Young has been used as a reference point ever since Pryor emerged on the national stage as a junior in high school, and the reason is obvious: There aren't many 6-6, 230-pound guys with elite speed and rocket arms. But I've been wondering this year whether the two have actually been similar in terms of performance, especially as people have written off Pryor's sophomore struggles with arguments like "Well, Vince Young wasn't a good passer either until he was a junior." I remember this being the standard scouting report at the time, but has Pryor been any better? And while both have ridiculous athleticism, how do their rushing numbers stack up?
Before I get into the stats, two disclaimers:
1. Pryor has one regular-season game left, and it's entirely possible that he goes off for about 400 total yards against Michigan's craptacular defense.
2. Mack Brown was smart enough to adjust his offense to suit Young's athleticism, turning the zone read into the Longhorns' base running play. Jim Tressel ... well, you know. More on that later.
Anyway, here are the numbers from each QB's freshman year (Young split snaps with starter Chance Mock for most of the season in a pro-style offense, so the comparison here is particularly applicable):
|Rush average||7.4 ||4.54|
Despite actually having fewer rushing attempts, Young had an additional 367 yards and five touchdowns. He also didn't have less than 50 rushing yards in any game all year, which is remarkable when you consider that there were five games in which he had single-digit rushing attempts. Pryor, meanwhile, averaged under 49 rushing yards per game but was actually a slightly better passer (although it should be noted that seven of his 12 touchdown passes came in massacres of Troy and Northwestern).
Now let's go to the sophomore totals:
Young's rushing attempts slightly increased along with his playing time and the system change, and it showed in his numbers, particularly the 14 touchdowns. His passing numbers also improved slightly (a higher completion percentage and a better touchdown-to-interception ratio), but his pass efficiency stayed about the same due to a drop in yards per attempt. Pryor's rushing numbers have been almost identical to his 2008 totals, but his passing has actually dropped off significantly. His completion percentage is four points lower, he has more than doubled his interception total and his pass efficiency is 16 points lower.
I think what we can glean from all this is that Young, as both a freshman and a sophomore, established himself as an elite running threat who was productive despite his lack of refined passing skills. His vision as a ballcarrier and extra gear in the open field were always underrated, as he averaged over 80 yards per game on the ground in his first two years. When the light bulb went on as a junior and he threw for 26 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards, he was utterly unstoppable.
Pryor, on the other hand, has a total of three career 100-yard rushing games and is averaging almost exactly 50 yards per game. As much as his athleticism scares people, he hasn't come close to replicating Young's production in that area. The passing numbers are pretty similar between the two: Pryor's cumulative pass efficiency has been a little better than Young's, but that's primarily due to the two huge games as a freshman that included seven TD passes. Young's completion percentage and yards per attempt were both better, but he was a little more interception-prone. In short, both were marginal passers through two seasons.
I don't doubt that Pryor is an incredible talent, but there's one thing in particular that I think will stop him from ever approaching Young's junior-year awesomeness: the offense. Watch Young as a sophomore and look at the space he had to work with in the running game and the aggressive vertical routes that went beyond the cheating safeties, resulting in a lot of big pass plays. Every part of that offense was designed for Young.
Pryor, of course, is stuck in the 19th century with Ohio State's let's-do-whatever-won't-result-in-a-turnover offense. He'll never be an intimidating threat from the pocket the way Troy Smith was; neither was Young, but Mack Brown adjusted accordingly. The only pass Pryor is trusted to throw right now is a rollout out pattern to the sideline, because Jim Tressel absolutely can't stand the idea of letting his young QB screw things up.
But what you don't see from Vince Young's high interception total early in his career is that he was actually trusted enough to make those mistakes while learning a system that utilized his skill set, and he benefited from those things in his breakout junior year. What is Pryor learning other than to throw an 7-yard out pattern? I realize that there's a reason Jim Tressel makes $3 million a year while I blog from the friendly confines of my apartment's living room, but common sense tells me that if you don't trust your QB to throw the ball, you might as well build your offense around the one thing he can do.
As for the original question -- has Pryor's career path been as similar to Young's as everyone claims? -- the answer is no, not really. The passing numbers are similar, but Young's running ability manifested itself from his very first game and forced defenses to account for him as a second running back, and I don't think you can say the same about Pryor. He's a concern, but not a guy who'll put up 300 total yards and carry his team offensively, which Young was able to do on a regular basis.
Is that his fault? Not necessarily; Tressel deserves just as much of the blame as Pryor, if not more. But when TP is still an average quarterback as a senior and we're wondering why he never made a Young-esque leap, it won't matter much who's responsible. It'll just be a disappointment (Michigan fans not included).