanics have changed appreciably, but he looks more comfortable.
"He's just more accurate," Doeren said. "Obviously, the protection is pretty solid and the receivers are open. It's not hard when it's like that."
The Badgers have done an outstanding job in two games against Pryor — holding him to averages of 118.5 passing yards and 27.5 rushing yards — with the exception of two drives.
He was a freshman two years ago, making his third start, when he directed an 80-yard, 12-play drive he finished with an 11-yard touchdown run with a little more than a minute to play in a 20-17 victory.
Pryor completed only five of 13 passes for 87 yards last season but made two big plays just before halftime after UW took a 10-7 lead. On first down from the Ohio State 12-yard line, he started running to his left on a draw, then reversed his field and went 27 yards around right end.
Then on third-and-15, he hit DeVier Posey with a pinpoint pass against tight coverage on a 32-yard touchdown.
Pryor has always been capable of doing extraordinary things, but now he's making more of the routine throws, too.
"Right now, he's a pretty well-rounded kid," Doeren said. "He definitely presents more of a problem than he used to."