As I write this while sitting in a traffic jam that even Los Angelinos would be proud of, I marvel that Ohio State fans were able to walk out of Beaver Stadium. Not because Penn State folks were inhospitable but rather because I wonder just how many more games like this the Buckeye faithful can actually take before they are incapacitated.
Congratulations to both teams for a fabulously entertaining football game.
Give credit to Lydell Ross. He ran like a man possessed against Penn State. Yes, there were some holes that were larger than the ones in the ozone layer created by the line. However, at other points Ross gained big yardage almost all on his own. Without the turnover for a touchdown by Krenzel, Ross' running might have effectively ended this game early.
When talking to Ross this week, he made it clear that he wanted to run harder each game. He wanted to show more determination than against Indiana. He did exactly that. He and the offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage and ultimately, that was the difference between winning and losing. Clearly, there is a good deal of progress being made on that side of the football.
Coming into tonight, Mills had been anything but consistent. Against the Buckeyes, he played like an All American, like the Zach Mills of old. His passes were crisp and on target. He worked through his progressions. He ran like a star tailback. In short, he played magnificently.
Perhaps the most telling indicator of his play against Ohio State was his savvy toss on the screen with less than a quarter remaining. After establishing that they could and would continue to burn Dustin Fox to a crisp on the wide side of the field Mills looked hard into that direction again. This brought the Buckeye defense rushing over to try and minimize the damage. Then, Mills spun around quick as lightning and tossed a strike for a huge gain to McHugh on a screen play that moved Penn State into field goal position. Without a shoe string tackle by Fox, Mills' moves might have given the Lions another touchdown.
Ohio State nearly handed this game to Penn State. Within minutes of starting the game, Krenzel went to tuck the ball and run and actually knocked the ball out of his own hands. Were it not for a solid play on the part of a trailing Shane Olivea who recovered the pigskin, Ross never gets a chance to bull the ball into the end zone on his first touchdown.
Then, the most memorable play of the game occurred on a late pass attempt intended for Michael Jenkins. Not one but two Penn State defenders were ready to step in front of the throw. As it was, the prize interception went to left cornerback Alan Zemaitis. Krenzel attempted to cut off Zemaitis, but #21 brilliantly moved away from the sideline as he ran. This left him room to maneuver and make a stutter step that froze Krenzel and left his jock on the field.
Before Ohio State fans prepare their rope or brew up some tar to go with the feathers, I think two things should be mentioned.
First, though I am no coach, and they know more about football in their pinky finger than I do in my whole body, I have to question the lack of adjustment. It reached the point where the Ohio State fans in the section I sat in were screaming on third down, "Hey! That's ok. Just find the man on Dustin Fox and throw to him!" If it was that obvious from the second deck 76 rows up, then I find myself asking why the Buckeye coaches refused to roll a safety over with a nickel or even dime package to help Fox. It is the job of the coaches to put him in a position to succeed. If they do not, then it is not the fault of the player who clearly is doing his best not to be beaten.
Second, give Dustin some credit. He never gave up. Despite being placed on an island against a player he was struggling to cover, he eventually beat his man and came up with the interception.
Penn State Atmosphere
Penn State should be congratulated. Not only is the university set in a picturesque valley among the mountains, but they have worked hard to create a wonderful tailgating environment. Where most Buckeye tailgaters find themselves setting up on pavement in a parking lot or parking garage, fans at Lions games park their cars on rolling, grassy hills.
Then there are the fans. Unlike the Wisconsin game experience that is ruined by the crass and vulgar behavior of their fans, Penn State followers are courteous and kind to visitors. Following the game there were no people dressed in opposing colors running up to scream, "F--- THE BUCKEYES!" in anyone's face. Instead, Penn State and Ohio State fans were shaking hands and wishing one another good fortune the rest of the way.
Happy Valley is a place that you can take your family and feel safe, enjoy the scenery, and enjoy the game --win or lose.
If there was one gripe for Ohio State fans at the game, it was that the Penn State scoreboard continued to flash the play where Craig Krenzel was injured as one of their ‘highlights.' While Joe Paterno showed real class in walking out to check on Krenzel's condition, even bending down.
The man is a legend. Yes, he probably should have walked away after 1999. Yes, his teams are not what they once were. Yes, the recruiting at Happy Valley is suffering with the uncertainty about his future.
However, the reality is that he can still coach. What staff did the better job Saturday is open to discussion. I would even suggest that the Lions' coaches outperformed their counterparts with a variety of plays to eke out 20 points against Ohio State, becoming only the second team in two full seasons to manage that in regulation.
JoPa should be allowed to leave on his terms.
From a personal perspective, I would love to see Paterno announce his retirement following the 2004 season. This would allow him to be sent out with the respect and honor he so highly deserves.
Both teams have a legitimate gripe after this game.
This referee crew should be taken behind the woodshed with both teams raffling off chances to lay a lick on them. The number of missed calls, poor spots, and just plain poor game management is disgraceful. On at least two occasions, Ohio State defenders forced the ball out of Penn State hands and yet were not credited with a fumble recovery or even a forced fumble. Meanwhile, Penn State would eventually score on both of those drives. Then there was the phantom Ben Hartsock catch on the Ohio State drive to score their touchdown (and the missed pass interference against the Lions on that same play). Or how about the missed holding against Will Smith while the referees called pass interference against Ohio State? In the third quarter, Donnie Johnson for PSU had his knee down when he caught the ball, and yet the officials did not blow the play dead. Question, what if he or Zach Mills had been injured after that point in the play? Was it just me, or did McHugh somehow gain two extra yards after his knee was down on the screen play in the fourth quarter? Is the camera lying when it shows that Ohio State should have been faced with a third and one with only half of the fourt quarter remaining instead of third and two when their drive stalled? Last I checked, pass interference should be called when a Penn State receiver is hit before the ball arrives like occurred late in the game. Yaacov Yisrael intercepted that pass from McMullen. It was the ground that knocked the ball out. The difference was only three yards (actually in favor of Penn State) after the OSU punt, but it was still a bad call.
I could go on, but mercifully I won't.
Rarely will I call attention to the job of the referees. Their job is difficult enough as it is without everyone piling on because they think they are an expert. However, given their job performance Saturday, the (negative) attention is well deserved. These referees were beyond poor. Putrid might be a better description. I blame much of the missed calls and no calls on this fad where almost no penalties are called so that they can ‘let the players play.' By taking this step, the referees go beyond the bounds of their authority and simply refuse to do their job.
Note to the referees this season, either do the job or let someone with the guts to call the necessary penalties do it for you.
Both teams were cheated of legitimate calls last night, and that is completely unfair.
Penn State Kicking Game
It doesn't get much better than what the Penn State kickers showed Saturday afternoon.
I counted at least three kickoffs by the Lions that went through the goalposts. Talk about a leg. With or without the wind behind him, that takes a foot like a cannon.
Then there was the final field goal attempt. With another five yards, Penn State is celebrating an incredible upset victory. After the last play, loyal fans from both teams stood stunned. Why? Because everyone knew that David Kimble very nearly nailed the kick.
These position players quite simply played their hearts out. Santonio Holmes ran solid routes and came up with clutch catches not only to stretch the Nittany Lion defense, but he also turned into a possession receiver near the goal line with less than two minutes remaining.
Then there is Michael Jenkins. All season long, Jenkins has found himself on the receiving end of double teams, errant passes, and more clutching and grabbing than a boy band in a mob of teenage girls. Scott McMullen simply tossed the football to the corner of the end zone knowing that someone was likely to come down with the football. Maybe it would be Jenkins. Maybe it would be a Penn State defender. Michael Jenkins simply climbed the ladder and decided that he wanted the football more. That play and that determination, more than anything else Saturday meant the difference between victory and defeat.