COLUMBUS, OHIO, Sept. 23 — The #24 Nittany Lions (2–2, 0–1 Big Ten) outplayed the #1 Ohio State Buckeyes (4–0, 1–0 Big Ten) for the better part of three quarters before falling apart trying to clamber out of a hole in the fourth quarter, losing by a deceptive score of 28–6 before a hostile crowd of 105,266 in rain soaked Columbus.
You remember those old submarine movies? The little sub goes after the big battleship and stealthily fires a bunch of torpedoes. Suddenly, someone yells, “Runaway torpedo!” Yeah, that’s about what happened here. The Nittany Lions had the Buckeyes in their sights, right where we wanted them. Then, we shot ourselves in the foot. And then, we shot ourselves in the heart.
The Lions led 3–0 at the half and had the edge in almost all the stats for the entire game. We had a nearly 10 minute time of possession edge on the Buckeyes. But stats, as we all know, are for losers. Still, the improvements in the offensive line and the running game are worth noting. They did play their asses off against the superior Buckeyes, and while losing the war, they nevertheless won a lot of battles and showed us a lot of heart.
Alas, their failures came at the worst possible time. Threatening in the fourth quarter and down 14–3, the Lions drove down to the Buckeyes’ one yard-line. On third-and-goal, the line surge was insufficient to get BranDon Snow into the end zone. The decision was made to go for it on fourth down. Unfortunately, right guard Rich Ohrnberger jumped before the snap for a five-yard penalty, bringing out the field goal unit.
Now, Ohrnberger is inexperienced, particularly in view of the size of the crowd, and I do not place the blame 100% on his shoulders. I doubt that he could clearly hear the count because of the noisy crowd. The coaching staff deserves a great deal of the blame for not recognizing that the situation would come up and a silent count would be appropriate. Paterno has been talking about the crowd noise all week, so it should have been no surprise.
The other failures at crucial times are obvious, and the first of them could have cost this Turkey a replacement remote control for his Tivo when he flung it across the room upon seeing Morelli throw the first of his two fourth quarter interceptions, each of which was run back for a touchdown. Damn it, he still hasn’t learned to not focus on receivers. I’ve been talking about this since the Akron game, and if I can see it, the coaches sure as hell can. We should have seen some improvement by now. How predictable was it that if Morelli kept staring down his receivers, Big Ten safeties and corners would read his eyes and start jumping routes? Morelli’s weak statement about the first interception saying that he thought he had “put enough on it but obviously [he] didn’t” is all telling: he thinks that the answer to everything is zinging the ball in there at hypersonic speed. Well, Anthony, let the Turkey tell you something. Big Ten defensive backs have quick reactions and they can catch. These are not the McCabe sisters anymore. If you don’t want to get intercepted, stop telegraphing your intentions!
The return of the running game during the past two games has been encouraging. Tony Hunt, he of the exposed jock strap, had 24 carries for 135 yards against a tough defense. The sight of Hunt toward the end of the game, pants torn and muddy, presented the image of a battered but successful blue-collar running back. And while our still improving offensive line couldn’t manhandle the OSU goal-line defense, they were nevertheless able to create holes for Hunt and protect Morelli’s fragile brain.
Kevin Kelly is still riding his sophomore slump, which apparently started in the past post-season. His first field goal try of the day looked like something kicked by Charlie Brown after Lucy snatched the ball away, inspiring announcer Paul McGuire to sarcastically utter, “The coach needs to tell the kicker, ‘See that U-shaped thing up there? The ball needs to go through it, over the cross-bar.'” That snide remark added insult to injury. Kelly at this point does not look like a Big Ten kicker. Fortunately, after that clunker, a hapless Buckeye defender made the mistake of running into Kelly, giving him a second chance. This one, he made. For the rest of the game, he went one for two. Defending Kelly somewhat weakly in his postgame press conference, Paterno noted that he had been having some back problems.
Elsewhere in special teams, Jeremy Kapinos is back, and with a vengeance! This aspect of special teams performance had lapsed mysteriously, but it returned at the right time. The punter had 6 punts for 303 yards, for an average of 50.5 yards per punt, and a long punt of 68 yards. And the coverage was excellent, too, holding the vaunted Ted Ginn, Jr. to an average of 9.7 return yards.
Speaking of Ginn, the Nittany Lion defense did a great job of taking him out of the game. As Troy Smith’s favorite receiver, he had the potential of tearing us up, but pressure on Smith and tight coverage on Ginn resulted in the vaunted receiver being limited to two catches for fifteen yards. Great job, guys!
Alas, the backbreaking play was a touchdown pass from Smith to Brian Robiskie, just when it looked like Smith was hemmed in and about to be sacked for a loss. Eluding Tim Shaw and reversing field, Smith heaved a perfect, 37-yard pass to Robiskie in the end zone, breaking open what had been a tight, 7–3 game. That was the beginning of the end for Penn State.
The Lions followed with a good drive that sputtered on the one, as I mentioned above, and were only able to come away from it with three points. Trailing 14–6 late in the fourth quarter set up a desperate situation that called for the long ball, and that’s when Morelli threw two interceptions that each wound up being returned for touchdowns. Final score, 28–6. Those who didn’t see the game and just looked at the final score will never know how close Penn State was to winning this game. But in the end, it is a “W” for Ohio State and an “L” for Penn State.
This game was much like improbably making out with a hot babe who is way out of your league for three quarters of an hour and then when it’s time to go for it, you can’t get it up. You go home with blue balls lamenting opportunity lost while grousing the oft-quoted, saddest four words in the English language: “what might have been.”
So, Ohio State stays at #1 while the Nittany Lions sink to “others receiving votes.” Furthermore, to worsen the blow, the boys of Rutgers—that’s right, the Scarlet Knights—have essentially assumed PSU’s former position in the Top 25.
The good news is that this disgusted Turkey was able to pick up the pieces of his Tivo remote control and put it back together again.
The Lions must do the same.