BY GENARO C. ARMAS
STATE COLLEGE —
Undisciplined, out of luck and out of time.
Penn State turned in an uncharacteristically uneven performance to bring its five-game winning streak to a screeching halt in a 35-23 loss Saturday night to No. 9 Ohio State.
Star quarterback Braxton Miller was a one-man offense with 134 rushing yards and two touchdowns for the Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten), but Penn State (5-3, 3-1) had itself to blame, too.
With a chance to make a statement in front of a national television audience, in a season of change for a program trying to rebound from the wreckage left by the Jerry Sandusky scandal, the Nittany Lions lost.
“It starts with me. I didn’t do a very good job tonight as the head football coach,” Penn State’s Bill O’Brien said. “We made mistakes, but we win as a team, we lose a team and it starts with me.”
Some of Penn State’s nine penalties sapped momentum at critical spots, including a questionable defensive holding call that turned an Ohio State punt from its own 27 into a second chance and a touchdown.
A foiled fake punt attempt by Penn State at midfield led to the first of Miller’s two 1-yard scoring runs. A Penn State 2-point conversion try in the fourth quarter was stuffed.
And O’Brien’s uptempo “NASCAR” offense couldn’t get on track under withering pressure from an Ohio State front seven that didn’t give quarterback Matt McGloin much time to throw.
“It was just one of those nights, I guess. We just didn’t have it I guess. We can’t focus on the loss now,” said McGloin, who finished 27 of 45 for a career-high 327 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Boy, was it a big one.
A momentum-killer on the opening drive of the third quarter after linebacker Ryan Shazier returned the pick 17 yards for a score and 14-7 Buckeyes lead. The touchdown came one play after Shazier sacked McGloin, one of four times that the Buckeyes officially got to the quarterback on the night.
Unofficially, McGloin had Buckeyes defenders in his face much of the night. And Penn State couldn’t get much going on the ground either. Zach Zwinak had a team-high 42 yards on 12 carries, ending Penn State’s streak of three games with a 100-yard rusher.
A missed opportunity on Penn State’s first offensive series foreshadowed the theme for the rest of the evening, after a pass deep to open receiver Allen Robinson was dropped by the normally sure-handed sophomore. Hang on to that ball and Robinson would have an easy jaunt to the end zone.
“Those are the things that are going to stop a drive from stringing plays together,” Zwinak said about the penalties and missed opportunities. “But again, you have to let them go and just go on to then next game. You can’t let it bring the team down.”
The Nittany Lions had turned an 0-2 start into a reason for Nittany Lions fans to get excited about football again.
It felt like a big game in Happy Valley, something many thought wouldn’t happen this year after Penn State was hit with crippling NCAA sanctions for the Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.
But the Nittany Lions weren’t quite ready to step up in competition.
McGloin and Penn State rolled to an 18-play touchdown drive that he finished with a 2-yard pass to Matt Lehman to make it 28-16 with 9:49 left in the fourth quarter. The 2-point conversion try was stopped.
With plenty of time to pull off a comeback, the Penn State crowd roared and waved pom-poms as Ohio State started its next drive backed up to its 8.
But Miller connected with receiver Jake Stoneburner in stride over the middle for a 72-yard touchdown to make it 35-16.
The Nittany Lions added one more touchdown, almost as a thank you to all of the fans – and there were plenty in the crowd of 107,818 – who stayed to the end.
The Penn State players appreciated the gesture from a fan base that has fervently backed them all season – even though they couldn’t thank them back with a win.
“It was an amazing atmosphere,” said linebacker Gerald Hodges, who finished with a game-high 14 tackles and a sack. “Things didn’t go our way but the fans stayed by our side throughout the whole game.”