Big plays and Penn State miscues helped OSU jump out to a 27-9 third quarter lead today, but it wasn't enough as Penn State rallied behind redshirt freshman QB Zack Mills (left, #7, AP Photo/Chris Gardner) to take a 29-27 win and give Joe Paterno the all-time coaching wins record for Division I college football.
The results were frustrating. Despite the fact that Penn State was coming off a big win over Northwestern in which they looked much improved, the Nittany Lions were 1-4 coming in to the game, and Buckeye fans expected a win. Things looked good -- at least for a brief moment -- for that to happen, but the resilient Mills and a defensive performance that ranks as the year's worst (giving up a whopping 508 total yards of offense) helped Penn State stay in the game and eventually come back to win.
The scoring started early for Ohio State. After Penn State took the opening kickoff and then was forced to punt shortly after (in a drive that was led by the starting QB Matt Senneca, who, unfortunately, did not return after this drive), Steve Bellisari fired the ball deep downfield to Michael Jenkins for a 66-yd TD on the first OSU offensive play of the game. Mike Nugent added the PAT. But in a sign of things to come, Zack Mills entered the game at QB and moved PSU downfield deep into OSU territory. However, OSU was able to hold PSU to a 27-yd Robbie Gould field goal on that drive.
OSU got the ball back and was forced to punt after a few plays, and then PSU drove down again, but was held to another field goal, this time from 46 yards. OSU was again forced to punt on their next possession, but on the first play of the next PSU drive, Cie Grant picked off an ill-advised Zack Mills pass that was forced by the pressure of Joe Cooper. Grant's INT return set up OSU at PSU's 39-yard line, and OSU drove down inside the red zone, but they could not punch it in and settled for a Mike Nugent 28-yard FG. PSU answered on the next drive though as Robbie Gould nailed another 46-yard field goal, making it 10-9.
On OSU's next drive, the Buckeyes drove down to PSU's 35, and then in a call that some people have questioned, OSU elected to try a 52-yard field goal instead of go for it on fourth down. Josh Huston missed the attempt. PSU could not counter though, and was forced to punt on their next drive. The Buckeyes then got the ball back and things did not look good as it was 3rd and 15, but then a running play to Maurice Hall got OSU a first down. On the next play, Bellisari hit Jenkins again, this time for 68 yards, but this time, Jenkins fell short of the end zone, going down at the 1 yard line. Things still looked good for OSU, but with 1st and goal at the 1, OSU could not punch it in and had to settle for a Mike Nugent 19-yard field goal. This made the score 13-9, and it stayed that way at the half.
OSU opened the second half with a bang as on the second play, Jonathan Wells bolted up the middle for a 65-yard TD run. The Nugent PAT made it 20-9. Lightning struck again on the ensuing Penn State drive as a tipped pass was intercepted by Derek Ross and taken 43 yards for the TD. The PAT made it 27-9, and it looked like it would be all Buckees.
However, on the next drive, Zack Mills would make a play of huge importance. PSU started with the ball on their own 35, and after a 4-yard loss on the first play, Zack Mills took the ball on a 2nd and 14 and ran all the way for a 69-yard score. PSU tried for a 2-point conversion and failed, but this play put the Lions back in the game as quick as they were taken out of it.
OSU was forced to punt on the next drive, and a bad punt gave PSU good field position, but the Lions could not do anything with the ball and sent it back to OSU. But on OSU's next drive, things started well as the Buckeyes were driving but took a turn for the worse when Lydell Ross fumbled the ball back to Penn State. It took two passing plays for PSU to get back down the field in hurry and score. The 26-yard pass from Mills to Tony Johnson made it 27-22. On the next drive, OSU went three and out, but a great 60-yard punt pinned PSU back at their own 10-yard line. But PSU would drive, and to open the fourth quarter, Zack Mills made a great play as the ball was snapped over his head, but he ran it down and completed a pass to TE R.J. Luke which went deep into OSU territory. Mills then hit Eric McCoo for a 15-yard TD, and it was 29-27.
There was plenty of time left in the game, but things didn't go well on the next drive as a Bellisari pass floated and was picked off by Penn State. The Lions then went three and out, but on the punt, Chris Gamble let the ball hit at the 20 and then saw it roll all the way to the 2-yard line, where it was downed by Penn State. The Buckeyes went 3 and out and punted it back to PSU. PSU looked to be driving for a knockout punch, but a key sack by Darrion Scott forced PSU to try a 48-yard FG, which was missed. On the next drive, OSU took the ball from their own 31 and drove the ball down to PSU's 20, but OSU could not go much further and was forced to try a 35-yard Mike Nugent field goal, which was blocked. PSU got the ball back on their own 20, and OSU had time to stop the Lions and get the ball back, but on a third and long, Zack Mills ran for 35 yards, putting one last dagger in the heart of the Buckeyes. That was all she wrote.
So what went wrong? Well, Jerry Rudzinski summed it up well by saying that this was a team loss. But one place to start is the defense. The OSU defense had their worst game of the year, giving up 508 total yards and 29 points to a team that barely had over 30 combined points in their first four games. Most of it came from Mills, as he threw for 284 yards and 2 TDs (17 for 33) and ran for 141 yards on 15 carries and 1 TD. But it is indeed a team loss, as every area (except maybe WR) seemed to have a problem or miscue. Jonathan Wells and Michael Jenkins had fine efforts on offense as Wells ran for 143 yards and a TD on 19 carries and Jenkins had 168 yards receiving and a TD on four catches. But it wasn't enough as the offensive line and Steve Bellisari had shaky afternoons. Bellisari went 8 for 21 for 207 yards and 1 TD and 1 INT, but it definitely wasn't all his fault today.
Congrats and credit are due to Penn State, who played a fine game and got a big victory. There's little question that they deserved to win. But this was still a game that OSU could have won, and it is frustrating to go back and review the missed opportunities and miscues that did in the Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes are now faced with a tough road ahead. They face four teams in a row that will be hard to beat. First off, Minnesota and Ron Johnson will be hosting OSU next week. After that, Purdue comes to town, and then Illinois, and then the finale at Michigan. That road will not be easy.
Where the team goes from here will be anyone's guess, but hopefully, the Buckeyes will be able to pick it up and have a strong November. This one is hard for everyone to swallow, but let's not close up shop here. However, there's some work to be done around the shop before the Buckeyes can be open for business once again.