Saturday, Nov. 19
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC (ESPN mirror)
Ohio Stadium; Columbus, Ohio
The Nittany Lions
Ranking: 21st AP, 21st coaches, 19th Harris, 21st BCS
Interim head coach: Tom Bradley, 0-1, first year
2010 record: 7-6 (4-4 Big Ten, tied for fourth place)
Series mark: Ohio State leads 14-12
School location: State College, Pa.
Colors: Blue and White
Stadium: Beaver Stadium
Fight song: "Fight On State"
It's almost impossible to think about this game and not think of the changes to hit the rivalry over the past 12 months.
Almost one year before this year's game to the day – Nov. 13, to be exact – legendary coaches Joe Paterno and Jim Tressel matched their teams on the Ohio Stadium gridiron, with OSU emerging with a 38-14 comeback win.
This year, both programs have gone through a world of change, as everyone knows, with Tressel being forced out this summer and Paterno relieved of his duties last week thanks to the scandal surrounding the alleged child sex crimes around former PSU assistant Jerry Sandusky.
However, Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell said those two one-time titans of the sport won't be the focus of either squad once the ball goes in the air Saturday afternoon.
"Those are two people that won't be here," he said. "I'm sure Coach Bradley is focused on the 70 (players) that he's going to bring over here, and I'm going to be focused on the 105 that we'll dress."
Instead, the game will be about two programs that have defined the sport for so long.
"Ever since they came into the Big Ten it was a huge bonus," Fickell said. "There's the history that goes back and forth. We can both claim to have the greatest history in college football and this, that or the other thing, the greatest fans, the largest university. We might be one and two with the largest alumni associations in the world. There are a lot of big similarities and things, but truly on the field, we're very similar as well."
Actually getting on the gridiron is also a relief for the current players at Penn State, who returned to the field last Saturday with a close 17-14 loss to Nebraska under Bradley, the team's longtime defensive coordinator who is now in charge for the rest of the season.
"This has been a pretty tough time for everybody here at Penn State," senior defensive back Drew Astorino said. "It's a very tough situation to deal with. Myself and the team are handling it well. We feel horrible for the victims and their families. At the same time, the 125 guys on this team didn't have anything to do with what happened 10 years ago."
On the field, Penn State still controls its own destiny for the Big Ten Leaders Division crown. At 5-1 in the league, the Nittany Lions have a one-game lead on Wisconsin for first place, with the teams set to meet next weekend in Madison with the division title perhaps on the line.
The Nittany Lions, who saw a seven-game losing streak die at the hands of Nebraska, do boast one of the best defenses in the league. Though the offense has struggled, the defense has played well enough that Penn State became the first team in the Big Ten's 116-year history to win five consecutive conference games by 10 points or less when it won its first five conference games in that manner.
Offense In A Nutshell
Penn State has been far from an offensive juggernaut in 2011, topping 25 points in only three contests and entering the Ohio State game 11th in the league in scoring offense at 21.0 points per game. The team has only 24 touchdowns, second-to-last in the Big Ten.
"Penn State has always been a team that plays physical, always tries to establish the run," OSU safeties coach Paul Haynes said. "I think they have some good receivers out there and the quarterback is playing well for them. They have a lot of speed and a lot of size out there at the receiver spot, so those are the things that are going to pose a challenge for us to make sure we're sound in what we do."
Junior Matt McGloin enters the Ohio State game as the starter after having taken the initial snap in the last four games. A former walk-on, McGloin has completed 106 of 196 passes (54.1 percent) for 1,386 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions. Rob Bolden started the first seven games but has had a rough second campaign, as the former four-star prospect has completed only 43.1 percent (44 of 102) of his passes for 526 yards, a touchdown and four interceptions.
Running back Silas Redd has been one of the top rushers in the Big Ten this year, as he checks in fourth in the league with 105.9 yards per game. Overall, the former five-star prospect has rushed the ball 210 times for 1,059 yards (5.0 per carry) and seven touchdowns. He is fighting through an upper-body injury, though, leading to senior Stephfon Green getting 17 touches and two touchdown rushes vs. Nebraska. Penn State also has the services of sophomore Curtis Dukes (6-1, 237), a true hammer with 35 carries for 212 yards and a score, and 6-0, 226-pound junior Brandon Beachum. The Youngstown (Ohio) Cardinal Mooney product has 35 rushes for 118 yards.
The team's top receiving target is co-captain and three-year starter Derek Moye, a smooth athlete who just makes plays. This year, Moye leads the squad with 34 catches, 592 yards and three touchdowns despite missing two games with a foot injury. Junior Justin Brown has added 32 grabs for 423 yards and a score, while classmate Devon Smith has 21 catches, 333 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Andrew Szczerba tight is a good blocking presence and has added 11 grabs for 89 yards, while Suhey has chipped into the passing attack with 10 grabs including a touchdown.
Penn State's offensive line entered the season maligned but the squad has allowed only 12 sacks, the least in the Big Ten. It has helped that the same five players have started every game, and four of those players are seniors. The left side of the line is the most experienced and includes Quinn Barham, a senior left tackle who is one of the team's co-captains and has started 23 consecutive games. Next to him, senior guard Johnnie Troutman has started 29 career games. Junior Matt Stankiewitch is the youngster on the line but has slid into the center spot, while DeOn'tae Pannell and Chima Okoli start at guard and tackle, respectively.
Starters (12 listed):
QB 11 Matt McGloin, 6-1, 211
RB 25 Silas Redd, 5-10, 209
FB 37 Joe Suhey, 6-1, 222
WR 6 Derek Moye, 6-5, 210
WR 19 Justin Brown, 6-3, 214
WR 20 Devon Smith, 5-7, 155
TE 80 Andrew Szczerba, 6-6, 266
LT 67 Quinn Barham, 6-3, 304
LG 74 Johnnie Troutman, 6-4, 314
C 54 Matt Stankiewitch, 6-3, 299
RG 50 DeOn'tae Pannell, 6-5, 310
RT 52 Chima Okoli, 6-4, 293
K 30 Anthony Fera, 6-2, 215
KR 2 Chaz Powell, 6-1, 206
Defense In A Nutshell
The defense has carried Penn State's team throughout the season, as the Nittany Lions are third in the nation in scoring defense (12.9 points allowed) and eighth in yardage allowed (287.2 yards). Six of the team's 10 opponents have been held to 10 or fewer points, and Penn State has allowed only 14 touchdowns, best in the league by six. In addition, Penn State has forced 23 turnovers on the season, a mark that ties Michigan for the most in the league.
"We don't feel the pressure," senior tackle Devon Still said "I feel as a defense, that's your job, to get the ball back into the offense's hands as quick as possible. We go into every game with that mentality."
Still combines with Jordan Hill to form perhaps the best duo of defensive tackles in the league. A junior, Hill leads all Penn State linemen with 56 tackles on the year and has added eight tackles for loss, 3½ sacks, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Still is second in the Big Ten with 16½ tackles for loss among his 53 stops and has added four sacks, a forced fumble and a recovered fumble. The co-captain is a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player in the country, and was named a midseason All-American by Sports Illustrated, ESPN and CBS.
Senior Jack Crawford has started every game at right end, making 33 stops and 3½ sacks with a recovered fumble. Junior Sean Stanley and senior Eric Latimore split time at the other spot, with Stanley making 24 tackles and four sacks with three forced fumbles. Latimore has added 14 tackles, four TFL, two sacks and a forced fumble.
Penn State's linebacking corps was supposed to be led by Michael Mauti, but the junior and preseason All-Big Ten candidate suffered a knee injury vs. Eastern Michigan in September and is out for the season. The team's leading tackler by far is junior Gerald Hodges, an outside linebacker with 86 stops including 10 TFL, 4½ sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. Sophomore middle linebacker Glenn Carson has added 55 tackles in his first year as a starter, while senior Nate Stupar has taken over for Mauti and has 55 tackles, 4½ TFL, two picks and two fumble recoveries. Sophomore Khairi Fortt (6-2, 234) has added 27 tackles including four tackles for loss.
Drew Astorino plays the Hero position and is the quarterback of the secondary. A three-year starter with a team-high 37 career starts who also played as the team's nickel back as a freshman, the senior has 57 tackles, five tackles for loss and an interception along with six pass breakups. The free safety is senior Nick Sukay, who has 49 tackles and a team-high three interceptions. Sukay has 29 career starts.
Another veteran in the defensive backfield is senior cornerback D'Anton Lynn, who has started 34 career games. Lynn has 35 tackles, an interception and five pass breakups. Senior Chaz Powell starts on the other side of the field and has 31 stops and two interceptions. Corners Stephon Morris (5-8, 184), a junior, and freshman Adrian Amos (6-0, 205) have also gained playing time and have made 11 tackles apiece.
LE 90 Sean Stanley, 6-1, 246
LT 47 Jordan Hill, 6-1, 297
RT 71 Devon Still, 6-5, 310
RE 81 Jack Crawford, 6-5, 273
OLB 6 Gerald Hodges, 6-2, 234
MLB 40 Glenn Carson, 6-3, 239
OLB 34 Nate Stupar, 6-1, 234
LCB 8 D'Anton Lynn, 6-1, 208
FS 1 Nick Sukay, 6-1, 219
HERO 28 Drew Astorino, 5-10, 207
RCB 2 Chaz Powell, 6-1, 206
P 30 Anthony Fera, 6-2, 215
PR 19 Justin Brown, 6-3, 214
Five Fast Facts
1. Nine Nittany Lions – Astorino, Barham, Latimore, Okoli, Stupart, Suhey, Sukay, Szczerba and Troutman – have already received undergraduate degrees.
2. Five current Penn State players are the sons of former Nittany Lions letter winners. Fullbacks Suhey and Michael Zordich are legacies as Matt Suhey lettered from 1976-70 and Michael Zordich was a Nittany Lion from 1982-86. The story is the same at linebacker, as three players at that position are second-generation Lions. Mauti's dad Rich lettered in 1975-76, Stupar's father Steve did so in 1979 and sophomore reserve Mike Hull is the son of Tom Hull (1971-73).
3. Penn State has lost eight of nine trips to Ohio Stadium since joining the Big Ten. Meanwhile, the team with the higher ranking has won 18 of the last 20 meetings. Only in 2001 and '04 did the teams meet with neither boasting a national ranking.
4. With Paterno gone and wideouts coach Mike McQueary put on administrative leave, Tom Bradley has added two to the Penn State staff this week. Graduate assistants Elijah Robinson and Bill Kavanaugh have been moved up to help coach the defense and the receivers, respectively.
5. Kicker/punter Anthony Fera was recruited by Ohio State but originally pledged to Michigan before eventually settling on Penn State. This year he's made 12 of 15 field goals, including all 11 from inside 40 yards, while averaging 42.1 yards per punt.
Last Time Out
Ohio State seemed to be caught basking in an unusually warm November afternoon at Ohio Stadium last year, falling behind visiting Penn State by a 14-3 score at halftime.
But when the sun went down, the Buckeyes suddenly woke up.
Fueled by a huge fourth-down stop of the Nittany Lions just before halftime, they tallied five unanswered touchdowns – including two on interception returns – and wound up cruising to a 38-14 victory that kept them on pace for a sixth consecutive Big Ten championship.
It was the largest comeback for the Buckeyes in the Jim Tressel era, wiping out 10-point comebacks against Penn State in 2003 and Michigan State in 2005.
OSU moved its conference record to 5-1 and sat in a first-place tie with Wisconsin and Michigan State with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
"I thought the turning point was when we stopped them on fourth down in the second quarter," Tressel said after the game. "Our guys went out in the second half and took over, but it was fueled by how hard that defense fought to stop them there before halftime.
"We weren't a good first-half team (and) those are the facts. I guess we do a bad job during open weeks. I don't know. But they played their fannies off in the second half and we're awfully proud of them."
The Buckeyes appeared lethargic following their week off and allowed Penn State sophomore quarterback Matt McGloin to have free and easy reign over the proceedings early. McGloin completed 13 of 18 attempts in the first half for 141 yards and two touchdowns.
It was completely different story in the second half, however. McGloin was able to connect only twice in 12 attempts after the break for 18 yards. He also threw a pair of pick-sixes – a 34-yard return by OSU senior cornerback Devon Torrence and a 30-yarder by sophomore corner Travis Howard.
Those defensive touchdowns marked the fifth and sixth interception returns for the Buckeyes against Penn State in the last five home meetings. Malcolm Jenkins ran INTs back in 2006 and '07, Antonio Smith returned one in 2006 and Tyler Everett returned an interception for a touchdown against the Nittany Lions in 2004.
While the Ohio State defense allowed 212 total yards in the first half, it completely clamped down on Penn State in the third and fourth quarters. The Nittany Lions managed only 60 in the second half.
Meanwhile, the OSU offense exploded for 306 of its 453 total yards in the second half. The Buckeyes got their ground game going big-time with 314 yards, including a career-high 190 from junior tailback Dan Herron, who carried 21 times and scored a touchdown.
Junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor completed 8 of 13 passes in the game for 139 yards, two touchdowns and an interception while chipping in with 49 yards rushing on nine carries. Senior tailback Brandon Saine added 46 yards on eight attempts.
For Penn State, senior tailback Evan Royster had his streak of 100-yard games snapped at two. He was limited to only 49 yards on 16 carries.
Defensively, the Buckeyes were led by sophomore safety Orhian Johnson, who matched his career high with eight tackles including the finishing blow on the big fourth-down stop in the second quarter. Senior safety Jermale Hines was also in on that crucial tackle just before halftime, one of seven stops he had in the contest.
Ohio State took the opening kickoff and quickly marched into the red zone thanks mostly by a 49-yard completion from Pryor to Posey. But after setting up with the first down at the PSU 12, the Buckeyes stalled and were forced to settle for a 26-yard field goal from senior kicker Devin Barclay at the 11:36 mark of the first quarter.
The remainder of the first half was all Penn State. The Nittany Lions went three-and-out on their first possession, but the second was a 10-play, 67-yard march that resulted in a 23-yard touchdown pass from McGloin to sophomore receiver Justin Brown. Senior kicker Collin Wagner tacked on the extra point, and Penn State had a 7-3 lead with 4:10 left in the opening period.
When the Nittany Lions got the ball back, they did even better. McGloin engineered an 11-play, 82-yard scoring drive that included the Penn State QB completing all three of his pass attempts. The third went for 6 yards and a touchdown to junior receiver Derek Moye, and after Wagner added the PAT, the Lions enjoyed a 14-3 lead with 11:23 left until halftime.
That was the way it stayed until the Buckeyes decided they'd had enough.
Penn State moved to the OSU 20-yard line with 1:46 remaining but was faced with a fourth-and-1. After calling a timeout to discuss his options, PSU head coach Joe Paterno elected to go for the first down but freshman tailback Silas Redd was stopped for no gain. That stop seemed to fuel the Buckeyes – especially on defense – and the Nittany Lions crossed into Ohio State territory only once more the rest of the game.
The momentum really began to change early in the second half. After forcing Penn State to punt away the third quarter's first possession, OSU embarked upon an 11-play, 96-yard touchdown drive that marked the longest march of the season. It actually encompassed 98 yards since the Buckeyes were called for a false start before the drive got under way, but once it did, Ohio State covered the distance in just over 5½ minutes.
Herron had a nifty 19-yard run early in the possession when he was stopped at the line of scrimmage and then bounced outside. Pryor followed one play later with a fake handoff to Saine and a run up the gut for 14 yards.
Later, Saine had his own highlight run when he swept around left end and broke five tackles on a 19-yard gainer that pushed the ball to the Penn State 5. From there, Herron blew through a huge hole up the middle for the touchdown. Barclay added the extra point and the Buckeyes had pulled within four at 14-10 with 6:33 remaining in the third quarter.
OSU erased the deficit altogether a little over two minutes later when Torrance stepped in front of Penn State running back Michael Zordich and picked off McGloin. The senior cornerback bobbled the ball three times before gaining control, and then made McGloin miss badly with a would-be tackle at about the 12-yard line.
Torrence galloped untouched into the end zone to complete the 34-yard interception return, and once Barclay had tacked on the PAT, the Buckeyes had forged their first lead of the game at 17-14 with 4:29 left in the third period.
The defense responded by forcing three-and-out series from Penn State on its next two possessions. The offense couldn't cash in the first time when Pryor threw an interception near the goal line, but it converted the second time when Pryor's deep ball meant for a double-covered Posey bounced directly into the arms of senior co-captain Dane Sanzenbacher for a 58-yard touchdown.
A scant 61 seconds later, the OSU defense struck again when Howard returned an interception 30 yards for his first career touchdown. Barclay hit extra points after both touchdowns and the Buckeyes had pushed their lead to 31-14 with 8:57 remaining in the game.
Ohio State added its final touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Pryor to tight end Jake Stoneburner with 3:59 remaining, a score that was set up by Herron's 47-yard bolt down the home sideline. The junior tailback carried five times during that 78-yard drive, and accounted for 70 of the yards.