When Ryan Shazier’s childhood friend, Gary Curtis, lost his battle with muscular dystrophy over the summer, he decided to honor Curtis by wearing his jersey No. 48.
What game would be better suited than a night game at Penn State, Shazier thought. So the sophomore linebacker approached the coaches this week with the idea and they had no problem allowing Shazier to recognize his fallen friend.
After his performance, Shazier may never go back to his old No. 10. He finished with seven tackles, including two sacks, and a game-changing interception returned for a touchdown in Ohio State’s 35-23 win.
“It was amazing because it almost felt like a dream,” Shazier said. “I’d dropped so many picks this year. When I caught the ball it felt amazing. It was a great momentum change.”
With the game tied at seven, Penn State received the second-half kickoff. Shazier sacked Matt McGloin on second down and then dropped back in coverage on the next play, reading McGloin’s eyes as the quarterback set to pass. Seventeen yards later, Shazier was in the end zone.
It changed the game’s momentum and rendered the 107,818 in attendance irrelevant the rest of the game.
“At that point in the game, it was unbelievable," defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “We needed momentum and you can never account for those kind of things. Those are the things that just break the back of the other team.”
Against Penn State, it has become quite common for the Buckeyes. It was the eighth time in the past 11 games against the Nittany Lions that Ohio State has returned an interception for a touchdown.
Last week’s cardiac comeback against Purdue woke up the echoes of the 2002 season. Shazier’s interception return on Saturday, 10 years after Chris Gamble did the same thing, has even more making comparisons to the memorable 2002 season.
But for Shazier, his mind was far away from undefeated seasons.
“I was thinking about (Curtis) the whole game,” he said. “I knew I had his number on and I felt like he was playing through me and he had my back.”
Penn State cruised into Saturday’s marquee matchup on a five-game winning streak. The new NASCAR offense had rejuvenated a stagnant Penn State offense and reinvented McGloin as a quarterback.
Ohio State’s defense, meanwhile, has been shown to be vulnerable at times this season. Screens and short passes in space have plagued a unit that is short on linebackers.
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But the Buckeyes limited Penn State to zero points in the first quarter on Saturday. Slow starts have been a trend all season for Ohio State, and not scoring against Penn State in the opening quarter continued that. The Nittany Lions had outscored opponents 66-0 in the first quarter.
The win acted as a showcase for the defense, limiting Penn State to just 35 yards rushing. But don’t mention it to the Buckeyes – they still aren’t satisfied. Not after two late touchdowns.
Ohio State dialed up the blitzes and used man coverages to stifle Penn State.
“That's a great job by our front seven,” defensive end John Simon said. “It’s a total team effort. That’s a great accomplishment for us.”
Special teams played a key role in Ohio State’s win over Penn State, both good and bad for the Buckeyes.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Nittany Lions blocked a punt and recovered the ball in the end zone for the game’s first points. It was the third block punt this season on Ben Buchanan.
Trailing in the third quarter, Penn State was gaining momentum and with it the crowd came back alive. But Ohio State hunkered down on defense and forced a punt. Only Penn State had no plans to give the ball back to the Buckeyes.
Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, special teams coordinator Zach Smith was eyeing the fake.
Sure enough, Penn State’s punter attempted to throw for the first down. Adam Griffin, one of Ohio State’s best special teamers, had the play mapped out and batted the ball down.
Meyer called it the turning point of the game.