Penn State's football tradition, stung by four losing seasons in the last five years, made a big comeback, indeed, Saturday night.
The 16th-ranked Nittany Lions notched their biggest win in recent memory, knocking off No. 6 Ohio State 17-10 before a crowd of 109,839 on a rainy but raucous night at Beaver Stadium.
"The long and short of it is we didn't do the things we needed to do to win a game against a good opponent in their stadium," said OSU coach Jim Tressel.
Penn State (6-0, 3-0) took sole possession of the early lead in the Big Ten as Wisconsin, the conference's only other unbeaten coming into Saturday, dropped a 51-48 decision at Northwestern earlier in the day.
For PSU coach Joe Paterno -- whom many Lions fans have wanted to retire after the recent program lull -- it was another milestone win in a remarkable career.
"The thing I have always wanted with Penn State football was I wanted people to feel good not only about the winning but about the way we win," Paterno said. "The students were absolutely unbelievable. In all the years I have been here, I have never seen more spontaneous enthusiasm and wanting to help."
The Buckeyes now need a team to defeat PSU in order to have a chance at the Big Ten title. Tressel was asked where his team stands.
"The only place was always stand – we stand together," Tressel said. "I think that's what life is all about. We just have to work to get better tomorrow and the next day. We have to work to be the best Ohio State team we can be."
This was a defensive struggle as PSU ended up with 195 yards to OSU's 230.
"They were very simple and they executed well," Tressel said of the PSU defense. "They didn't play any funny coverages. I thought they executed well."
Quarterback Troy Smith was 13 of 25 passing for 139 yards and an interception for OSU (3-2, 1-1). He also rushed 19 times for a net of 15 yards and a touchdown. He lost a fumble on a hit by PSU's Tamba Hali with 1:21 left, ending OSU's last comeback chance.
"I'd have to say they were relentless," Smith said of the Nittany Lions. "They played as if they wanted it the whole game. I didn't press. I just wasn't as poised as I needed to be.
"Any loss is going to be tough. We practiced hard all week. But we came out and we didn't execute the way we needed to to get the victory. Hat's off to Penn State."
For Penn State, quarterback Michael Robinson was 11 of 20 passing for 78 yards. He also carried 14 times for 52 yards and a touchdown.
"This is definitely one of the highlights of my life and my career," Robinson said. "This football team definitely came out and wanted to show people some things, especially our defense. I think they stuck in there against a great offense."
Freshman Derrick Williams added a touchdown run for Penn State.
The OSU defense allowed just 74 yards in the second half. Unfortunately, the Nittany Lions already had all the points they needed to win the game.
"We played well in the second half and, as a defense, we're happy about that," said OSU linebacker Bobby Carpenter. "But we didn't get it done in the first half. We missed tackles on all levels. We could have played a lot better in the first half. We got done and we couldn't recover."
Ohio State notched the game's first points with a 12-play, 44-yard march on its second possession. Smith hit Stan White Jr. for an 11-yard gain and Pittman for 12 more on a screen. But on third-and-9 at the 18, Smith was flushed and tried to run for it. He was corralled at the 13, setting the stage for Josh Huston's 30-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead with 6:31 in the first quarter.
Penn State drove 74 yards in nine plays to its first touchdown early in the second quarter. Hunt ripped off a 25-yard run on a draw, breaking several tackles. Robinson then had a 16-yard scamper down to the OSU 13. On first down there, Williams lined up at tailback. He took a pitch right, cut outside and scored easily on a 13-yard run to put PSU up 7-3 with 10:28 left in the first half.
With Beaver Stadium now at a fever pitch, things went from bad to worse for Ohio State. Smith threw errantly between Ted Ginn Jr. and Antonio Pittman down the middle on third-and-16 from the OSU 14. PSU safety Calvin Lowry made the easy interception, returning it 36 yards down the 2.
"I saw Ted coming under on the post," Smith said. "It was a bad decision. I shouldn't have even looked that way because there was so much congestion. I should have stayed on the front side."
The Lions needed three plays to punch it into the end zone. Robinson did the honors on a 1-yard quarterback keeper, pushing the lead to 14-3 with 7:55 left in the first half.
Ohio State desperately needed some points before halftime and the Buckeyes got some with a 14-play, 81-yard march that lasted 7:13 of clock time and bled most of the remaining first half time. Smith hit Hamby for gains of 11 and 13 yards. He then converted a third down with a 5-yard pass to Santonio Holmes. Time was dwindling in the half as OSU faced second-and-3 at the PSU 10. Smith kept the ball going right and made a hard run, culminating as he reached the ball across the plane of the goal line for the touchdown. The play cut the PSU lead to 14-10 and came with a scant 33 seconds left in the half.
Penn State had the ball to open the second half and moved 45 yards in 10 plays. Robinson was 3 of 5 passing on this possession for 24 yards. But his pass on third-and-3 at the OSU 24 was incomplete over Williams' head. Kevin Kelly's 41-yard field goal put the Lions up 17-10 with 11:10 left in the third quarter.
Late in the third, OSU moved 28 yards down to the PSU 33. But a pair of incompletions keft Huston to attempt a 50-yard field goal. His kick sailed just wide right with 1:58 left in the third quarter.
OSU mustered just one first down on its next three possessions as the Penn State defense proved tough.
The Buckeyes got the ball back after a PSU punt on their own 11-yard line with 3:37 left. That series was one last comedy of errors. Smith scrambled for 8 yards on first down, but it was negated by a holding penalty on Pittman. Smith was then sacked on the replayed first down, narrowly avoiding a safety. Then, the Buckeyes let the clock run all the way down to 2:19 before calling a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty.
Smith rallied with throws of 26 yards to Ted Ginn Jr. and 21 yards to Holmes and OSU moved inside PSU territory with 1:48 left. But on second-and-7 at the PSU 45, Smith was crushed by PSU's Tamba Hali on a frontside blitz. He fumbled the ball as he was going down and PSU's Scott Paxson recovered it at the OSU 48 with 1:21 left.
"Going from back on our own 5-yard line and then to get the ball rolling, then to have something like that happen it's just deflating," said OSU center Nick Mangold. "I don't know how it happened. I don't know how he got free."
Smith added, "The mood of the team was we've got to get the ball down into the red zone. We've got to get some points. Me being the quarterback, I solely have to take responsibility. There were some things I should have done within the scheme to get it done."
OSU only had one timeout left, leaving Penn State to run the remaining time out.
* Penn State regained the edge in the all-time series at 11-10. PSU snapped OSU's three-game winning streak in the series.
OSU still holds an 8-5 lead in the Big Ten series between the two "protected rivals" in a conference series that began in 1993. OSU trails the series at University Park, Pa., at 3-5 as well.
* Tressel dropped to 3-2 against PSU, while Joe Paterno's mark against OSU improved to 7-10.
* Right tackle Kirk Barton left the game in the first half with an injury. Initially, Rob Sims moved from left guard to right tackle and John Conroy replaced Sims at guard. In the second half, freshman Alex Boone saw action at right tackle and Sims moved back to guard.
* OSU hosts Michigan State next Saturday at noon (ABC regional telecast).
* The crowd was the second largest in Beaver Stadium history, trailing the mark of 110,753 set against Nebraska in 2002.
* OSU has now lost five of its last six games on the road in Big Ten play, a string that began with the 2003 loss at Michigan. OSU also has dropped a road night game in Big Ten play for the third straight year and also fell to 1-4 in games off an open week under Tressel.