If 37-17 looks bad, it really wasn’t that close. Ohio State was just better in every respect. They controlled the ball, made few mistakes, and thoroughly dominated the Nittany Lions in front of a hostile crowd of 110,000+. Before this Turkey starts grumbling about certain aspects of the Penn State performance, I have to state that the Buckeyes deserve unfettered credit for a well played and well coached game.
Twenty-four first downs to the Nittany Lions’ 14; 37:52 time of possession to PSU’s 22:08; 453 yards to 263—these are statistical indications of domination. The worst of it is that the Buckeyes didn’t even seem to work up a sweat in thrashing the Lions. Except for a single turnover, they played a mistake-free game while keeping Penn State on its heels all night long.
At first, it appeared that Penn State would have a chance, as the Lions engineered a well played 9-play, 78-yard drive in the first quarter for a touchdown that would provide the Lions’ only lead of the evening. The drive involved passing on first and second downs, something we have seen succeed in the past few weeks. However, after this touchdown, it seemed as if the offensive brain trust decided to tighten up the proverbial anal sphincter, reverting to the run until desperation time in the fourth quarter.
The next opportunity for conservative clamping of the offense occurred with 1:10 remaining in the second quarter. Ohio State was up 17-7, but Penn State had the ball on the OSU 38, fourth down and two yards to go. It could have been an opportunity to end the half on a high note and preserve the White Out crowd’s rambunctiousness. A touchdown at the end of the first half would have brought the score to within a field goal. Alas, the decision was to punt the ball. Ohio State then took the ball, got a first down on the ground and took one shot at a big play from Boeckman to Robiskie. Fortunately for Penn State, the pass fell incomplete, and the Buckeyes just ran out the clock.
In the third quarter, with Ohio State up 24-7, the Lions put together another drive that would get them into the red zone. In my family room—better known as “the cave”—several shrieks of sheer terror punctured the tense night air. Penn State was in the red zone. Oh my God—how will they screw it up this time? Sure enough, they couldn’t get the ball into the end zone. The first play from the OSU 8 was a run up the middle, predictably stuffed for a two-yard loss. Did they really think it would work? Then, the Three Stooges decided to pass, but passes to Butler and Bell fell incomplete. Enter Kevin Kelly for yet another chip-shot field goal that should have been a touchdown. It succeeded and brought the Lions back to within two touchdowns, with red zone ineptitude reconfirmed.
Early in the fourth quarter, Ohio State added a field goal. Then, it came—the signature moment of a game that was already out of hand, which would subsequently break that game wide open and put redemption out of reach for the Nittany Lions. It was the ugliest interception this Turkey has ever seen. Who knows what Morelli was thinking when he threw that pass that was intercepted by Malcolm Jenkins at the 24 and run in for a touchdown. It appeared to be thrown right to the surprised OSU cornerback. Morelli went to the bench hanging his head, knowing that the game was lost. With 9:36 left, it was Ohio State 34, Penn State 10.
Morelli made three obvious mistakes in this game and this was by far the ugliest. His fumble in the first quarter was quickly covered by Quarless, and his only other major mistake was taking a sack when he should have thrown the ball away. All in all, it wasn’t an awful day for Morelli until the ugly interception happened, an interception that will linger in Morelli’s memory forever. And we will replay it again and again in our minds—albeit unfairly—when we think back to this game.
Daryll Clark replaced Morelli at quarterback for the next Penn State drive, which ended abruptly with Jordan Norwood coughing up the pigskin at the Penn State 39. This eventually resulted in the final points of the evening for the Buckeyes, a 35-yard field goal.
The ensuing kickoff generated a little too-little/too-late excitement as speedy A.J. Wallace took the ball at the 3 yard-line and ran it back 97 yards for a touchdown that would provide the Lions’ final points in the game. This might have represented the Buckeyes’ only major mistake of the game. If they had kicked the ball to Derrick Williams, he would have been tackled at the 12.
As for our defense, you know it let us down. I should not have to say much. In the secondary, both Lydell Sargeant and Justin King were regularly lit up, but putting the blame completely on them is unfair. The defensive line was able to put absolutely no pressure whatsoever on Boeckman. The OSU offensive line is that good. The hitherto vaunted Maurice Evans was basically invisible. Furthermore, starting safety Tony Davis was sidelined, having undergone an appendectomy on Friday. He was replaced by Mark Rubin, making his second start. As for shutting down the run, the projected Beanie-bashing did not take place, as Chris “Beanie” Wells was able to run for 133 yards and his dreadlocked compadre, Maurice Wells added another 55.
Can I find any positives in Penn State’s performance? Yes. I believe that Andrew Quarless has come a long way, particularly in his blocking. And while Lawlor will not immediately step into Matt Hahn’s shoes, he did relieve some of the sting of Hahn’s departure. The offensive line did a pretty good job, too, against the formidable Buckeye defensive front seven. If the defense had played as well, 17 points might have been enough to make a game out of it.
And now, I must shift my attention to the Steelers, who will try to corral Ocho Cinco and Who’s Yo Mama. I’ll be back on Wednesday with some impertinent comments about the Nittany Lions’ next opponents, the Purdue Boilermakers. Will Morelli start?