When Ohio State and Penn State played one quarter with no points on the board, it looked like the defensive Big Ten slugfest a lot of pundits had predicted for Saturday evening in Happy Valley would be coming to fruition.
Then Braxton Miller took over.
The Ohio State quarterback was responsible for three second-half touchdowns – including a stunning 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter – and 277 total yards as the No. 9 Buckeyes pulled away to a 35-23 victory over the Nittany Lions in front of 107,818 white-clad fans.
With the win, Ohio State moved to 9-0 overall and 5-0 in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes now control the driver’s seat in the Leaders Division, one game ahead of Penn State and two ahead of Wisconsin in the loss column.
The game changed right after the teams came out of the locker room after halftime. On the first drive of the second half, Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin dropped back to pass but threw the ball right to Ryan Shazier, who ran the interception back into the end zone to give OSU its eighth pick-six in the last 11 years vs. the Nittany Lions.
From there, Miller took over, running three seamless touchdown drives while using a hurry-up style. Miller capped a 57-yard drive with a juking 1-yard score that will make all the highlight reels, finished an 85-yard drive with another 1-yard run and then directed an 84-yard drive that ended with a 72-yard touchdown to Jacob Stoneburner to put the game out of reach.
In all, Ohio State ran for 235 yards, more than doubling the amount per game the Nittany Lions had been ceding. Miller was only 7 of 19 passing but finished with 134 rushing yards on 25 carries, becoming the first 1,000-yard rusher under head coach Urban Meyer in the process. He also showed no ill effects from the injury the week before that ended his game vs. Purdue, while Carlos Hyde ran 22 times for 55 yards and Rod Smith added 48 yards on four carries.
Ohio State largely stuffed Penn State’s running game, keeping both Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton below 50 yards. Matt McGloin had a solid day throwing, going 27 for 45 for 327 yards, but was sacked four times and threw the interception to Shazier.
Shazier was also dominant. Wearing No. 48 – an honor to a high school friend who passed muscular dystrophy in the spring – Shazier was all over the field, pairing with Zach Boren on a dominant linebacking display.
The game started slowly, with each team failing to achieve points on their first five drives apiece. Penn State came the closest, moving 62 yards in six plays midway through the second quarter – thanks to a 37-yard catch by Allen Robinson over Christian Bryant – but came up short on downs inside the 20.
From there, Ohio State went three-and-out, and Ben Buchanan had a punt blocked for the third time this year. Michael Yancich fell on the ball, and with 6:15 to play in the first half, Penn State had a 7-0 lead the crowd behind it after Sam Ficken’s extra point.
Ohio State was also stopped in its next drive, but a holding penalty on the punt allowed OSU to keep moving. The result was a methodical, 12-play possession keyed by a 33-yard burst by Miller over the right side as he followed Smith through the hole on an option play. Three plays later, Hyde fought into the end zone over the right side with 34 seconds left in the half, and the teams went to halftime knotted at 7.
It took only 1:19 for Ohio State to take a lead it would not give up. Shazier sacked McGloin to set up a third-and-13, then dropped into zone coverage on the next play and returned the quarterback’s wayward pass over the middle 17 yards for a touchdown. It was the third time an Ohio State player scored a touchdown on a McGloin interception, joining Devon Torrence and Travis Howard in 2010.
Penn State replied with a solid nine-play, 72-yard drive capped by a 27-yard field goal by Ficken at the 9:50 mark. Brandon Moseby-Felder snagged a 44-yard catch to set up PSU within the 5, but a holding call pushed Penn State back and the Nittany Lions had to settle for three points.
Miller was intercepted on third-and-long on the next drive, but Nathan Williams notched a key sack on the ensuing PSU possession before Adam Griffin broke up a fake punt pass on fourth down.
From there, the game was in Ohio State’s hands. Miller was the key, completing two passes to Evan Spencer for first downs before making an amazing touchdown run on third-and-goal from the 1. He appeared to be dead to rights in the backfield but juked backwards, leaving linebacker Gerald Hodges reaching at air, before leaping over another PSU player to get into the end zone. Drew Basil’s PAT gave OSU a 21-10 lead with 3:30 to play in the second quarter.
OSU forced a quick three-and-out then made Penn State’s tired defense pay. Miller ran the option to great success, as he and Smith each had big gains on the drive before the OSU quarterback ran the ball in from the 1 to make it 28-10.
Penn State replied with a long touchdown drive, a 19-play march that took 5:51 and ended when McGloin scrambled around and hit Matt Lehman for a 2-yard touchdown with 9:49 to play. Johnny Simon tackled Zwinak in the backfield on the two-point play, and OSU held a 28-16 lead.
Miller converted a key third-and-short on the next drive, then when facing third-and-4 at the 28, hit Stoneburner on a simple slant play. Jacob Fagnano undercut the route but came up empty, allowing Stoneburner to rumble all 72 yards to put the game out of reach as OSU led 35-16 with 6:11 to play.
Penn State got a touchdown back with 1:41 left when McGloin hit Kyle Carter on a 20-yard touchdown pass, but Bradley Roby recovered the onside kick and the game was over.
Ohio State moves on to face Illinois – which is winless in the Big Ten – next week in Ohio Stadium.