Penn State entered Ohio Stadium as a program under duress during recent cataclysmic events off the field, but the Nittany Lions left today's Big Ten matchup against Ohio State the winner, 20-14, and in control of their Leaders Division fate with one game to play in the regular season.
The Nittany Lions (9-2, 6-1) will play in the first Big Ten title game on Dec.3 if they win at Wisconsin (9-2, 5-2) a week from today.
As for Ohio State (6-5, 3-4), whether it was the last home game of the brief coach Luke Fickell era remains to be seen. But the Buckeyes spotted PSU a 10-0 before making it a contest.
In the end, it took a fourth-down stop of scrambling and then leaping OSU quarterback Braxton Miller by Drew Astorino at the PSU 32-yard line with 1:41 left to ensure it. With OSU facing fourth-and-10, Miller darted out to the right and then tried to dash up the sideline before Astorino closed in the climactic play to a scoreless second half.
The Buckeyes got one last chance with 36 seconds left after a punt to their 35. But on first down Miller was called for intentional grounding, which not only meant loss of down but also a 20-second run off of the clock, down to 20 seconds. Three incompletions later, the clock ran out and Penn State had its victory.
The game featured two interim head coaches stalking the sidelines, neither of whom's tenure is guaranteed. Fickell, thrust into the job to replace Jim Tressel when Tressel was forced to resign May 30 in the midst of an NCAA investigation, had to prepare this week even as rumors swirled late that former Florida coach Urban Meyer has been targeted as his replacement.
PSU's Tom Bradley was thrust into leading the Nittany Lions a week-and-a-half ago after coach Joe Paterno was fired in the wake of the scandal involving former PSU defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, charged on multiple counts of having sex with young boys over period of time before and after he resigned at PSU in 1999.
Before the coin toss the teams arrayed behind their captains, then after the toss they stepped forward and shook hands. It was meant as a show of respect between the two schools.
After the niceties, and then PSU taking a 20-14 lead by halftime, the game dissolved into a defensive standoff that many had thought it would be.
The Buckeyes staged a goal-line stand starting at their 2 in the north end, stopping four straight attempts up the middle by the Nittany Lions. On fourth down, after running back Silas Redd to the handoff, defensive tackle Johnathan "Big Hank" Hankins submarined low, forcing Redd into the air where he was met by defensive lineman Michael Bennett and linebacker Storm Klein.
OSU suddenly got something going from its 1, only to see Carlos Hyde lose a fumble to PSU's Nick Sukay at the OSU 46.
The Buckeyes forced a punt, and taking over at their 3 as the quarter about to swing, they got something going again to their 32, from where on third-and-seven Miller launhed a deep pass to Brown. But the ball went through Brown's arms.
OSU forced another punt, though, then came the Buckeyes' last chance, starting from their 13. Herron went 14 yards on first down, and Miller accelerated the march with a dazzling 21-yard scrambling run to the PSU 41. But that's where it all came apart.
For the fifth time this year the Buckeyes spotted the opponent a double-digit lead. This time it was 10-0 Penn State by 1:59 of the first quarter.
The Nittany Lions scored on their first two possessions, with Stephfon Green going 39 yards right up the middle for a touchdown at 12:27 of the first. It capped an up-and-at-em 80-yard drive in five plays.
The Buckeyes threatened to retaliate immediately when Miller scrambled right and found DeVier Posey -- he had been forced out of bounds but returned -- on a 39-yard catch-and-run pass to the PSU 46. But after reaching a third-and-five at the PSU 28, the shotgun snap from Michael Brewster to Miller rolled back, Miller fell on it and the Buckeyes were forced to punt.
The Nittany Lions drove to a 43-yard field goal by Anthony Fera, at that point his career long, to up the lead to 10-0 at 1:59 of the first.
Ohio State responded with a nine-play, 77-yard drive to its first touchdown. The highlight was a one-handed catch by Posey on an outcut to the left sideline to the PSU 32.
Two plays later Miller kept through right end, behind blocks by tight end Jake Stoneburner, right tackle J.B. Shugarts and Posey, and cut to the outside on a 24-yard touchdown run, cutting the PSU lead to 10-7 at 12:32 of the second.
Penn State hammered its way back into control when Redd slashed through an opening in the right side and romped 42 yards to the OSU 36 on the next possession. A 20-yard pass from Matt McGloin to Derek Moye, a 12-yard run by wide receiver Bill Belton on a direct snap in the wildcat formation, and then a 4-yard run by Green gained the TD, pushing PSU up 17-7 at 10:05 of the second.
The Buckeyes' chance to get back in it came when safety Orhian Johnson intercepted a McGloin rollout pass, tipped by safety C.J. Barnett, and returned it from from the OSU 48 to the PSU 37.
A 24-yard run by Miller moments later gave OSU first and goal at the eight. Three plays later from the 7, Miller passed to Stoneburner in the left third of the end zone for the TD that cut the PSU lead to 17-14 at 5:22 of the second.
But PSU took off on a drive that consumed the rest of the half, capped by Fera's new personal-long field goal, a 46-yarder, giving the Lions a 20-14 lead the break.
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