It looked like the Madison Masscare all over again and if you asked Ohio State fans at half time what they thought, you would think the world was ending. It certainly looked to be another "big game" flop thanks to the College Gameday Curse for the Buckeyes early on in Columbus, but Jim Tressel's team proved by the end of the night that they play their best football in November.
After coming out and leading early with a 7 play 71 yard drive that lead to a field goal, Ohio State decided to lay down flat and make Penn State walk-on QB Matt McGloin look like the next coming of Peyton Manning throughout the first half, as the sophomore carved up the Buckeye secondary. Avoiding early defensive line pressure by the Bucks, McGloin connected on a 23-yard touchdown strike to Justin Brown to give PSU the 7-3 lead at the 4:10 mark in the first quarter, which lasted through the end of the period. The pass to Brown was the first time Penn State ever scored through the air in Columbus under Joe Paterno.
The rest of the half did not bode well for the Buckeyes as they punted on their next four posessions, while things could not have gone much better for the Nittany Lions. McGloin continued to pick apart the OSU defense with a 6-yard score to Derek Moye with 11:23 left in the second, capping an 11 play-82 yard drive, marking the first time the Lions ever scored two touchdowns in a game held in Ohio Stadium. McGloin's ability to continually hit open receivers on hooks, outs, and slants was deflating to a Buckeye defense that couldn't help their offense get back on the field.
With just under two minutes left in the half and an already solid 2-2 4th down conversion mark, Joe Paterno decided to try and put away the home team early on another 4th and 1 from the OSU 21-yard line instead of kicking a field goal. The Bucks defense decided to get stingy though, and stopped Evan Royster's attempt to stretch across the marker with 1:41 left in the 2nd quarter, but Terrelle Pryor and the offense couldn't take advantage and headed into the lockerrooms trailing 14-3.
Things were not looking good at this point and a combination of Penn State dominating the clock (18:34 to 11:26), McGloin's success through the air (13/18-141-2), OSU kicking themselves in the feet (4 penalties and 3 bad punts), and some conservative play calling from Jim Tressel left the Buckeyes in a tough bind. The good news was that it was halftime and Penn State missed on an opportunity to go up by 14 by not kicking a field goal late in the half, before the Bucks had a chance to regroup and make the proper adjustments as day turned to night.
Adjust is just what Jim Tressel and the staff did as the Bucks looked like a team possessed at the start of the third quarter. After forcing a PSU punt on the opening drive, the Bucks went on an 11 play-96 yard scoring drive that ended in a Boom Herron 5-yard run with 6:33 left in the 3rd quarter to cut the lead down to 14-10. While Herron finished the drive, it was a Saine 19-yard run and two Pryor passes for 20 yards that set up the closing play and gave the team a little more momentum.
A quick three-and-out was the goal of the defense on the next drive, but plans were derailed as Devon Torrence jumped in front of a McGloin pass and took the ball 34 yards to the house to give the Bucks the lead 17-10, their first since the opening drive of the game. It was a big play for Devon, as he got abused early by McGloin and the Penn State receivers throughout the first half.
The Bucks defense continued to step-up, forcing a three-and-out on the first drive of the 4th quarter, and just when it looked like the Bucks were marching down to score again (lead by some solid work by Herron), Pryor had another brain fart. The junior rolled out to his left to avoid pressure and threw a ball just a second too late to Dane Sanzenbacher in PSU territory. That split second mattered, and the pass was intercepted at the 1-yard line, but luckily no damage was done, as the Silver Bullets answered the match and forced another punt.
After getting the ball back, TP went for it all on a deep ball to DeVier Posey, but the ball was tipped up and appeared to be an incompletion. That is until Dane Sanzebacher just happened to be in the right place at the right time, catching the deflected pass and running into the end zone for what ended up to be a 58-yard score, making the score 24-14 with 9:58 left in the final quarter. Good teams need to get lucky sometimes, and I don't think anyone is going to complain about the ball bouncing the Bucks' way every once in a while.
In a deja vu moment, McGloin decided to stare down his receiver crossing and apparently didn't realize that Travis Howard comes from Florida, which means SPEED. The third year corner back jumped in front of the flopped pass and took it 30 yards to the end-zone ,giving the Buckeyes their second "Pick 6" of the game and a commanding 31-14 lead. You can only imagine the type of trash talk the Buckeye defenders were throwing back in the face of McGloin after he decided to chatter all week about how he though the OSU defense was overrated.
Putting the icing on the cake, the Buckeyes rode Dan Herron's career night down the field for one final 7 play-78 yard drive to cap the game off and leave the final margin at 38-14. Boom had a 47 yard run to set up the score, which happened to be a 3-yard pass from Pryor to Jake Stoneburner, who finally looked healthy for the first time since the Ohio game. It was Stoneburner's second score of the season and more importantly, it was the type of play Buckeye fans have been clamoring for when the team gets inside the 10-yard line.
Overall the team's first half was absolutely miserable, but they got back to what they do well and completely dominated Penn State in the second half. En route to outscoring the Nittany Lions 35-0 after the break, Dan Herron had a career high 190 yards rushing on 21 carries (9.0 ypc) to go with the a touchdown, further establishing himself as the go-to back in the Buckeye offense. Herron may not be the "homerun threat" that Beanie was, but he certainly gets the job done on a weekly basis and proved this afternoon he is capable of carrying the team on his back.
Pryor threw the ball just 13 times, completing 8 passes for 139 yards with 2 touchdowns against 1 interception. TP didn't really have the opportunity to get in a rhythym early, but looked solid overall in the second half going 4/5 for 81 yards and two scores. On the ground he was slowed a bit, but still spread out the defense rushing for 50 yards on 9 carries (5.6 avg). DeVier Posey lead all receivers with 3 cates for 63 yards, while the offensive line proved to be solid for most of the day.
With the win, the Buckeyes moved to 9-1 on the season and remain in a three-way tie with Wisconsin and Michigan State atop the Big Ten standings. The Bucks have two tough games remaining, as they travel to Iowa next week and come home to face Michigan the week after. Wisconsin travels to Ann Arbor next week and plays Northwestern at home the following week, while MSU has the easiest schedule, hosting Purdue and traveling to Penn State. The BCS Standings, the tie-breaker for a three-way tie, currently have an order of Wisconsin-OSU-MSU, so the Bucks will need to win and out and get some help from either the Wolverines or Wildcats to have a shot at the at large-birth, while winning out guarantees them a share of their 6th straight Big Ten Championship.
It will be interesting to see what happens the rest of the way, but one thing that is for sure is that the Bucks brought the "Boom" today in game one of a tough three game November slate.