COLUMBUS, Ohio - In his three years at Ohio State, quarterback Terrelle Pryor has been repeatedly drilled by his coaches about the importance of taking what the defense gives him.
While the coaching staff's attempts to make Pryor understand that have certainly been successful to this point, all Pryor has to do is look back at a single play in a big game where he tried to take too much - and it cost Ohio State the game.
"First down leads to touchdowns," Pryor said while shaking his head remembering the play. "First down leads to touchdowns, without a doubt."
A native of Western Pennsylvania, Pryor was toward the tail end of his freshman season in 2008 playing against Penn State - his hometown team greatly considered out of high school - and a costly mistake handed the young quarterback what still could be considered the worst loss of his career.
With the Buckeyes leading 6-3 in the fourth quarter, the clock ticking down below 10 minutes, and Ohio State driving in search of the knockout punch, the Buckeyes faced a short third-and-1 at midfield.
Instead of diving forward and moving the chains, Pryor opted to try and bounce it outside in search of the big play. An inexperienced and overzealous Pryor, however, was met by Penn State safety Mark Rubin in the backfield, who caused the freshman to fumble the ball and it was eventually recovered by Penn State.
On the ensuing possession, Penn State drove the remaining 38 yards for the touchdown en route to the eventual win over Ohio State. The loss not only marked Ohio State's first loss of the Big Ten season, it came against a Penn State team Pryor desperately wanted to beat.
"I'd go get that first. What I did my freshman year was pretty stupid," Pryor said. "I'd go get the first down, it leads to touchdowns. Instead of taking a chance of fumbling, I'd never do that again whether I'm here or in a different league."
At the time, however, Pryor felt as if it "was like the end of the world that we lost."
The fact of the matter is Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel can accept the fact that Pryor was trying to make a play for his team, which had struggled mightily on offense for the majority of the game.
But to Tressel, it isn't always about making big plays, but rather about getting what the team needs in that specific instance, and the Buckeyes needed a first down at that point, not to take a risk and try and score a touchdown.
"If that guy doesn't luck out and get his hand on it, he's still running around the corner and it might be one of those plays everyone remembers, 'Wasn't that creative?'" Tressel said. "Above all else, it was a great lesson learned, that, hey, we didn't need that at that moment, we just needed a yard, and he's the first to admit he understands that and we haven't had to harp on it."
Penn State was always a special game for Pryor, but since the occurrence his freshman season, it has been elevated to that next level. Last season Pryor didn't face the same sort of situation, as he led the buckeyes to a 24-7 victory over the Nittany Lions in State College.
Now the Nittany Lions will return to the Horseshoe for the first time since Pryor's mistake this Saturday, but the more mature and understanding quarterback won't single out the Penn State game as any more important than any of Ohio State's other games.
Instead, he admits last season's victory in State College alleviated most of the pressure he felt when it came to playing against the hometown team he once considered attending.
"If you would have asked me (if it meant more) last year, of course I felt like it, but playing there definitely took pressure off my chest," Pryor admitted.
A lot has changed in the last two years, not only with Pryor's ability to make throws look like second nature at times, but also his understanding of the game.
Thrown in just three games into his freshman season, there is question as to whether or not Pryor was fully ready to take on that responsibility at that time. Backed by pure athleticism, Pryor led the Buckeyes to a 10-3 record that season that ended with a last-second loss to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl.
Now, there is no question what Pryor would do in the same situation if the Buckeyes face third-and-1 late in the fourth quarter holding a 6-3 lead over Penn State Saturday.
"He'd get the first down," quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano said Wednesday.
And with that simple answer, that's just another way both Siciliano and Tressel see Pryor's development as a whole. With the greater knowledge of the game and a vast understanding on the mistakes he made in the past, Pryor feels more well equipped to handle the upcoming challenges.
"It's kind of like a 'been there, done that' type of thing," Pryor said. "If you were there when you were younger, why can't you do it when you're older? I've already played Penn State here two years ago, so I'm two years older now and I think that's s huge deal because I know what to look for."
All while looking back.
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.