The Columbus Post-Dispatch was replete with remorseful prose this morning, as its writers sorrowfully described the Ohio State Buckeyes’ (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) big loss to our Penn State Nittany Lions (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten). A distant echo of Robert Frost could be found in one lamentation about the big play that cost the Buckeyes the game: Pryor took the road less traveled, and it made all the difference.
Until the fourth quarter, the game was best described by my friend, Agent G. “This is like a Ravens game.” It was a defensive masterpiece in both blue and white and scarlet and gray. The old sportswriter’s metaphor about two heavyweight boxers feeling each other out, bobbing, weaving, jabbing, trying to spot an opening came to mind. First mistake costs big. There were no crucial mistakes in the first three quarters in a battle of field position in which Ohio State held the slight edge on the scoreboard, 6-3.
The first mistake that could have cost the game was a missed field goal by Penn State’s Kevin Kelly early in the fourth quarter. Fortunately, it didn’t. In The Turkey’s Cave, it was quiet, as the tensely rapt audience including Zbeard, Jackstand, and Artificially Sweetened concentrated on what was unfolding Panasonically on the big screen. After a second and two play in which Beanie Wells powered the ball for a yard leaving a third and one, this Turkey commented that no one had made a big mistake.
“Yet!” chimed in Artificially Sweetened.
That word was echoed by Zbeard, “Yet.”
Then it happened, right on cue. In a situation that should have been a practically automatic first down on the quarterback sneak called by the coaching staff, young freshman Terrelle Pryor, a lad with seemingly limitless potential who could have merely fallen forward for the first down behind the surge of his offensive line, thought he saw something. The Nittany Lions were “all pinched in” and all he would have to do was bounce to the outside for a big gain instead of playing good, fundamental football as his coaches wanted. So he thought, anyway. Pryor soon discovered that he was not in high school anymore, in much the same manner as another freshman Ohio State quarterback, Art Schlichter was welcomed to big-time college football in The Horseshoe in Penn State’s heretofore most recent win there, thirty years ago. In taking “the road less traveled” Pryor felt that he merely needed to get around Penn State safety Mark Rubin. Rubin knew he had to stop Pryor and he did, squaring up, meeting the kid, and knocking the ball loose in the process. The ball skittered around, eventually to be recovered by linebacker Navorro Bowman. Pryor went to the bench and hung his head in bemused shame. So much for freelancing, Kiddo.
Later, Pryor noted that he knew at the time he made the decision that he would take heat in the film room for it. This Turkey feels bad for the kid, because not only is he going to take heat in the film room, but he now has an entire state and a large collection of alumni on his ass. It was indeed a bad decision, a huge mental error, the kind that he’ll grow out of as his development progresses. However, it is not at all unfair to pin this loss on Pryor for defying his coaches.
“I can’t explain this,” he said. “I just didn’t hold the ball. I saw the end zone. It was there and the ball just fell out. I thought I was on my way to a touchdown but I just lost the ball. As soon as I fumbled it, I knew they would score.”
After the turnover, Pat Devlin entered the game to run the offense as Daryll Clark’s replacement. Clark’s bell had been rung in the previous series, and Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli diagnosed a concussion. Clark was upset about being benched, desperately wanting to get back into the game to direct the potential winning drive. However, it was not to be. Meanwhile, Devlin was stunned to be called upon. One of the guys asked him what was wrong with Clark. He said, “I have no idea. They just told me to go in.” Devlin performed flawlessly, mostly handing the ball to Evan Royster. A pass interference penalty gave the Lions the ball at the Ohio State 14. A few more handoffs and two quarterback sneaks later, the Lions hit paydirt, taking a 10-6 lead.
After a three-and-out by the Buckeyes, the Nittany Lions were deeply in Paternoesque Sphincter Mode. Slim lead, clock winding down, backup quarterback, hostile field—the conditions were ripe for it. Devlin safely handed the ball off to Royster six more times, interspersed with a two-yard quarterback sneak of his own, positioning the ball on the Ohio State 18. On fourth and four, Kevin Kelly added a three-pointer to increase Penn State’s lead to seven points with 1:07 on the clock.
Kelly’s kickoff sailed deep into the Ohio State end zone, setting up the Buckeyes’ final drive from their own 20. Pryor came out throwing. With the Penn State safeties dropped back in Sandusky Memorial Prevent Configuration, Pryor managed to complete two passes to Ray Small, moving the Buckeyes to the Penn State 43. Then, with 27 seconds left on the game clock, Pryor made his final mistake of the game, throwing deep toward the sideline near the Penn State end zone. Lydell Sargent was there to intercept the pass. Game, Penn State.
The Penn State passing attack never gained traction, as the Nittany Lions could muster only 121 passing yards to 160 rushing. However, the telling statistic is the Ohio State rushing total of 61 yards. By bottling up Beanie Wells and forcing Pryor to throw, the Lions flawlessly executed a well conceived game plan. Pryor did manage to rack up 226 passing yards.
The officiating was interesting, to say the least. In their pre-game meeting, the zebras must have agreed upon a new definition of holding in which nothing short of a full nelson or a bear hug would qualify for a penalty.
Most of us, especially this Turkey, were wrong about this game. The great Penn State offense did not put big points on the board. It was the defense that shone. Both defenses did. Both game plans were sound. It all came down to a single turnover. It was ironic that it was Ohio State’s turnover, not Penn State’s. In the game of the season, Penn State took care of the ball.
Joe Paterno won his 381st game, watching once again from the press box. The Columbus media were pretty cruel, snidely alluding to octogenarian somnolence. However, the best quote I could dig up was this one by Tim May, of the Post-Dispatch:
The Nittany Lions gave Joe Paterno career win No. 381 and showed that coaching life begins at 81. He’s going for it all. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes fade into the background.
With a bye week ahead of us, we’ll have some extra time to savor this victory and to allow Clark to recover from his concussion. Iowa is next, followed by Indiana and Moo U. If the boys can maintain their focus, an undefeated season, capped by a run at the SSMNC and a Paterno retirement at the top of his game are entirely possible. Stay tuned!
This game was like watching paint dry. Two sumo wrestlers pushing each other around a circle until one made the first mistake. Must confess that I was channel surfing when the big play happened, a touch of ADD inherited from my kids. After being wrong all year , I pretty much hit this one on the head, although I did think the score would be higher. I did not feel sorry for Pryor however. I think that this was his first loss as the starting QB in his life. His pouting at the end of the game with his head down on the bench was beneath him. He was out coached by people who were coaching before his parents were born and out smarted by players of less talent, so goes the game. He’s a fine player and had nothing to be ashamed for, he will lose again before his head is cast in bronze and needs to learn from it and move on. Little doubt that he will. Moo U is now third in the Big Ten and shouldn’t be much competition, similar for Iowa . Who knew? As for Joe, this would be the perfect time to go. He should beat Bowdons record and have a national championship for himself. He’d have the respect of all. But egos are great in this game and the crystal ball is foggy at this point. The bye week will give us all a rest , time to bask in the glory.
The Nittany Turkey says
Hey, EggMan, I’m sure you join many SEC fans who were bored by our game, but the beauty of a defensive struggle is never lost upon this Turkey. After all, I watched all of the Steelers game today.
Gee, now I’m lumped with SEC fans. You really know how to hurt a guy. Perhaps this is a backhanded reference to this http://www.sportsline.com/collegefootball/story/11063127. Sorry I’m not in that camp. As I recall we were told that we could never beat a team like the ‘Canes and Vinny Testiverti would clean our clock. I’m sure this will be a topic of conversation for the next few weeks.
Congrats, guys – That was a good win for PSU. Although it’s agonizing to watch any game where my Buckeyes lose, I came away with hope that PSU will win out the rest of its season and redeem the Big Ten image in the BCS title game. Hopefully, Penn State will face an SEC opponent. It’s tough being a Big Ten fan in Florida these days.
The Nittany Turkey says
No, Jed, I only lumped you in with SEC weenies because you fell asleep during the game, just like they profess to do because they cannot stand to watch good defense.
Should Penn State make it to the SSMNC game, we’ll still be dissed, if only because of what Ohio State did (or failed to do) for the past couple of years.
Remember (as I hope that the team and coaches do) that there are still three games to play. Iowa is the quintessential trap game (halfway decent team, played on the road, two weeks off, coming off big, emotional win), so let us not be concentrating on Miami in January just yet.
The Nittany Turkey says
GH, thanks for your gracious comment. The Columbus Dispatch said that if PSU got into the SSMNC game, the Lions would lose just as surely as the Bucks did the past couple of years. Well, that’s why they play the game. So, we’ll see. My personal suspicion is that Texas will stay at the top while the SEC teams are beating the crap out of each other. It should be fun to watch.
Well, I believe that sometime at least four weeks ago, I called it. Mr. Pryor looked Freshmany, and he played Freshmany (on at least one play — and probably the last “real” play of the game too when he threw the pick). Amazingly, after seeing him play against us, I am actually somewhat glad he is not on our team. I think both Clark and Devlin will be better than he is over the next two years. Perhaps, in Pryor’s senior year I will wish that we had him.
I cannot believe that we won all four of the “big” games this year…..we just need to close out the “cupcake” section of the big ten schedule (with only a slight tilt of the hat to the Hawkeyes who may be only slightly below average–which means good enough to win against a good team 1 in 5 times and against a “great” team like PSU 1 in 30 times). Let’s just hope it isn’t one in thirty…..
The Nittany Turkey says
Yeah, you pretty much hit the nail on the head, psurule4. Pryor is not yet ready for prime time. He made the rookie mistake of all rookie mistakes. I wouldn’t want to have Tressel’s job. He’s got to tell the kid he screwed up big time (and essentially lost the game) while at the same time not destroying his self-confidence. In other words, he has to be told this ain’t high school no more.
I think Pryor will be a force to be reckoned with next year. He got his ass thrown into the fire too early this year. I wonder how Boeckman would have done if he had started the PSU game.
I worry about Iowa. At the moment, they’re losing to Illinois 10-6, but they are probably a bit better than their 5-3 record suggests. Plus, they will be playing at home and PSU will be coming off a bye week following a huge, emotional game. At the same time, I think our guys have come together at this point and now know what it takes to win a tough game on the road—which is more than I can say for most PSU teams of the past decade.
I think we also have a battle ahead with Moo U. As they mentioned on the broadcast today, this is not the MSU of the past—the one that comes out swinging and winds up the season with a wet fart. They battled to a great, last-minute win over Wisconsin today. Shutting down Javon Ringer, of course, is key. But the Badgers held him to 54 yards and still lost.