Chip Kelly and the Ghost of Terrelle Pryor

Thearon W. Henderson

Chip Kelly's first season as Oregon's coach was spoiled by a Rose Bowl loss at the hands of one Terrelle Pryor. Will his first NFL season meet the same fate?

Chip Kelly began his head coaching career in 2009 with the Oregon Ducks. They rebounded from a disastrous first game loss to Boise State (which ended the year ranked fourth) and made it to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 14 years. They hadn't won a Rose Bowl since 1917.

The #7 Ducks were favored by five points over #8 Ohio State, but the Buckeyes' sophomore quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, proved the Vegas bookmakers wrong. He passed for 266 yards and ran for another 72 as Ohio State won, 26-17. . Pryor was the Rose Bowl MVP, despite playing with a partial tear to his posterior cruciate ligament (the much-less-publicized sibling of the ACL)

His performance drove Bill Plaschke of the LA Times to poetry in an attempt to describe what he had just seen. "On an afternoon when the magical Rose Bowl sunset was bathed in a young man's dawn, the prodigal prospect Pryor almost single-handedly led the Buckeyes to a 26-17 victory... by loft and laser, for 266 yards after both drop-backs and sprints, for two touchdowns that broke backs."

Chip Kelly had wanted Pryor for the Ducks, and lobbied him hard even as Offensive Coordinator. "Chip Kelly, he can recruit like crazy," Terrelle told the Oregonian newspaper in 2009, but Ohio State was much closer to his home town of Jeannette, Pennsylvania and Jim Tressel lured him to Columbus.

Pryor is Kelly's vision of a perfect QB, at least physically. He's 6'4", 233 pounds, has a strong arm, and runs the 40 in 3.33. This year, he beat out Matt Flynn for the Oakland Raiders' starting quarterback job, and has led them to a surprisingly respectable 3-4 record. Furthermore, he was inactive due to concussion in the team's loss to Washington, and played tough in a 37-21 loss to Denver.

Oh, did I mention? In Sunday's win against Pittsburgh, Oakland's first play from scrimmage was a read-option run that Pryor kept, running 93 yards to set the NFL record for longest touchdown run by a quarterback. And the Raiders won by 3.

Now, Pryor's career has not been nearly as magical as Bill Plaschke's vision of that Rose Bowl victory. After a solid but not spectacular junior year, Pryor was entangled in the big Ohio State memorabilia and tattoo scandal. He was alleged to have received thousands of dollars for autographs, a la Manziel, and went pro after the NCAA suspended him for five games of the following season. (He had to sit out those games in the NFL too, by agreement, but at least he was getting paid by his team.)

Pryor was the last draft pick by Al Davis at Oakland. He played in only 3 games last year, with a 46.7% completion rate passing, and saw only one single play in 2011, a gadget. He lined up as a wide receiver, went in motion until he was behind center and ran a quarterback sneak. The play was called back because of illegal motion by Pryor himself.

This year he outplayed Flynn in the preseason, but his passing remains shaky. Against Pittsburgh he was the game's leading rusher, but threw 10-19 for 88 yards, with no TDs and 2 interceptions. His quarterback rating for the game was 25.7, the worst for a winning quarterback since 1972. For the year, he has 5 TDs and 7 interceptions.

So no, he's not invincible. But he has demonstrated an ability to mess up Chip Kelly's plans before, and there's a decent chance that Sunday, at home where he's strongest, he might do it again.

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