After his team fell behind by double digits in each of its previous two Big Ten games, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer challenged his Buckeyes to get off to a quicker start against Penn State.
Message sent, message received.
The No. 4 Buckeyes exploded out of the blocks to take a 42-7 halftime lead over the Nittany Lions and cruised home with a 63-14 victory Saturday night in front of 105,889 fans at Ohio Stadium.
Ohio State piled up 686 yards of total offense, the most the Buckeyes had ever gained against a Big Ten opponent and the most ever yielded in a single game by Penn State. The 63 points surrendered by the Nittany Lions were the third-most in program history, trailing only a 64-5 loss to the Duquesne Athletic Club in 1899 and a 106-0 defeat against Lehigh in 1889.
Quarterback Braxton Miller and tailback Carlos Hyde were much too much for the Nittany Lions as the duo accounted for 467 yards of total offense. Miller completed 18 of 24 pass attempts for 252 yards and three touchdowns, and added another 68 yards and two touchdown on the ground.
Meanwhile, Hyde turned 16 carries into 147 yards and two touchdowns as the Buckeyes totaled 408 yards on 51 carries. That was the most rushing yards for OSU since gaining 409 during a 41-3 win over Illinois in 1995. That was the game in which Eddie George established the school single-game record with 314 yards.
Backup quarterbacks Kenny Guiton and Cardale Jones also shared in the rushing riches. Guiton carried three times for 23 yards and scored twice, while Jones came on in the fourth quarter and picked up 52 yards on five attempts.
Even with all the rushing yardage, Ohio State had four receivers with at least four catches in the game. Wideout Devin Smith led the way with five receptions for 90 yards, while Corey “Philly” Brown, Evan Spencer and Chris Fields caught four balls each. Brown tallied 67 yards and had a touchdown, Spencer had 27 yards, and Fields totaled 35 yards and a touchdown. Freshman Dontre Wilson also had a touchdown reception, one of two catches for 35 yards.
Despite the offensive fireworks, it seemed all Meyer wanted to talk about after the game was his much-maligned defense. The Buckeyes gave up 357 total yards, but much of that long after the outcome had been decided.
“We realized we have weaknesses and we work on those,” Meyer told ABC Sports following the game. “Like our pass rush and our pass defense. I thought we played very well there. We challenged our players all week to put up a good pass rush tonight and I thought we did that very well.”
Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg entered the game fresh off back-to-back performances of at least 300 yards and two touchdowns, but he was pressured mercilessly by the OSU defense. Hackenberg managed to complete only 12 of 23 passes for 112 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions before he went to the bench early in the third quarter with an ice pack strapped to his throwing shoulder.
Sophomore Tyler Ferguson worked mostly against Ohio State’s second- and third-team defense, and wound up completing 7 of 11 attempts for 125 yards and one touchdown.
The OSU defense came up with three turnovers and four sacks. Junior linebacker Curtis Grant led the team with 10 tackles and had one of the sacks, while sophomore end Noah Spence was a constant thorn in the side of the Nittany Lions. He recorded four tackles, three of them for loss and two sacks. Fellow sophomore Adolphus Washington had the other sack for the Buckeyes.
Safeties Corey “Pitt” Brown and C.J. Barnett grabbed early interceptions that set up a pair of Ohio State touchdowns. Junior linebacker Curtis Grant also pounced on a Penn State fumble early in the third quarter to set the stage for another Buckeye TD.
The scoreboard was Ohio State’s own personal pinball machine in the first half as the Buckeyes piled up 414 yards of total offense and scored six touchdowns – four on the ground and two through the air.
OSU took the game’s opening kickoff and marched 75 yards in 10 plays with Miller connecting on all four pass attempts for 66 yards and Hyde capping the march with a 2-yard run to make it 7-0 with just over two minutes gone in the first quarter.
But the Nittany Lions came back with a sustained drive of their own as old problems for the Ohio State defense – most notably poor tackling – allowed Penn State to drive as far as the OSU 12-yard line. But on third down, Hackenberg didn’t get enough air under his pass intended for tight end Adam Breneman in the end zone, and Pitt Brown intercepted at the goal line to end the scoring threat.
The rest of the first half was practically all Buckeyes as Penn State was hit with the one-two combination of Miller and Hyde.
First, Miller scrambled around right end and picked up a block from Smith at the goal line before diving into the end zone for a 39-yard touchdown run. That made it 14-0 with 1:10 to play in the first quarter, and then after Barnett intercepted Hackenberg on Penn State’s next possession, Miller tacked on a 6-yard touchdown run to give the Buckeyes a 21-0 advantage with 13:00 left until halftime.
A 3-yard TD pass from Miller to Fields at the 8:24 mark made it 28-0 in favor of Ohio State before the Nittany Lions finally dented the scoreboard. Hackenberg finished off an 11-play, 79-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown flip to receiver Brandon Felder to make the score a bit more respectable at 28-7 with 4:12 left in the second quarter.
But the Buckeyes scored two more touchdowns, the first set up by a 49-yard kickoff return by Wilson. Hyde finished that short possession with a 39-yard scoring romp to make it 35-7 at the 3:16 mark of the second quarter, and then Miller hit Philly Brown with a 25-yard frozen rope with just 0:03 remaining to give Ohio State a 42-7 cushion at the break.
By halftime, Miller had already gone over the 300-yard mark in total offense, completing 15 of 18 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 11 times for 68 yards and two other scores. Meanwhile, Hyde had punished the Penn State defense for 130 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries.
A Penn State fumble at the 9:37 mark of the third quarter set up another OSU touchdown, this one a 26-yard catch-and-run by Wilson as he took a short throw from Miller and darted his way through traffic to the end zone. That made it 49-7 with 8:52 remaining in the third period, and both coaches began to empty their benches.
Guiton scored on a 2-yard run the first time he touched the ball, a touchdown that pushed the Buckeyes in front by a 56-7 score, and the senior QB scored again on an 11-run at the 8:24 mark of the fourth quarter to make it 63-7.
The Nittany Lions accounted for the final touchdown when Ferguson flipped a short pass to wideout Allen Robinson in the right flat, and the Penn State receiver reversed his field twice before winding up with a 65-yard touchdown reception, his team’s longest scoring play of the 2013 season.