Shh.. Do you hear the sound of the Big Ten's new alpha dog?
Looks like the Buckeyes won't get that third consecutive outright league title after all.
Behind an amazing performance out of their defensive front, steady play out of backup quarterback Pat Devlin and a timely turnover, Penn State eked out a 13-6 win in Ohio Stadium to move to 9-0 and a week off to enjoy the vanquishing of another monkey from its back.
The Ohio State defense came to play, holding the nation's 7th ranked scoring offense to 32 points below their season average, but the Penn State defense may have outplayed them. The front, led by the play of tackle Jared Odrick and end Aaron Maybin played huge in holding Beanie Wells to a season-worst 55 yards on 22 attempts. I, for one, thought that was impossible. Maybin was equally terrifying against the Buckeye passing game. He beat Bryant Browning on several occasions, earning a second quarter sack, but hurrying and otherwise altering several other plays.
At no point was the Lion defense better than on a Pryor third down run on the Buckeyes' second drive of the 3rd quarter. After getting 36 yard field goal from Pettrey to take a 6-3 lead, the Buckeyes had seen Penn State come back and miss a 45 yard field goal for the tie. With a lead, the crowd into it and Beanie starting to gain some traction on the ground, Ohio State moved to midfield when Pryor lined up to take a snap on 3rd-and-1. The play was a called sneak, but Pryor seeing some daylight, tried to bounce the run outside. Safety Mark Rubin had other ideas. Meeting Pryor at the first down line, he punched the ball free and after a scrum, Penn State had come up with it at the Ohio State 38 yard-line.
Enter Pat Devlin. The backup quarterback came into the game because of a slight head injury suffered by starter Daryll Clark. After an Evan Royster nine yard run, Donald Washington was called for interference on a Devlin pass to Derrick Williams. Four runs out of running backs and two Devlin's sneaks later, Penn State had reclaimed a 10-6 lead with a little over six left to play.
Unlike the game-winner in Madison that started with about as much time on the clock, Pryor was unable to muster any magic on Ohio State's ensuing possession. After a first down toss to Hartline, the Buckeyes were forced to punt the ball back with 4:31 to play.
Penn State would drive to score another field goal, going up 13-6, but the Buckeyes would get one more chance with the ball at their own 20 and 1:07 remaining. Pryor hooked up with Small for a couple of first downs and the offense was able to get into Penn State territory, but a Lydell Sargeant interception in the end zone iced the game.
The offensive performance was frustrating on many levels, not the least of which was the dominating effort the Penn State defensive line put forth against the Ohio State offensive line. It's easy to pile on the offensive line, but the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of the unit not having the game of its life and their counterparts on the other side of the ball playing extremely inspired ball.
Despite Beanie's best efforts to verbally ignite a fire in his line's ass early on, the Buckeye rushing attack never really got on track. Beanie's typical seven yard gains became three yard gains and his three-yarders became one-yarders. At one point early in the third quarter, he had racked-up 18 yards on 12 carries. Odrick and linebacker Navorro Bowman (10 tackles, 1 TFL and the key fumble recovery) held him in check for most of the evening and when he did finally get things going, the offense turned the ball over.
However, it was the play of Maybin that stood out the most. Twice on the opening drive he blew past Browning to disrupt things in the backfield and he kept that pressure consistently throughout the evening. It was Maybin that forced Pryor out of the pocket on the interception to end the game. If this is Joe Pa's last season, he's going out with one hell of a defensive line. Maybin looked as good to me as anyone I saw on USC's roster.
Dane Sanzenbacher led all Buckeye receivers with 82 yards on six receptions, including a big 53 yard catch on busted coverage to flip the field position at the start of the 2nd quarter. Robo had four catches for 56 yards and Small caught two late balls for 37 yards, but most of the passing production came in the second half with the team needing to throw. (Anyone know where Posey went?) Pryor still struggles with some throws, but for the most part performed admirably when passing. His run game abandoned him (nine attempts for six yards), but there clearly is progression throwing the ball.
Fans will take exception with the playcalling and for the first time in a few weeks, I'll have to agree with them. Before I had thought the play of the line was dictating the plays that could be called (say goodbye to anything late developing), but after watching the team have some early success throwing the ball on first and second downs only to watch them move completely away from it, I'm ready to give-in. Keeping Beanie on the bench for the game's opening play was curious at best and the lack of any type of Pistol-based plays is a tad unnerving.
Penn State started the game hot, picking up first downs on their first two offensive plays, but after settling down, they stiffened and forced a Penn State punt. Then, the Thad Gibson show started. On Penn State's second possession of the game, he was everywhere, recording two and a half stops and sacking clark for a three yard loss on third-and-six from midfield. Gibson would continue to dominate for the remainder of the first half and things were looking good heading into halftime tied at three.
And this is where you must credit the Penn State staff for pulling something off their Buckeye counterparts couldn't: neutralizing the game-changing defensive end from the other side via halftime adjustments. Whereas Maybin was doing damage all game long, Gibson was relatively silent in the second half.
Heyward played large at times and might have had the hit of the game, finishing with six tackles, while Worthington and Abdallah finished with six and five respectively. The line held Royster to under 80 yards and got pressure on the Penn State quarterbacks throughout the evening, so kudos to them.
Laurinaitis recorded 12 stops on the night, but the faction that believes he's a little overrated would like to point out that only two of those were solo tackles. Likewise, Freeman had six tackles (one solo), but he appeared to have been dragged for extra yards on a couple of plays.
Penn State chose not to go directly at Jenkins for much of the game and they did a good job of neutralizing his effectiveness. Chekwa turned in a solid game, but Donald Washington had two huge pass interference penalties. I'm not going to say that Washington's second interference call directly resulted in a touchdown because Royster had ripped off a nine yard run right before that, but it certainly didn't help matters.
The defensive backs did a great job of shutting down the Lion receivers -- Williams, Butler and Norwood combined for just 28 receiving yards -- but they were handcuffed by the staff when zone was called. This was most evident on the 49 yard catch out of Graham Zug (seven receptions coming in) against zone coverage to setup Penn State's only first half points.
I don't remember seeing Nathan Williams in the game and Sabino was interestingly in the game for the goal line package before Penn State scored their only touchdown, but nothing too surprising outside of that. You just hope that the man vs. zone light will finally go off in the WHAC.
It's really a shame to lose a game like this considering the defense played absolutely lights-out, but this one's going down easier than most. For one thing, the Buckeyes lost to a quality opposition and they were one play away from victory. I also feel like a weight is off our chests. No more daram or national hate about the MNC race and the team can get back to playing good ball and we can sit back and watch the evolution of one Mr. Terrelle Pryor. He's going to have games like this, but not too many more of them.
Aside from finding out that Pettrey is most definitely the new starting kicker for field goals, and Flash should have been returning kicks (two for 71) from the start of the season, it was an uneventful night for the special teams units. Pettrey was 2/2, Trapasso put three of his five punts inside the Lion 20 and Ray Small had a near muff on one punt, while he fell backward like a zombie when catching another. Just kind of meh.
Pryor suffered his first loss as a starter, but finished with a career-high 226 yards through the air... Robiskie (33 regular season games) and Hartline (27 games) both kept their consecutive game with receptions streak alive... Sanzenbacher's 53 yard catch was a career high as were his six receptions and 82 total yards... The Buckeyes were the first team to hold the Lions to under 20 points this season and their 281 yards of total offense was 200 less than what they had been averaging this season... The JHC was honored at halftime for his induction into the College Football HoF and I blame him for Pryor's fumble.