Despite Bad Vibes, OSU Looks Forward To Trip

It's no secret Happy Valley has been anything but for Ohio State during the past number of seasons, including the Buckeyes' last trip in 2005. That year, a rowdy crowd egged PSU on to an upset win that announced the Nittany Lions resurgence. Expecting a similar atmosphere this time, the Buckeye players say they're looking forward to the trip.

Kirk Barton takes things personally.

Whether it is a writer picking against his team or a certain event to happen during a game, the Ohio State right tackle is never short on events that he can use as motivation for an upcoming game or season. So as the senior captain looks toward this week's clash with No. 24 Penn State (6-2), he can draw on a vivid memory of two years ago when the Buckeyes went to Happy Valley and suffered their last regular-season loss.

"I got hurt last time I went to Penn State, and I felt like that cost us the game because we had to put Alex (Boone) in as a true freshman and he wasn't really prepared for that environment," Barton said. "It was a difficult environment to play in. I've had this game circled for two years now and I'm excited to get out there."

Barton's injury was just one of the many things to go wrong for OSU during what was a 17-10 loss for the sixth-ranked Buckeyes over a 16th-ranked Nittany Lion squad that would have only one loss and win the Orange Bowl.

The Buckeyes allowed the Nittany Lions to take an early 14-3 lead with one of the scores coming off of a Troy Smith interception. From there, Penn State's staunch defense frustrated the Buckeye attack, especially with Barton out.

At the time, Barton was a sophomore who was starting at right tackle for the second year. During the contest at PSU, he suffered a knee injury that would keep him out for the next three games, forcing Boone, then a true freshmen, into the fire against a surging Penn State defensive front in one of the nation's loudest stadiums.

The results were predictably disastrous. Smith was under constant pressure and was sacked five times, the last one of which forced a fumble on OSU's last drive that sealed the win for the Nittany Lions.

If the experience was tough for Barton, Boone sounded as though it was in a similar vein for him, but now he is able to more properly prepare his teammates for what is sure to be a comparable atmosphere to 2005.

"I'm going to tell them this: You're walking into the gates of hell and you better be ready because this is a war," Boone said. "I don't care what anybody says, what the records are, what the rankings are. They are going to smack us right in the mouth and we better be ready to smack right back."

That trying trip to Penn State was more the rule than the exception for Ohio State during the past few seasons. In fact, Happy Valley might be more aptly named "Horror Valley" for the Buckeyes.

The Buckeyes' last visit before 2005 was a 2003 game in which No. 8 OSU snuck away with a 21-20 win over an unranked PSU squad thanks to a late touchdown pass from Scott McMullen to Michael Jenkins and Mike Nugent's corresponding point after.

OSU head coach Jim Tressel's first game in Beaver Stadium was a historic game for his opponent, Joe Paterno, who set the NCAA win record during a comeback 29-27 win by PSU.

Tressel's processor, John Cooper, didn't have much luck at PSU, either. His 1999 squad dropped a 23-10 game to No. 2 Penn State, and his seventh-ranked 1997 squad was beaten 31-27 by the second-ranked Nittany Lions.

One measure of revenge came in 1995, when the fifth-ranked Buckeyes upended No. 12 Penn State 28-25. That game came on the heels of a 63-14 drubbing laid on OSU by No. 1 Penn State a year earlier.

Despite the checkered history, a number of Buckeye players said they are looking forward to facing the Nittany Lions, not only for the chance to play in front of a rabid crowd but to ply their wares in a national spotlight that will include an on-site visit by ESPN's College GameDay.

"You go up there and you see everybody … it kind of gets me revved up," fullback Tyler Whaley said. "You're the bad guy for once. You kind of get that, ‘Let's rev it up and let's get after it.'"

"Anybody that plays football, they want to get a chance to play on a stage like this so a lot of guys are excited," wideout Brian Robiskie said.

Time will tell if the Buckeyes will think that way come Saturday night, or if Horror Valley will strike again.

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