Friday, November 12, 2010

GAME PREVIEW: NINTH-RANKED BUCKEYES WANT TO KEEP JOE AT 400

COLUMBUS — Penn State head coach Joe Paterno is coming off his 400th victory last Saturday against Northwestern, the first FBS mentor to ever reach that many wins.

But of all those 400 victories, 24 bowl wins and two national championships, only once has Paterno claimed a Big Ten triumph at Ohio Stadium.

"I'm hoping we can get to 401, for crying out loud," Paterno laughed. "I mean, we've really got a job to do."

Paterno — whose Nittany Lions have won three straight games and are currently 6-3 overall (3-2 Big Ten) — certainly knows how difficult it can be coming away with a win at Ohio Stadium. He also knows that the experience for his Nittany Lions playing in such a hostile environment is invaluable to their growth as a team.

"We're going to play against a team that's as well-organized, as well-disciplined as this club is with the kind of talent it has, it will be a good experience for us," Paterno said about facing the ninth-ranked Buckeyes. "Whether we can play with them or not, that's debatable.

"But I think just getting into a ballgame like that, on the road, the whole bit, will be a good experience. It will help us in the future. It's going to be tough to stay with these guys. I'm telling you, I've stated if they're not the best, they're one of the three, four best football teams in the country."

Paterno's only Big Ten win at Ohio Stadium did come the last time they played there, though, in 2008. The Nittany Lions edged the Buckeyes, 13-6, and handed true freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor his first loss as a collegiate starter.

Of course, that was more than two years ago — 26 games to be exact — and Pryor, now a junior, has completely transformed his game since that loss to the Nittany Lions.

"He's older. He's more mature. He's more polished," Paterno said of Pryor. "And so all those little things that you would expect an athlete as good as he is and as conscientious as he is, you'd expect him to get better and that's what Pryor's done. He's a good kid. He really handles himself well.

"He's all business. He's not out there trying to out-do anybody. He's just out there trying to get his football team to win. He's the kind of guy a coach likes to see have success."

On the other sideline is the second winningest active head coach in the FBS, Ohio State's Jim Tressel, a man who has logged 237 wins as the mentor of Ohio State and Youngstown State. However, that's 163 less victories than his counterpart.

Tressel brought those numbers up when asked what this showdown between the top two winningest active coaches means to him.

"It means there's a huge disparity between one and two," Tressel laughed. "That's the biggest thing it means to me. Where did all those guys go in between us two?"

Paterno still refers to Tressel as "Little Jimmy" from time to time. The Buckeye coach, who will turn 58 next month, said he certainly doesn't mind being treated like a young pup by the older Paterno.

"You know, I'm starting to like it more and more," Tressel said about Paterno's references. "When you're young you don't like it, when you're old you start liking it. Hey, someone thinks I'm Little Jimmy."

Tressel said he forged a great relationship with Paterno even before he became a head coach for the Buckeyes in 2001.

"It's been a special relationship with him in that I did have a chance to visit with him when I was aspiring to become a coach," Tressel said. "I was one of those kind of guys, I didn't end up being with him, but I ended up staying in touch with him. Then all of a sudden when I became a head coach just three hours down the road from him, we had a chance to interact a little bit more and connect in different ways.

"So now coaching with him for 10 years, you know, in the same Big Ten meetings and so forth, it's really spanned quite a distance. But I'm sure he looks at me no different than (back then). There have been times he's called me Lee (in reference to Tressel's father), so ... "

Dan "Boom" Herron (The Buckeye Times/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)
Bottom Line

On paper, this game looks to be heavily in the Buckeyes favor. Ohio State has many more weapons than the Nittany Lions do on the offensive side of the ball, and much more experience overall.

The Nittany Lions are also playing a relatively inexperienced quarterback this Saturday in sophomore Matt McGloin. The Penn State passer has been solid in the past three weeks — following an injury to starter Robert Boldin — throwing for 551 yards and seven touchdowns, with only one interception.

Of course, McGloin hasn't faced the kind of defense thus far that Ohio State will bring to the table. The Buckeyes are tops in the Big Ten in scoring and overall defense, and they've had an extra week to prepare for the young signal caller.

Another aspect that doesn't bode well for Penn State is their run defense. The Nittany Lions are eighth in the Big Ten defending the run, and will be going against one of the hottest runners in the conference in Dan "Boom" Herron, not to mention having to contain the multi-talented Pryor, as well.

This game will have plenty of hype because of the coaches and the tradition, that's for sure. But in the end, the final score will have about as much disparity as these two coaches win totals.

Look for "Little Jimmy" to pull to within 162 wins of the legendary Paterno on Saturday.

Lee's Call: OSU 38-14