Ohio State experienced yet another slow start and this time freshman quarterback Braxton Miller fell just short of pulling off another fourth-quarter comeback.
Miller’s frenzied 9-yard scramble on fourth down with 1:41 remaining in the game fell a single yard short of a crucial first down and Penn State held on for a 20-14 victory Nov. 19 before a Senior Day crowd of 105,493 at Ohio Stadium.
The Buckeyes had moved out from their 13-yard line with 7:09 left in the game, but they bogged down after Miller improvised his way for a 21-yard run and a first down at the PSU 39. Senior tailback Boom Herron was stopped after a 1-yard gain and then Miller’s quick pitch to senior wideout DeVier Posey went for a 3-yard loss.
Miller got 7 yards on a third-down quarterback draw to set up fourth-and-5, but OSU right tackle J.B. Shugarts was flagged for a false start. The penalty yardage was just too much to overcome as Miller scrambled away from two Penn State defenders and then made a desperate dive toward the first-down marker that came up just short.
The Buckeyes managed to stop the Nittany Lions and force a punt, but with only 0:39 showing on the clock and no timeouts, not to mention 65 yards between them and the end zone, there was simply not enough time for any last-second heroics.
Penn State won for only the second time in 10 games in Columbus as members of the Big Ten and its 20 points represented the most scored by the Nittany Lions in Ohio Stadium since a 27-0 victory in November 1964.
It also marked only their third victory in the Horseshoe in 12 tries since 1975. Each of the other wins were achieved against Ohio State freshman quarterbacks – 19-0 against Art Schlichter in 1978 and 13-6 vs. Terrelle Pryor in 2008.
“Well, another slow start is certainly not what we wanted,” OSU head coach Luke Fickell told reporters after the game. “We have to do a better job coming out of the gate. Falling behind 10-0 for the third week in a row, that put us in a bind. … All in all, to fall behind 10-0 again like we have for three games now – not that the guys didn’t keep fighting because they did – but we have to do better.”
Fickell was asked twice if he or his team was distracted by persistent rumors that former Florida head coach Urban Meyer has agreed to become head coach of the Buckeyes beginning in 2012.
“We don’t pay attention to that stuff,” Fickell replied. “We try to focus on the things we can control and let the other things take care of themselves.”
Miller did about all he could for the Buckeyes, rushing for a career-high 105 yards and a touchdown while completing 7 of 17 passes for 83 yards and a score. Herron added 76 yards rushing on 18 carries as Ohio State totaled 206 yards on the ground.
The Buckeyes totaled 289 yards while Penn State nearly had that many in the first half. The Nittany Lions piled up 254 in the first and second quarters, finishing with 327 total. They rushed for 239, including 93 and two touchdowns from running back Stephfon Green. Backfield mates Silas Redd and Curtis Drake combined for 113 yards on 11 carries, a tidy average of 10.3 yards per attempt.
Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin was efficient if unspectacular, completing 10 of 18 passes for 88 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
The Nittany Lions got rolling early when Green sliced between two defenders just past the line of scrimmage and then outraced OSU safeties Orhian Johnson and Tyler Moeller to the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown romp. It capped a quick-strike opening possession that took only 2:33 and covered 80 yards on only five plays
It gave the Nittany Lions a 7-0 lead at the 12:27 mark of the first quarter, and they increased their advantage to 10-0 when kicker Anthony Fera booted a 43-yard field goal with 1:59 to go in the opening period. It was a career-long three-pointer for Fera.
OSU finally got its offense untracked early in the second quarter, thanks in part to an 18-yard, one-handed sideline catch Posey made to convert a third-and-11 play. Posey finished the game with a team-high four catches for 66 yards.
Three plays later, Miller bobbed and weaved his way for a 24-yard touchdown run that capped a 10-play, 77-yard drive and cut the Buckeyes’ deficit to 10-7 with 12:32 to go until halftime.
The Nittany Lions immediately answered with an 81-yard march that took only 2:20. Penn State gashed the OSU defense repeatedly on the drive, getting a 42-yard run from Redd, a 20-yard pass from McGloin to receiver Derek Moye, and a 12-yard scamper from freshman receiver Bill Belton off a direct snap.
Green handled the touchdown honors, blowing through a huge hole for a 4-yard run that gave Penn State a 17-7 lead with 10:05 left until halftime.
But the Buckeyes took advantage of a turnover when Johnson intercepted a tipped pass, giving OSU a short field at the Penn State 37. Five plays later, Miller found tight end Jake Stoneburner all alone in the end zone, making it 17-14 with 5:22 remaining in the half.
Fera bettered his career-long field goal with a 46-yarder on the final play of the first half to give the Nittany Lions a 20-14 lead at the break.
The first half was punctuated by a handful of big plays by Penn State. The Nittany Lions ran 33 plays from scrimmage and eight of them were good for 12 yards or more. Three were rushes for 38, 39 and 42 yards. The big chunks allowed the Nittany Lions to hold a decided 254-145 first-half edge in total yardage.
OSU’s defense was able to close ranks in the second half, including a stirring goal-line stand that stopped Penn State four times from the 1-yard line.
But the offense couldn’t help out. The goal-line stand was necessitated by a bungled exchange between tailback Jordan Hall and Herron, and tailback Carlos Hyde fumbled another possession away at the OSU 46 just when it looked like the Buckeyes were putting together a sustained drive.
Ohio State watched another potential threat go by the boards early in the fourth quarter when receiver Philly Brown failed to come down with a long third-down pass from Miller that would have covered about 50 yards and given the Buckeyes the ball at the Penn State 15.
That came at the 11:30 mark of the fourth quarter, but OSU got another chance 4½ minutes later when Miller rallied the team from his own 13 before the drive ended at the 1:41 mark on the quarterback’s desperation dive at the Penn State 32.
The Buckeyes had one final chance when they got the ball back with 36 seconds left, but when Miller tried to avoid a sack on the first play and throw the ball away, he was penalized for intentional grounding. That was a spot play that resulted in a loss of 7 yards, a loss of down and a 10-second runoff of the clock since it occurred in the final two minutes of a half.
That took the game clock down to 20 seconds and three incomplete passes later, the game was over.
Ohio State (6-5, 3-4) closes its 2011 regular season next week with a trip to Ann Arbor for the 108th renewal of The Game. Michigan (9-2, 5-2) scored a 45-17 victory earlier today over Nebraska. Kickoff next Saturday is set for shortly after 12 noon Eastern.