The final score was 28-6, but the game between No. 1 Ohio State and visiting Penn State was much closer than the margin of victory indicated.
After PSU kicker Kevin Kelly made it a one-possession game (14-6) with 7:33 remaining, Ohio State's defense made sure the Buckeyes would remain unbeaten on a muddy, rainy day at Ohio Stadium Sept. 23, 2006.
The Nittany Lions had a chance to drive for a potential game-tying score, starting from their own 8-yard line after an A.J. Trapasso 53-yard punt. Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli converted a fourth-and-1 at the PSU 17, but the quarterback made a huge mistake when he attempted to connect with tight end Kevin Darling on a deep sideline route. The pass was underthrown and Malcolm Jenkins made a leaping catch to intercept the ball. The cornerback then eluded four different Nittany Lions on his way to a 61-yard touchdown with 2:31 remaining.
Morelli made things worse when Antonio Smith intercepted another pass during PSU's next drive. Smith raced down the sidelines 55 yards for the game's final score with 1:07 remaining.
"Whenever your defense holds people to six points, you ought to have a chance," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. "And when your defense scores two touchdowns, it's pretty darn good. Offensively, we didn't get things going – dropped a couple of balls and just didn't play with the consistency that we would like to.
"But our kids kept playing on all phases of the game. They never stopped fighting against a very good football team. Our guys just rose up. In the Big Ten, it's always a four-quarter game, and we won the four-quarter game."
PSU tailback Tony Hunt had 135 yards on 24 carries, but he was the only Nittany Lion to solve the Buckeye defense. Without Hunt's 147 yards of total offense, PSU gained only 101 yards.
"We thought we could run the ball against them like some other teams did earlier this season," Morelli said. "We had some success with it, too. But when we got behind late, we had to put points on the board. We were pressing at the end to get the ball in the end zone and just couldn't get it done."
The OSU offense had an off afternoon. Eventual Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith threw his first interception of the year, and the Buckeyes were held scoreless in the first half. Penn State led 3-0 at the break after getting a second chance at a late field goal. Morelli helped the Lions convert a couple of third downs and PSU had the ball at the OSU 9 with a first-and-goal. The Buckeye defense held, forcing a Kelly field-goal attempt with 0:03 remaining. His 23-yard attempt went wide right, but Jenkins ran into Kelly. That gave the PSU kicker another chance, which he converted from 21 yards.
Depending on who one believes, Tressel might have given an emotional speech during the break.
"Everyone was just trying to figure out what we needed to do from here," senior center Doug Datish said, "and then … Coach Tressel gave an inspiring speech and we went out and did our thing in the second half."
Replied Tressel: "There's some fiction out there."
Either way, the Buckeyes responded in the second half. The defense continued to contain the Nittany Lions, while the offense piled up 164 yards in the second half – nearly double its first-half total.
A 12-yard touchdown run by Antonio Pittman gave OSU the lead early in the third quarter. Pittman had another strong performance. He finished with 110 yards on 20 carries.
While Troy Smith had his shakiest performance of the season to date, he did provide one highlight-reel moment. He scrambled in the backfield while under pressure and bought himself enough time to find Brian Robiskie for a 37-yard touchdown to make it 14-3 early in the fourth quarter.
"You can't give up big plays in a game like this," PSU head coach Joe Paterno said. "But give the kid credit. Smith made a super play when he got away from our guy and threw that pass right on the button."
Troy Smith finished with a 12-for-22 passing performance for 115 yards. He was also intercepted twice, his first interceptions since the second quarter of OSU's game vs. Northwestern in 2005. It ended a streak of 153 attempts without an interception.
Sophomore linebacker James Laurinaitis once again led the OSU defense with 10 tackles, including four solo stops. He also added his third interception of the season. Senior defensive tackles Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson combined for 12 tackles. Fellow defensive tackle Joel Penton had a career-high four tackles, and Antonio Smith had a career-high in tackles with seven.