In the course of just a few hours Nov. 7, Ohio State went from underdog status to frontrunner for its first Rose Bowl appearance in more than a dozen years.
The afternoon began with No. 4 Iowa absorbing a two-pronged loss at home to Northwestern – a 17-10 defeat that ruined the Hawkeyes’ undefeated season and an ankle injury to starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi that will reportedly sideline him for the remainder of the regular season.
Later, the Buckeyes broke open a tight game with a pair of second-half touchdown and rolled to a 24-7 victory at No. 11 Penn State. OSU had been 4½- to five-point underdogs in the contest.
As a result, an Iowa team likely without its starting quarterback will travel to Columbus next week to play Ohio State with the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth on the line.
The Buckeyes held a precarious 10-7 halftime lead as the two heavyweight teams traded body punches most of the afternoon. Ohio State finally tagged the Nittany Lions on the button late in the third quarter when quarterback Terrelle Pryor connected with receiver DeVier Posey for a 62-yard touchdown pass.
OSU landed the knockout blow at the 9:37 mark of the fourth quarter when Pryor hit tailback Brandon Saine with a 6-yard touchdown throw.
Pryor made a triumphant return to his home state where he won state high school football and basketball championships at Jeannette High School. The sophomore QB completed 8 of 17 passes for 125 yards and the two scores, but hurt Penn State even more with his feet. He scrambled only five times, but turned those runs into 50 yards. Even more importantly, three of the runs went for first downs and a fourth was good for a 7-yard touchdown.
In addition to Pryor, the Buckeyes got some good, tough running from twin tailbacks Brandon Saine and Dan “Boom” Herron. They combined for 126 yards on 36 carries as Ohio State totaled 228 yards on the ground. The Nittany Lions had entered the game as the top rushing defense in the Big Ten and No. 5 in the country, surrendering an average of only 84.1 yards to their previous nine opponents.
The Buckeyes finished the game with 353 total yards, only the second Penn State opponent this season to top the 300 mark. The Nittany Lions entered the game as the top defense in the Big Ten and ranked fifth nationally.
While the offense was poking holes in Penn State’s previous impenetrable defense, the Ohio State D turned in a virtuoso performance against the Nittany Lions, who had also entered the game leading the conference in total offense. Joe Paterno’s team was limited to a season-low 201 yards, including only 76 on the ground.
“They have a real good defense and they showed it today,” Paterno told reporters after the game. “Give Ohio State credit. They had a good plan and they executed it well. They were aggressive and played well. Give them credit.”
Penn State senior quarterback Daryll Clark, the Big Ten leader in pass efficiency heading into the game, was limited to 12 completions in 28 attempts for 125 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He was also sacked twice.
Junior receiver Graham Zug was about the only offense the Nittany Lions could muster. He caught seven passes for 96 yards. Junior tailback Evan Royster, who entered the game with three consecutive 100-yard games, was held to only 36 yards on 13 carries.
Defensive end Cameron Heyward and linebacker Ross Homan led the defensive charge for the Buckeyes. Heyward totaled a game-high 11 tackles, including three for loss and both sacks. Homan had 10 tackles, broke up two passes and snagged the game’s only interception.
Middle linebacker Brian Rolle also had 10 tackles while defensive end Thaddeus Gibson had six stops, including one for loss.
Ohio State got the first break of the game when senior Ray Small returned a punt 41 yards to the Penn State 9-yard line. Two plays later, Pryor took a keeper around the right end and dove into the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown. Following the extra point from kicker Devin Barclay, the Buckeyes had a 7-0 lead at the 11:47 mark of the first quarter.
The Nittany Lions responded with a 71-yard play that took 11 plays and just over five minutes. Clark finished things off by jumping over the pile on a fourth-and-goal from the 1 for the tying touchdown.
Television replays appeared to show the PSU quarterback was stopped before breaking the plane of the end zone, but the touchdown stood and after kicker Collin Wagner added the PAT, the score was tied at 7 with 12:28 remaining in the second period.
Ohio State immediately answered with a 10-play, 61-yard drive that included a 24-yard scramble by Pryor on a third-and-5, and a 22-yard pass play from Pryor to junior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher.
Back-to-back penalties – a false start followed by holding – stalled the drive, but the Buckeyes still managed to get a 37-yard field goal from Barclay for a 10-7 advantage with 5:54 left until intermission.
That was the way it stayed until late in the third quarter. OSU had already begun to establish an edge in field position as the Nittany Lions played all 15 of their third-period plays in their territory.
Following another PSU punt, the Buckeyes set up shop at their own 38 and it took Pryor only one play to strike. He found Posey breaking free along the sideline and hit him in stride for what turned out to be a 68-yard touchdown.
Barclay added the extra point, and suddenly Ohio State had pushed its advantage to 17-7 with 1:47 remaining in the third.
Another long punt return by Small – this one for 45 yards on the final play of the third quarter – set up the Buckeyes’ final score. The return gave OSU possession at the Penn State 47 and Pryor directed a methodical 10-play drive, flipping a 6-yard pass to Saine with 9:37 remaining.
Next week’s contest with Iowa will be back at Ohio Stadium with a 3:30 p.m. Eastern kickoff. The game will be broadcast using the ABC/ESPN reverse mirror effect.