COLUMBUS, Ohio - When you've lost seven straight in the house of the closest thing to a true rival you have left on the schedule, often doing so without scoring a touchdown, style points don't matter.
What Penn State's 13-6 victory over Ohio State Saturday night in Ohio Stadium lacked in offensive beauty was compensated in a rock 'em, sock 'em defensive struggle that surely had Woody Hayes winking at Joe Paterno.
If that's not certain, this much is: For Penn State, the 'Shoe, as in Ohio State's stadium nicknamed the ''horseshoe,'' finally fits.
Paterno found himself in a position of practically having to defend his now 9-0 team, and he would have none of it.
''I've been around a lot of football,'' he said in the understatement of the year, ''and have seen a lot of games. And I think this was a good, tough football game.''
Paterno has long preached that if a team keeps hustling and gives maximum effort on every play, good things will happen. That was reinforced here.
Just when it seemed like the Nittany Lions were within another one or two surrendered first downs from limping home without a signature win on the season, one of the more unlikely heroes may have forever etched his name into Penn State lore.
Mark Rubin, who sometimes struggles in pass coverage but has been a capable run-stopping safety, forced a fumble from heralded freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor in the fourth quarter, and the Lions turned the mistake into the only touchdown drive of the night.
''The field position was just so tough,'' Paterno said.
And the game settled into an old-school Big Ten defensive tug-of-war that, were it not for the decisive turnover, could have ended with the Buckeyes winning 6-3.
Though it could have been better in third-down situations, credit the Lion defense for springing the eventual game-winning TD and for keeping Ohio State out of the end zone.
The kicking game did its part with a pair of field goals, good punting and reasonable coverage, especially late.
The offense? For the first time this season, it met its match against a defensive unit equal to Penn State's. At the same time, the unit somehow won time of possession, did not commit a penalty despite playing in a hostile environment and, as is the determining factor in most games, did not commit a turnover.
It also got a poised effort from backup quarterback Pat Devlin, who was summoned to preside over the touchdown drive after Daryll Clark was knocked woozy.
The offensive line turned its game up a notch, and Devlin and Evan Royster finished strong, enabling the Lions to score 10 points in the final 10 minutes.
Paterno coached his fourth straight game from the press box because of an ailing hip and reported to the post-game press conference with a cane. With an open date before a Nov. 8 visit to Iowa, he will now let team medical personnel examine him to determine what course of treatment is appropriate.
He'll do so knowing his team managed to pull out a win and stay perfect on a night when not all went right, something he says separates great teams from good ones.
''We played the kind of game I thought we had to play,'' he said. ''I've always said I'm not going to feel comfortable until we have some adversity.''
The Nittany Lions got a serious dose of that, but they found a way and in doing so ended their losing streak in Columbus.
Whether it's a springboard to the national-championship game is still up in the air, depending on whether the Lions can finish the season unbeaten and whether teams such as Texas and Alabama can do the same.
''It's nice to be 9-0,'' Paterno said. ''I think we've got a pretty good football team.''
And one that kept alive its chances to prove its greatness.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.