We won't get into whether or not Penn State's cupcake-laden schedule caught up with them again. What we will dive into and explore in all of its glory is the huge punch to the mouth the Buckeyes applied to the Nittany Lions in front of 110,000+ in Beaver Stadium.
With the exception of just one Graham Zug-fueled early drive and a questionable fourth-and-goal quarterback sneak out of Daryll Clark, the Buckeye defense served up a tall glass of three-and-outs to Penn State while on the other side of the ball, the offense was effective enough when it counted to turn a tight game into a bit of a laugher down the stretch before coasting to a 24-7 victory that puts them in the driver's seat for a Rose Bowl bid.
Coming into the game leading the nation with an average of 5.7 three-and-outs per game, the defense, led by Cam Heyward's two sacks and 11 tackles, forced the Lions into seven more three-and-outs and held Clark to a season-low 125 yards passing on 28 attempts. He was pressured and hurried right from the start, but the Buckeye offense had its own trouble out of the gates. Pryor was able to punch in a seven yard touchdown run, slipping by Bowman on Ohio State's second possession of the game after Ray Small took Penn State's opening punt back inside their ten. They would tack on three more when Devin Barclay connected on a 37 yard field goal with six minutes remaining in the first half, but would have to settle for a 10-7 halftime lead.
The Buckeye defense once again came out dominant to start the second half, forcing a quick Penn State punt after getting a sack and nearly an interception due to pressure on the next play. The offense answered by running Saine on four straight downs before DeVier Posey failed to come down with a pretty good Pryor throw into coverage. Many of us were clamoring for play-action at the time, but instead the Buckeyes punted again, gaining a dozen or so valuable yards in field position. Heyward, Gibson and crew stepped up to force another quick three-and-out. The Buckeyes would pick up a first down on their next series on a strike from Pryor to Posey, but were again forced to punt. This time, Thoma pinned the Lions down at their own eight yard line and three plays later, Penn State was punting the ball away again. Tresselball in full effect as the field position continued to tilt.
Now on their third possession of the half, the Buckeye defense came out with an unbalanced line and Pryor went play-action to hit Posey on a beautifully-thrown 62 yard bomb for a touchdown to put Ohio State up 17-7 with a little over 90 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The agonizing runs of the previous two series seemed to set the play up and many of us were left wondering what was funnier: the collision between the two Penn State defenders that sealed the touchdown or the fact that 110,000 white-clad fans were silent.
After forcing yet another Penn State three-and-out on the follow-up series, keyed by a huge two yard stop of Evan Royster on 3rd and 1, the Buckeyes got the ball back in excellent position after a 45 yard Small punt return and Pryor and the offense proceeded to go to work. On a cool, calculating series, Pryor led the Buckeyes on a 10 play 47 yard touchdown drive to account for the final score. On the drive, Pryor converted a huge 3rd and 11 early on with a 12 yard scamper and then completed passes to fullback Zach Boren and then Brandon Saine to convert two other third downs, the second of which resulted in a brilliant play-action touchdown pass to Saine in the flats that he punched in for six.
With nine and a half minutes remaining in the game and down 24-7, a Clark pass was intercepted by linebacker Ross Homan to pretty much extinguish any hopes for a Lion comeback on the afternoon. The two offenses traded punts the rest of the way as the 10,000 strong OSU cheering section took over rocking the stadium to Seven Nation Army.
Not to be overlooked in the win was the effort of punter Jon Thoma. He's played huge pretty much all season, on an afternoon when punts dominated the action early, he banged out a 55-yarder along the way to pinning the Lions inside their own twenty three times. In that same vein, the much maligned Small had two big returns that led directly to 14 Ohio State points.
Thanks to a heady, solid effort in Happy Valley, the Buckeyes are now one win away from a depleted Iowa squad next weekend before they can begin making plans for Jim Tressel's first Rose Bowl trip. Seems kind of crazy to think he's never been to a Rose Bowl, but getting into all of those MNC games will do that.
- It was frustrating at times, but I thought the staff did an excellent job of easing Pryor into a place to be more and more effective as the game progressed. He could have easily come in and tried to do too much early, considering the homecoming/recruiting aspects of the game. Credit to Pryor as well for making smart plays all day and accounting for all three Ohio State touchdowns.
- Though neither Saine nor Boom had monster games, the makeshift line (especially so after Shugarts went down) did a great job overall. The Buckeyes rushed for 228 yards on a defense that had given up an average of 84.1 per game coming in.
- Seriously, Graham Zug?
- Special note to Penn State fans and blogs: We know you want to have a rivalry with us and with Michigan being down, now is a perfect time to get something going. Unfortunately, you're going to have do a little better. Despite (unofficial) whiteouts, Paternoville, pep rallies and 110k+, Tressel is now 6-3 against Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions are averaging a mere 13 points per game in the series. Arm punts to all of you.
Obligatory, because it's a hell of a song no matter what stadium it's played in: