No. 1 Too Much for the Nittany Lions

Penn State has no answers for the top-ranked Buckeyes in a 37-17 loss at Beaver Stadium. The Lions fall to 6-3 on the season and 3-3 in the Big Ten.

Before Ohio State visited University Park on Saturday night, it had been 18 years since Penn State played host to a No. 1-ranked opponent.

After it was all over, a question seemed to linger in air as it whistled through a vacant Beaver Stadium:

Why the big rush?

The Nittany Lions and their followers could no doubt have gone a lot more than 18 years for an experience like this. Their defense was manhandled and the offense moved the ball only sporadically in a 37-17 loss to the top-ranked Buckeyes. As a result, a season that seemed on the verge of reclamation has once again gone awry.

“We couldn’t stop them,” PSU coach Joe Paterno said. “That’s a good football team. They played really well. I thought at halftime we had a shot at it because they were kicking off to us. But we couldn’t make it happen.”

The Lions fell to 6-3 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten, while Ohio State did much to advance its hopes of playing in the BCS championship game for the second consecutive season, improving to 9-0 and 5-0 in the conference. Said Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel, “We did a good job of controlling the tempo of the game with our offense.”

Indeed, the defensive struggle that many envisioned didn’t materialize. Both teams were able to move the ball, and Ohio State moved it with ruthless efficiency.

Faced with only minimal pressure, quarterback Todd Boeckman completed 19 of 26 passes for a career-high 253 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked only once as Ohio State clamped down on the nation’s most sack-happy defense.

“It felt like it was seven guys against five,” Penn State defensive end Josh Gaines said. “They max-protected, did a good job. They hung in there. They knew what they were doing when they came in here, they had a good game plan, and they stuck with it.”

Meanwhile, Chris and Maurice Wells found big holes on the ground and bashed away for all but 12 of Ohio State’s 200 rushing yards.

All told, the Lions allowed Ohio State to convert 12 of 16 third downs and to hold the ball for just under 38 minutes. They did not force a single punt.

The game got off to a strange start as the two supposedly defense-oriented teams combined to score on their first three possessions.

Penn State scored the first first-quarter touchdown of the season against Ohio State as Rodney Kinlaw used a big block from fullback Dan Lawlor to sprint into the end zone from 2 yards out.

Ohio State responded with a 60-yard pass from Boeckman to Ray Small. It was the longest play from scrimmage against the Lions this season, and it led to a 9-yard touchdown pass to Brian Robiskie to give the Buckeyes a 10-7 lead.

Ohio State took control of the game in the second quarter with a 91-yard, 15-play touchdown drive that ended with a 16-yard screen pass to Brian Hartline on third-and-14.

The Lions looked as though they might cut into Ohio State’s lead just before the half, but Paterno decided to punt on fourth-and-2 at the Buckeyes’ 38.

“We weren’t playing that good on defense, and I knew we were going to get the ball to start the second half,” Paterno said. “I thought about going for it, but I knew they were going to kick off to us and I thought if we went in at 17-7, we still had a good shot at it.”

The decision apparently didn’t sit well with Penn State’s offensive players.

“There’s no team in America that does not want to stay out there and go for it,” quarterback Anthony Morelli said. “That is Coach Paterno’s call. That is his decision. He gets paid for that. That’s all on him, not us.”

The Buckeyes maintained control in the second half, scoring touchdowns on a 15-yard pass from Boeckman to Jake Ballard and a 24-yard Malcolm Jenkins interception return. They also scored on Ryan Pretorius’s second and third field goals of the evening.

Penn State managed only a 27-yard Kevin Kelly field goal and a 97-yard kickoff return by A.J. Wallace.

It wasn’t nearly enough.

“They were really efficient,” receiver Deon Butler said. “Efficient on offense, efficient on defense. You have to bring your ‘A’ game to beat them. They are nothing spectacular, just a solid football team. And we didn’t bring our ‘A’ game.”


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