|Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller fends off a Penn State tackler Saturday in Columbus. (The Buckeye Times/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)|
Penalties, untimely fumbles and even some bad snaps from center did in the Buckeyes (6-5, 3-4 Big Ten) Saturday evening, while the visiting Penn State Nittany Lions (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) held on to keep their conference title hopes alive by picking up their first win of the post-Joe Paterno era, 20-14.
Penn State interim head coach Tom Bradley said that for all that the players have had to endure during the past few weeks — with the child sex abuse scandal that cost Paterno his job — they haven't given up their fight.
"I don't think any team in the history of college football has been through so much in such a short time period and to hang in there and fight their way through it is great," Bradley said. "They have been great on the field, great in the classroom and I couldn't be prouder of them."
The Buckeyes still had their chances late in the contest. However, on fourth-and-five from the Penn State 36, right tackle J.B. Shugarts committed a false start penalty that moved the Buckeyes back to the 41.
Ohio State, after the Shugarts penalty, needed 10 yards to pick up the first down and keep the drive going. Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller would pick up nine-and-a-half.
Although that false start penalty was essentially the fatal blow for the Buckeyes, it certainly wasn't the only bullet that inflicted major damage on Saturday.
Earlier in the second half, the Buckeyes fumbled away drives on back-to-back offensive series. The first one came on a botched exchange by Jordan Hall to Daniel Herron in the wildcat package, deep in their own territory. The Nittany Lions were unable to cash in, though, as the defense prevented them from scoring on four straight plays inside the Buckeyes' 2.
On the ensuing offensive series for Ohio State — and the Buckeyes moving down field with great success — sophomore tailback Carlos Hyde would cough up the football near midfield, killing the possible go-ahead scoring drive.
That would be the storyline all game long for the Buckeyes.
"There's a lot of areas we have to get better at," OSU head coach Luke Fickell said.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, it may be a little too late. They are just one game away from posting their first losing season in the Big Ten since 1999.
For the third time in as many weeks, the Buckeyes fell behind 10-0 in the opening quarter of play. In fact, the Buckeyes defense was manhandled for the entire first half of play.
Penn State did most of their damage offensively running the football, gashing the Buckeyes for 188 yards on 21 totes (9.0 avg.) in the first half. Leading the way for the Nittany Lion ground attack before the break was the backfield duo of Stephfon Green and Silas Redd, who combined for 67 and 57 yards respectively. Green added two touchdowns runs of 39 and 4 in the opening half. Green finished with 93 yards for the game.
Fickell said the first half defensive woes put them in a hole they couldn't climb back out of the rest of the way.
"We started off again down 10-0," Fickell said. "Not the way we had planned it. We have to do a better job out the gate. I think that's where it really ended up putting us in a little bit of a bind.
He also said the second half giveaways attributed to not being able to overcome the early deficit.
"Obviously two turnovers to one turnover, it's always a determining factor in a game like this," Fickell said.
It wasn't all bad for the Buckeyes on Saturday evening. In fact, they received a welcome return from one of its biggest weapons.
Ohio State senior wide receiver DeVier Posey — playing in his first game of the season after being suspended by the NCAA for the initial 10 — made his presence felt early in the contest.
After snagging a 39-yard reception from Miller on third-and-long during the Buckeyes first offensive series of the game, Posey displayed to the crowd why he is considered a high NFL draft prospect on their ensuing drive, reeling in a one-handed snag — again on third-and-long — for 18 yards to the Penn State 32. The catch generating a cascade of cheers from the 105,493 fans on hand.
The tremendous grab also set up the Buckeyes for their first score of the game three plays later, as Miller took a keeper down the left sideline for a 24-yard touchdown to pull the Penn State lead to 10-7.
Posey would finish the game with a game-high four receptions for 66 yards.
"It was great to be back out there again with my teammates, in this stadium, in front of our fans," Posey said. "I just wished we could've had a different outcome."
Trailing 17-7 midway through the second quarter, the Buckeyes defense finally stepped up and flexed a little muscle, as safety Orhian Johnson picked off a Matt McGloin at the Penn State 37, setting up the Buckeyes offense with very favorable real estate.
Miller would take it from there.
After rushing for another 24-yard keeper down inside the 10, Miller would hit the Nittany Lions again with his arm, this time to tight end Jake Stoneburner in the back of the end zone from seven yards out to pull to within three of the lead, 17-14, with 5:22 to play before halftime.
Penn State would add a 46-yard field goal by Anthony Fera as time expired in the first half, increasing their lead to 20-14 at the break.
That would be all the points scored in the contest.
The Buckeyes moved the football with success in the second half, totaling 144 yards — including 125 on the ground. However, the fumbles and costly penalties would prevent them from ever finding pay dirt.
Miller led the Buckeyes' offense Saturday with 188 total yards in the loss, including a game-high 105 yards rushing and a touchdown. He finished 7-of-17 passing for 83 yards and another score.
Herron added 76 yards on 18 carries in the defeat, while Hyde recorded 24 on four totes.
Leading the way defensively for the Buckeyes was true freshman linebacker Ryan Shazier, who recorded a game- and career-high in tackles with 15.
Shazier, who was starting for the injured Andrew Sweat, said he dedicated his performance to his senior mentor.
"It was bittersweet," Shazier said. "I had the best game I could play but we couldn't pull it out. I wanted to win for the seniors, especially Andrew Sweat so I could make him proud."
The Buckeyes will next face arch-rival Michigan next Saturday in Ann Arbor.
"All I can say is it's Michigan Week," Stoneburner said. "That's where our focus is now."