The Buckeyes lost that early-season showdown with the Trojans 35-3, but Ohio State was still in the game deep into the second quarter. A major turning point came when the Buckeyes were driving deep into USC territory while only trailing 14-3. Starting from its own 24-yard line, OSU drove to the Trojan 32 before a pair of penalties forced a field-goal attempt that sailed wide right. Sanzenbacher committed one of those penalties, a holding call that negated much of a nifty catch-and-run by fellow receiver Ray Small that put the ball inside the USC 5. After Sanzenbacher's penalty moved the ball to the 26, another holding call on Ben Person moved the ball back to the 31. Kicker Ryan Pretorius missed a 46-yard field goal three plays later.
The series changed the complexion of the game. The Trojans added a touchdown before halftime on another miscue – a Todd Boeckman pass that was returned by USC linebacker Rey Maualuga for a 48-yard touchdown – and the game was essentially out of reach.
"It's always very important to not have mistakes like that," Sanzenbacher said. "Especially in big games because that's usually how it you lose big games – by shooting yourselves in the foot."
The Buckeyes' collective feet have been full of holes in recent years. Ohio State has dropped five straight games against top-10 opponents – Florida (2007 BCS National Championship Game), LSU (2008 BCS National Championship Game), USC (2008 regular season), Penn State (2008 regular season) and Texas (2009 Fiesta Bowl) – and penalties and turnovers have been a problem in most of them. With the exception of the losses to the Gators and Longhorns, Ohio State committed more penalties and lost the turnover battle in each loss. Against Florida, Ohio State committed more turnovers but fewer penalties. Texas had more penalties and turnovers in the Fiesta Bowl.
|Opponent||Turnovers (OSU-Opp.)||Penalties/yards (OSU-Opp.)|
Against USC last season, the Buckeyes committed a whopping 10 penalties for 78 yards and turned the ball over three times, compared to only one take away forced by the OSU defense. Things seemed to snowball against Ohio State against the Trojans. USC dominated the second half on both sides of the ball, and the Buckeyes seemed to lose their composure. Ohio State was flagged for two personal fouls after the break as USC added a pair of touchdowns.
Keeping their cool is something the Buckeyes will have to do on Saturday if they are to avenge last season's lopsided loss.
"I think you have to have a short memory in big games like this," Sanzenbacher said. "We have to understand that things are going to up and down, but you have to keep an even keel and keep working."
In order to beat the Trojans, the Buckeyes know they need to limit miscues.
"That's the thing that we can't do – have penalties," running back Daniel "Boom" Herron said. "We have to execute and not have penalties and not have turnovers."
Even though it's been a big part of Ohio State's recent big game struggles, senior Aaron Pettrey said it has not been discussed among the team.
"We haven't had put too much talk into it," Pettrey said. "I think everybody knows we've made mistakes. We've shot ourselves in the foot in big games. There hasn't been too much talk. I guess people know it's in the back of their minds. We've just got to go out there and play a solid game."
Saturday's game will be a big opportunity for Ohio State to put the previous mistakes in big game losses in the past and silence its critics.
"No one thinks Ohio State can win the big one right now, and I think this is the time we can show that we have the ability to win those games," Herron said.
Cutting down on mistakes would be a big step toward doing just that.